Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Fish in the water

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When Alexander’s General Krateros started off with the ten thousand-strong contingent of aging veterans back for Macedonia, he had parted from his commander at Patala (Hyderabad). Three hundred and fifty kilometres northwest of Patala and some two weeks after the contingent of aging veterans bid farewell to Alexander, to head for Macedonia in the year 325 BCE, blasé veterans from years of hard travelling and even harder fighting, would have looked up in awe. There, spread out in front, was a large irregular splash of green, offsetting the bleak ochre of the mountains in the background.

As they neared, birdsong bursting out of the thickets would have been more than welcoming. Nearer still, the tinkle of rushing waters would have soothed the tired marchers. But Krateros would not have tarried long here for he had the Moola Pass to negotiate to the Baloch uplands before he could reach Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar). Neither Krateros nor any of his veterans left behind a record of what they saw and how they felt upon reaching this lovely oasis. Nor, too, did they tell us what it was called. But one thing that cannot be denied is that this army would have passed through Chhattal Shah, for there was no other way of ascending the Moola if you came from the low country of Sindh.
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Al Beruni was here

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The fortified temple complex of Nandna sits smack on the Nandna Pass leading from the Salt Range highlands into the Punjab plains on the west bank of the Jhelum River. From times immemorial the pass, a natural and narrow cleft in the hills, has seen the passage of caravans of trade and invasion and because of its location, it would only have been natural for a fortress to be raised in the pass not just to hold adventurers at bay but also to exact taxes from passing traders. Having sojourned in Taxila, Alexander of Macedonia came through the Nandna Pass to the banks of the Jhelum River. This was in the month of May in 326 BCE. Here he fought his hardest battle against Raja Paurava (Porus in Greek) since the last confrontation against the Persians a few years earlier.

In the year 1013, Mahmud the Turkish ruler of Ghazni came against Nandna when it was in the possession of Jaipul II, the king of Lahore who held sway as far as Peshawar. Nidder (Dauntless) Bhimpal, the governor of Nandna, bravely held out for several days until the Turks sneaked around the surrounding hills and into the plains of the village of Baghanwala to the south of Nandna. With the water supply cut off, Bhimpal the Dauntless brought down his army to confront the Turks where the orchards of Baghanwala now ring with birdsong.

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Happy Birthday to Me

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Today, Sunday 21 February 2016 is my 64th birthday. Since I poke fun at all those morons who claim to be 144 years old because they ‘remember’ the time of, say, the 1857 struggle against the Raj, I assert I am 2364. That is because I ‘remember’ Alexander the Macedonian so well.

I have been asked how it feels to be 64. Well, for starters it feels like 64. Which is that I am more susceptible to cold. Time was when I could shock people with my immunity to it. In July 1997 I was working with Himalayan Wildlife Foundation on Deosai Plateau (4300 metres, 14,000 feet) where the camp cook told me they had a bathroom with hot water.

The hot water in the tiny tent turned out to be a teeny bucket with just enough water for me to wash my... Errrm, sorry cannot write here what I told the cook the water was sufficient for. I got a tin jug from the man and told him to watch how men wash themselves.

At the bank of Bara Pani, I stripped, turned around to check that the man was watching and poured the first jugful over myself. A blood-curdling scream escaped my lips and that was all. Then I was speedily pouring jug after jugful. I came back smelling good and Eesa spent the next few years telling all visitors of this man from Lahore who was impervious to cold.
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My Favourite Alcove

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A Summer Sojourn in Upper Sindh

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Friend Raheal Siddiqui is an Assistant Commissioner of the old school. He is a lover of books who laments there is too little time to read. And he likes to know about the land and the people he has been put to administer. And so when he called from Larkana to talk about this ‘little village on the Indus with some lovely havelis,’ I couldn’t resist a visit. I did not realise though that it was a bad time of year for Upper Sindh – until it was too late.

The ride from Sukker to Larkana in the forty-eight degree heat and stifling humidity very nearly gave me a heat stroke. And if I had thought the thick walls and high roofs of the official residence of the AC would bring any relief, I was wrong. Nothing could stop the heat and humidity from getting to you. The one redeeming factor was that this turn of the century bungalow was steeped in recent history for it had been home to, among others, H. T. Lambrick. For some this administrator and writer of Sindhi histories is a hero; for others a villain, for he was responsible for the hanging of Pir Pagara in the final years of the Raj.
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Lahut Valley

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One of the most unforgettable journeys of my life was the time (December 1983) I rode the bus from Lea Market, Karachi to the shrine of Shah Noorani (henceforth SN) in the Lahut valley (Lasbela district, Balochistan). The bus was a beat-up pile of rattling tin sheets; the men rode on the roof, the women, children and the goats and sheep inside.

Departing Lea Market well after the scheduled time, we left Hub Dam Road just short of the dam, and turned into the bush. The trail was clearly marked and some devotee had set up stainless steel rice dish distance markers in order to win merit with SN.

Now, the trail is criss-crossed with streams and every time our old rattletrap descended into one, a self-appointed cheerleader (of sorts), set up the cry, ‘Bolo, bolo, bolo, jeay Shah!’ In response the rest of us screamed at the top of our lungs ‘Jeay Shah!’ And good old Shah helped the bus up the sharp incline on the other side.
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Chachnama

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The Chachnama takes its name from Raja Chach of Sindh, whose son Dahar stood against the Arabs under Mohammad bin Qasim (MbQ). It comes down to us in its Sindhi, Urdu and English versions. In 1216, one Ali bin Mohammad Kufi, then being a resident of Uch in south Punjab, wishing to learn about the history of his adopted country sought out true sources.

His search brought Kufi to Bhakkar (the fort midstream between Sukkur and Rohri) where the Qazi, Ismail bin Ali of the tribe Sakifi became his mentor. Among his collection, the Qazi had a manuscript that he said was written by one of his ancestors and which detailed the account of Sindh at the time of the Arab invasion. Now, Sakifi was the tribe that MbQ also belonged to, so the Qazi was a descendent from the conqueror’s line. The book, therefore, was the version of the victor — something that we always tend to hold against history.
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Shy in Deosai

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Peeking shyly from the doorway of her home, this little girl minds her kid brother while the mother takes care of housework. She wears the traditional hat which follows a basic template design but varies in decoration which is added to progressively whenever the owner has the time or inclination

[Image from Deosai: Land of the Giant - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore]

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The Line they Forgot

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The past truly is another country. Inspired by Paul Theroux’s classic in travel literature The Great Railway Bazaar, I endeavoured to execute a Little Railway Bazaar. And so I embarked upon a series of train journeys in Pakistan. I rode the narrow gauge train from Bannu to Mari Indus; the metre gauge from Nawabshah to Mirpur Khas and from the latter place to Khokhropar on the Indian border. I thrilled to the several crossings of the Nari River by those magnificent steel spans a century old at that time; and I beat the furnace wind of the desert plains of Dalbandin by a mere fortnight when I rode the Lonely Line to the Iranian frontier.

Where the Jalu jo Chaunro station once stood
The fat, pot-bellied Ticket Examiner mentioned the name of the wind: bad e sad o bees roz – Wind of a Hundred and Twenty Days – and my flesh crawled. This was a sound from tales a thousand years old. Tales in which bells jangled as camels plodded through the dunes of this beautiful land of Balochistan; tales that told of caravanserais so remote that even today one has difficulty reaching their ruined walls. These were tales handed down around fires on freezing desert nights and preserved through the generations. Today, the wind still blows but train conductors no longer refer to it as the bad e sad o bees roz. A fascinating piece of tradition is forgotten.

That was in 1986-87. That is more than a quarter century in the past. That was another country.
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Meeting our Nutrition Shortage

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My morning paper of 22 December 2015 carried this front page headline: ‘One in three Pakistanis lacks access to adequately nutritious food’. The item carried all sorts of obtuse pontification by a ‘renowned’ economist and some equally obfuscating rubbish by the babus of the National Economic Council.

Morniga tree planted at Alba in August 2014 is now about 10 feet high, See the video here

The trouble with us Pakistanis, ordinary man-on-the-street kind and these so-called experts is that we are stupid. We, all two hundred million of us, are just plain unthinking morons who have never read anything. Perish the notion that some of these ‘experts’ will ever engage in serious research. And the least about malnutrition because these babus with their fat salaries can stuff their fat faces with all the goodies their riches can buy. It is the under-privileged that are malnourished: and damn those ugly, unclad, underfed monkeys.
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That Riot of Colour

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There was a time colourful rugs adorned the homes of nobility in Sindh and Bahawalpur. Known as farasi in the south and falasi in Bahawalpur, they were produced by a very busy cottage industry for a market that was ready and wanting. Whatever the artisan, traditionally always women, could bring off the handloom, was quickly lapped up. Turnover was swift; recompense for the long hours over the loom good. Inevitably, every village had several households practicing the craft. Today, these masterpieces of weaving are getting harder to come by.


The word farasi, sometimes pronounced farashi, is clearly a corruption of farsh, Persian cognate for floor covering. Baloch families of Badin claim they brought farasi weaving to Sindh some four to five hundred years ago. At home on the vast, wind-scoured desert plateau of western Balochistan, the dirt floor of their dark goats hair tents was adorned with these hardy, virtually wear-resistant rugs. In that khaki landscape of flying sand and dust, this was one flamboyant riot of colour.
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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