Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Open season in Punjab

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Two species of partridge, grey (Francolinus pondicerianus) and see-see (Ammoperdix griseogularis), are residents of the hill ranges of northern Punjab where their call was once a familiar sound. Poor enforcement of the law took its toll on the numbers of these popular game birds and as recently as 2005 conservationists could only rarely come across them in the wild. The alarming reduction in their numbers was attributable to licensed as well as illegal hunters who exterminated these birds in connivance with corrupt officials of the wildlife department. Recognising the threat to the partridges the Punjab government instituted a ban on their hunting in 2008. The result, as noted by ordinary people who share the same range with the partridges, was a marked increase in their numbers.

Indeed, in April 2013, this writer saw frequent groups of grey partridges feeding fearlessly by the side of the less frequented roads of the Soon Valley.
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Musa’s rock with the hole and the roof

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For the tenth time did Rehmat Khan Buzdar try to convince me that hospitality was not such a bad thing after all. And for the tenth time I returned that it was not such a hot idea to slaughter a sheep for a vegetarian and if he and his lot kept at killing their flocks the way they were doing it their tribal name of Buzdar (buz for goat and dar for owner or keeper) would soon be a misnomer. I said hospitality could just as easily be a nicely done dish of vegetables or lentils. But that, he argued, would not become Baloch hospitality. Then he told me the story.


There was once a Baloch of kind heart and generous spirit whose door was forever open to all comers. It was a rare mealtime that the man ate by himself; always there would be a passing traveller pausing to partake of whatever the man’s hearth could offer. But not so the man’s wife. A shrewish woman of niggardly disposition, she ceaselessly lamented the drain the hospitality caused on their larder and the trouble it caused her. No amount of cajoling blunted her verbal offensives.
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Deosai Sky

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Related: Deosai Truths - Book Review by F. S. Aijazuddin, Deosai - Book Review by S A J Shirazi, Special talk on BBC Radio

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Bearer of the Balti footprint

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Even today Raskam is just a collection of stone and mud huts, about 20 in all, sitting a couple of hundred metres above the rocky bed of a young Yarkand River. In those early days when the first Balti hunters approached it, Raskam would only have been a few felt yurts where the Kirghiz shepherds sheltered from the dry, freezing cold.


The name, we are told, is a corruption of Rast Kan — the Good Mine. Early Victorian explorers wrote of good copper to be mined in the region. There were, they recorded, dozens of smelting furnaces around Raskam. The copper would have been exported to Yarkand, the nearest trading centre. Surely the Baltis would have asked about reaching this unknown place that sounded almost like an El Dorado.
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Where his Highness tarried

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Jajja Abbasian is the kind of place one would scarcely ever notice. To begin with, it lies on a road and a defunct branch railway line that very nearly goes nowhere. I say very nearly because it lies fifteen kilometres northwest of Khanpur (south Punjab) on the highroad to Chachran. I hadn’t noticed the place when I passed through to Chachran some twelve years ago on my way to ride the Indus Queen across the Sindhu to Mithankot. I would not have known of it had my friend Omar Sheikh, the good police officer currently keeping the law in Bahawalnagar, had not told me of it.


There was in Jajja, Omar said, a mansion built by Nawab Sir Sadiq Mohammed Khan Abbasi V. As well as that, Jajja was also the birthplace of Birbal, one of the Nine Jewels that adorned the court of Akbar the Great. He wasn’t certain however whether or not there was a 16th century monument to commemorate the coming into this world of that remarkable Birbal. This he left to me to ascertain. And so it was that my friend Raheal Siddiqui packed me off from Bahawalpur. I picked up a guide in Khanpur and we drove out along the old railway line to Chachran.
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Back from the brink

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There is something about Mian Said Ali that makes you like him. It is the gentleness in his ready smile, the humility of his demeanour and the matter-of-fact way he talks of his predicament that makes you warm up to him. There is also something that tells you that Said Ali can weather any storm without giving up. A native of village Janu on the highroad from Khwazakhela (Swat) to Bisham and only a few kilometres outside the former, he suffered like so many others through the years of militant savagery. Yet he kept his smile.

Said Ali and his two brothers own 17 kanals (two and a bit acres) of agricultural land. Living together as a joint family, the brothers worked their holding together. Because it was spread over undulating ground, the land was terraced and unequally divided between fields for seasonal crops and orchards.
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Deosai Living

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Related: Review - Deosai Land of the Giant, BBC Podcast Urdu

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Utopia

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When I was about four and we lived in Durand Road (No 13), I one day dashed across, at that time, an utterly traffic-less street. I was hit by a car that was crawling along really slow. I fell and scratched my chin. The driver, a kindly faced gentleman, having seen me run out of our gate, gathered me up and brought me home.

My parents and everyone else were duly concerned about my well-being. But the greater concern was about the flustered driver. They sat him down, brought him a glass of water and told him children being what they are; it must have been my fault for not watching the road. Moreover, I seemed none the worse for wear and that he should put himself at ease. Tea was offered and had and then the gentleman was shown out of the house. That, if you ask me, was utopia.

There was no rage. No instant thrashing of the poor driver and no rush to burn his car to ashes. There was understanding and a fellow-feeling. There was recognition that a child was more likely to have erred. There was a spirit to accommodate and forgive. It was the year 1956.
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The mosque of Wazir Khan

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The mosque of Wazir Khan (built during the reign of Shah Jehan) inside Delhi Gate in old Lahore is without doubt the most priceless piece of Mughal art and architecture in the city. Anyone who has studied its decorative tile work critically places it in terms of sheer aesthetic beauty miles above the more famous and celebrated Blue Mosque of Istanbul.

Indeed, it will not be incorrect to say that together with the contemporaneous Shah Jehan Mosque of Thatta, it is a superlative of Mughal art. Masood Khan of Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan (AKCSP) says, the tile work seen in both mosques reached its state of perfection in Shah Jehan’s period, was used to great advantage and then faded out of the artists’ vocabulary.
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Kaghan Shari

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The shari came in all colours as long as they were black or a few shades of brown. When the arctic wind of winter drove down sleet and snow from the high slopes of Kaghan Valley, this three metres long and a metre wide shawl would completely wrap a grown man in its lamb’s wool warmth. Weighing no lighter than three kilograms, it contained enough wool to keep a body warm on any freezing day.

The counterfeit shari that is now passed off as the real thing. No buyer is aware that the original woven from raw lamb’s wool came in black and a few shades of brown
And it was always a man that the shari kept warm: traditionally and strictly it was part of the man’s attire. Understandably it radiated no bright colours; its signature being black and varying shades of tan. The only embellishment the shari bore was the arrangement of tassels along the two narrower borders.
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Silence in Kosh Kalat

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According to legend, the ancient town of Kech, known variously as Turbat, boasted some 2,000 leather embroiderers and cobblers. Today, Qazi Lal Buksh is the last remaining practitioner of chakankari or leather needlework, at least in Balochistan. By his account, it was because of the large population of these artisans that the town’s precinct of Kosh Kalat – literally Shoe Fortress – took its name.

Tools and raw material of the chakankari master’s trade
While he continues to craft women’s slippers, male footwear has gone out of fashion. The latter was a shoe with an upturned toe, equipped with a sewn anklet that sometimes reached up to the knee like greaves used by horse riders. The design for the shoe came down through nearly two millenniums of equestrian history. As well as that, there was the elaborate bandolier.
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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days