Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

George Tyrwhitt: A true eccentric of the Raj

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'Turwutt came to Nagar Parker at the head of an army in 1858 when Rana Karan Singh ruled over the place. A great battle was fought here in which the English were roundly defeated and had to flee for their lives. The Rajputs went in pursuit, and Turwutt was only able to get away with his life after a Meghwar tanner hid him under a pile of cowhides. Returning subsequently with an even greater army, Turwutt was finally able to overcome the Rajputs of Nagar. And not the one to forget the Meghwar, he allotted him a vast jagir.'


Ali Nawaz Khosa, the elderly teller of tales from Nagar Parker fell silent. The tap-tap-tap of his steel tipped cane on the street became more pronounced. From afar the koel called, the moisture laden monsoon wind gusted down the corridor of the street and the old man sat down in the verandah of the ruined hulk at the west end of the Nagar Parker bazaar. I had never read of any great battle between the British and the Ranas of Nagar, I said.
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Deosai: Land of the Giant

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

Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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Fools that Rule

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Every day one reads something in the papers and cannot but wonder what sort of fools and retards rule the various government agencies that mismanage this blighted land. Today (21 May 2016) I am told, ‘The Lahore Ring Road Authority [LRRA] has made a plan to fix iron fencing at various sections of the road to stop pedestrians from crossing the road and causing accidents.’ (Dawn, Metro section).

A small bit of steel fence removed from right in front of a narrow street to give free passage
We are further informed by the blockheads of LRRA that this effort will ‘force’ pedestrians to use overhead bridges meant for them to cross the road. What country do these idiot shitheads live in?
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Wide Road Do Not Mean Better Traffic

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This started on Twitter this morning, 20 May 2016. I tweeted something about courtesy and discipline on roads making for better traffic. And that wide roads make no difference at all.

Tweeple discuss this here

But let me add sense of responsibility to courtesy and discipline on the roads. My friends Moazzam (@MoazzamSalim) and Rizwan (@rizwarned) took exception to my assertion. Both of them seriously believe wide roads will make for better traffic. The argument went illogical when, in responding to my tweet about narrow streets in central London being happily unclogged – or largely so, Moazzam said something about population and vehicular density. As well as that, he said, there were not so many different types of vehicles in the West.
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Kolpur Railway Station

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Kolpur Railway Station, the highest point in the Bolan Pass

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A secret revealed

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If the Soon Valley of Punjab had been in, say, India or Nepal, it would have been overrun by tourists. But in Pakistan, it is like that beautiful but poor woman and the full moon of a winter’s night that Manto said no one appreciates. The valley goes unsung. It remains Punjab’s best kept secret.


When I first ventured into this beautiful, picture perfect place, there were only a couple of roads through the valley. The one leading in from Kallar Kahar split to go either through Sodhi Jaiwali or by way of Jaba; both being incredibly picturesque. The former meandered through a largely uninhabited and forested valley with trees shading the road. The latter from Jaba passed by the lovely sheet of Khabeki Lake.
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Map to mountains

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My first high adventure travel book Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan was inspired by the geographical exploratory work of Victorian and early 20th century explorers. It all began in 1983 quite by a fluke of luck when I chanced upon a copy of Eric Shipton's masterpiece of exploration in the Karakoram and, just north of them, the Aghil Mountains. It is arguably the most readable and exciting account of three months of surveying work in the world's remotest region without any outside help or replenishment carried out in the summer of 1937. In this account (as indeed in all his other five mountain travel books) Shipton comes across as a most likeable travel companion. He along with his climbing partner and lifelong friend, William Tilman, became my hero. I just wanted to be where these two great men had been.

The Aghil Mountains, in 1937 were part of India and were inherited by Pakistan until they were gifted to China by our government in 1963. They went out of my reach, but I resolved to see some of the regions where Shipton and Tilman had been. And so the notion of Burrs was born. The journey was undertaken in the summer of 1990 and it took three months to complete.
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Water in the Wilderness

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‘Owing to our extreme dependence on the Indus water, we must understand and protect all its antecedent sources and tributaries.’ So writes, and writes very truly, one of the three authors of Water in the Wilderness. But one could go a step farther and iterate that Pakistan being a water-scarce region and fast heading for scarcity that will begin to hurt us deeply, every individual needs to be aware of the crisis that looms in the near future.

Written by Mehjabeen Abidi-Habib, Richard Garstang and Rina Saeed Khan – all of whom have substantial experience in working and reporting upon environmental matters – the book essentially deals with water issues. However, it is more than that. Water in the Wilderness is a tour de force across the cultures of Makran, through the western lakes of Larkana and into Cholistan. Thence it takes the reader to Deosai, Shimshal, Shandur and Chitral. At the same time, this is an excellent eco-tourist guide.
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Lake Tala Khumbo

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

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The ‘exclusive’ traverse

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First things first. I wrote my requiem last year in August when I wept on the Mintaka Pass in Gojal. I had walked up unfit after a full year of living without a jot of exercise. To add to that, I had developed, right on the first day of the trek, the most horridly lurid blisters on both feet. I wept when I read on the crest of the pass how fit Peter Fleming had felt coming up from the Tashkurghan side. Sono (Rahman) Aunty called to say I had brought tears to her eyes and that I couldn’t give up so quickly. So, even without trying, I did not give up.


This year I returned to Shimshal after twenty years to walk to the summer pasture of Shuwert doing some work for Pakistan Petroleum Ltd. I was not prospecting for oil, though. Back in July 1990, with much less flab on the body and much more hair on the pate, I had done a traverse from Askole to Shimshal by the Biafo-Sim Gang-Braldu glacier system. Having crossed the 5700 metre-high Lukpe La, I became the first Pakistani to have done this traverse.
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Years of Publications

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Riders on the Wind published [1st ed] in 1989, [2nd ed] in 2004

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was published [1st ed 1992], [2nd ed] in 2000

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan published in 1995

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau published [1st ed 2000], [2nd ed] in 2005

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan published in 2003

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta published in 2005

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan published in 2006

The Apricot Road to Yarkand published in 2011

Deosai: Land of the Giant published in 2013

All books are available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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Flower festivals, anyone?

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My good friend Murtaza Solangi spent some of his long journalistic years in Washington DC. There, he says, he waited through those harsh winters for the cherry blossom to break out on the borders of the lake or pond or whatever that body of water is. He asked me if I had ever seen it, but the nearest I’ve been to DC was when I was briefly in New York three decades ago. It is in May, says Murtaza, that they have their Cherry Blossom Festival, a great binge of gaiety, song, dance, food and drink.


Murtaza says that these trees were gifted to DC by the Japanese emperor at the end of World War I. This is not the fruit-bearing species, just the flowering one and its sole purpose is to bring beauty and colour to the landscape. The Japanese have long had the original cherry blossom festival and when I checked Google, I discovered that several US and Canadian cities now follow the Washington DC model.
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Turn of the Wheel

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Lockwood Kipling knew of Dera Ismail Khan’s famous lac turnery in the 1880s. He was amazed by the ‘microscopic fineness’ of the ‘maze of fernlike scrolls’ and praised the choice of colours that went into the work. ‘The work may be considered the most tasteful and refined of all lac turnery in the Punjab, as there is an entire absence of crude and glaring colours, with a definite system of ornamentation,’ he wrote.

An exquisite lidded container
In Kipling’s time, the timber used was mainly shisham. Among the several households practicing the art at the time, the scroll work was done mainly by women. Men only worked the hand lathe or jundri, which gives its name to the craft, to machine the timber into shape and apply successive coats of colour. But for the past several decades the craft is handled entirely by men. At that time, a good deal of this work ended up being exported to Britain. Even today, its greatest patrons are foreigners based in Islamabad with a small number of local supporters. And shisham has been replaced by tamarisk as the main timber.
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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