Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Deosai Life

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Image from DEOSAI: THE LAND OF THE GIANT - available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

Related: Deosai Truths - Book Review by F. S. Aijazuddin, Podcast on BBC Radio

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The typical Pakistani conversation

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Pakistanis are strange people. They ask you a question with no intention of hearing a response. There is a very tiny, very, very tiny, lot of truly educated persons who when they ask mean to be told. The remainder only banter in the course of which when they have to pose a question, they really have no intention of knowing your view on it.

Shortly after I quit the army in 1978, I started out making fun of army officers. When I with my long hair and unkempt beard introduced myself to someone as an ex of their profession the question following my regimental identity usually was where I had served.

‘Five of my six and a half years of commissioned service, I served in Kharian....’ I would begin. That was cue for my interlocutor to cut in: ‘Once I was in Kharian....’ and there would ensue an endless narration of how great Kharian was in antediluvian times. Notice how every fauji will use ‘once’ instead of ‘when’ and notice too how glorious a place as dreary as Kharian seems after one has left it.
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The Russians and the Saint

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In the latter years of the 19th century, the British Indian government undertook to delineate the border between their Balochistan possessions and the countries of Afghanistan and Iran. This boundary commission was led by Henry McMahon and with him he had a full complement of ancillary staff like surveyors and draughtsmen etc. The angular lines of the western boundary of Pakistan’s Balochistan that abuts on its Iranian counterpart in the west and on Afghanistan to the north are a result of those four years of hard fieldwork.


One among McMahon’s staff was a surveyor by the name of G. P. Tate, my predecessor as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Tate went on to write two books: Siestan that deals with the archaeology and history of the part of Balochistan that is shared by Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan and The Frontiers of Baluchistan (sic) that tells of his years of survey work in that harsh and barren land of sandstorms that blister the skin in summer and chill the bones in winter.
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Trek to the Source of the Khenji River

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Two years ago my article on a journey to the Dog’s Grave, the second highest peak in the Khirthar Mountains, and my use of the words of H. T. Lambrick elicited a response from friend Raheal Siddiqui. He said the words I quoted, were used by Lambrick for another part of the Khirthar: the Khenji River and not the Sita that I had trekked along. Ever since he had wanted me to trek on the Khenji as well, but it was always one thing or the other that kept me until ten days ago.


In Larkana  Raheal packed me off to the dusty little village of Warah where my fat, pot-bellied, bhung-drinking friend Wali Mohammed waited at the otaq of Tharo Khan Chandio, the local chief. A tea ceremony was followed by a visit to the local grocery with Tharo Khan’s driver fidgeting endlessly and reminding us how late it was getting and that we would not arrive at the village of Rahu jo Aitho before nightfall if we did not hurry. Yet we did not hurry. The tired Suzuki jeep rattled along raising a thick cloud of cloying dust on the bank of a saline drain. We passed the reedy shores of Daba Lake and then we were clattering over hard, stony ground. On the outskirts of the rare settlement ugly crop-eared brutes came out to bark our wheels out of their jurisdiction. They raced alongside, snarling menacingly and, seeing that our jeep so much the bigger than themselves, did not have the nerve to stand and fight turned back with some satisfaction.
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What do you believe in?

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I used to believe in all sorts of rubbish. Like the Earth being round and it revolving around the sun. I also believed things that I saw – but that too half because I was never sure if my eyes were not playing tricks on me. And I never believed most of what I heard from ordinary folks.

Illustration by Zehra Nawab

Things changed about ten years ago. I had walked up to the crest of the Makra peak in Kaghan and on the way back hitched a ride in a jeep with a bunch of Lahoris returning to Shogran. The leader – a Butt from Kashmiri Mohalla, who by Lahori aesthetics was handsome: tall, fat and fair-skinned – having ascertained that I had spent a few nights camping on the nearby Lake Saiful Muluk, was full of questions.
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Alexander’s Progeny: My Foot

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‘The Lost Children of Alexander the Great: A journey to the Pagan Kalash People of Pakistan.’ Such is the title of a story published in what I suppose is a blog called Huffpost Travel. The author is some shithead idiot named Brian Glyn Williams. Moron Williams claims to be ‘Professor of Islamic History, U Mass Dartmouth.’

The story, and I confess I did not read it, is a travel story of a journey made to Rumbur Valley in Chitral by some semi-literate idiots from somewhere. I did not read it because every time I read anything like the title I begin this blog with, I see red. I want to kick the writer until he is castrated. And if she is a woman, I want to tell her that she is the finest example to cite when we wish to prove women are mentally deficient. (In normal life I do not believe this to be true.)
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Deosai Plateau

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Moors with luxurious grasses rising to the knee, dotted with the tarns, some over four meters deep, with crystal-clear water where snow carp glide lazily, reflect fleecy grey-white thunderheads in a signature setting of Deosai Plateau [Image from Deosai: Land of the Giant].

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

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Toil of the Loom

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‘There are many qualities of wool in Sind [sic], black, brown and white. A good deal of it, especially of the black, is worked locally into blankets and saddle-bags.’ Thus notes a British civil servant in the year 1906. He goes on to observe that in Tharparkar this wool is put to good use producing ‘blankets’, locally termed khatha. Similar to the kambli of the Deccan, this white-coloured product is, we are told, ‘finer in texture, the wool of which it is made being superior.’

Patterning detail on a genuine black khatha
Produced on narrow width handlooms and used more as cold weather attire than as bedding, these are, properly, shawls. Woven in two feet width, two panels in length measuring nine feet each are sewn together to create a single piece. Intricately woven in brightly coloured patterns along the border, the shawls are masterpieces of craftsmanship of the finest order. Unlike some shawls woven with cotton warp, the khatha is still, weft and warp, entirely sheep wool.
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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