Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Train tourism

Bookmark and Share

Railways is among the more enduring legacies of the British Raj in the subcontinent. There is virtually an inexhaustible body of extremely interesting lore and history of the building of this great system of transportation discussed in a few excellent books and in the esoteric journals in the Punjab Archives. It is another story that the ignorant and asinine bureaucrats do not permit access to that great treasure trove.


Even if one has not read about the intricacies and heroism of the laying of the line from, say, Ruk (near Shikarpur) to Sibi, one can still stand on the platform of Ruk and wonder what the letters KSR and IVSR that adorn the façade in blue on white ceramic tiles mean. The lettering signifies that this little-known station was the junction of the Indus Valley State Railway coming up from Kotri and the new line to Quetta and Chaman called the Kandahar State Railway.
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Deosai - where earth meets the sky

Bookmark and Share


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

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Sincerity

Bookmark and Share

This piece appears in the January 2015 issue of Herald 

I have a handy little volume titled Murphy’s Law Complete, by one Arthur Bloch. Among a few hundred other gems, the book contains a priceless piece of advice that has long been the guiding principle of our political class. It is called Glyme’s Formula for Success. Now, don’t even ask me who this Glyme chap is because I have no clue and neither does Bloch or he would have told us. The formula states: ‘The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’

Going by his name, this Glyme cannot possibly be a Pakistani. I therefore suspect this piece of very useful wisdom so much in use in Pakistani politics, as well as in daily life, was actually thought up by a local sage who put it into practice without taking out a patent on it. Unprotected by law, the formula was filched by smart aleck Glyme whose name then stuck to it. I suspect it was fear of legal action from Pakistan that kept old Glyme from passing on his full name to Bloch.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Built Heritage

Bookmark and Share


Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

When there is nothing to write about

Bookmark and Share

There have been some few, very few, occasions that I have been somewhere for the express purpose of writing about that place but failed to produce anything. One not so recent example was going to Chunian with my dear friend Zafar Abbas Naqvi. There were some incredibly beautiful old houses to photograph but that was not enough for me. I had never read about Chunian in any of the Mughal histories and after the visit I spent days trying to find Chunian in these and earlier histories. I needed an interesting episode to hang the tale on. Nothing. I turned up only blanks. And so, despite the few images of some lovely houses, I could not write anything.

In Chunian I met a pigeon man - the typical kabootar baz. And did he have interesting stories to tell and hundreds of pigeons to show! And I by mistake deleted his interview from the recording machine. That was pure bad luck. Though Chunian is just an hour away, I have not returned in three years. Perhaps next winter. The pigeon man's story needs be told. What I need when I go someplace is an interesting historical tale to hang my piece on. Travel writing is something more than just a piece about beautiful bazaars and good food. For me it has to be history; stories that are untold; facets undiscovered. Besides Chunian there have perhaps been four or five other occasions when I failed to turn up something.

[Click the image to enlarge]

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:30 AM, , links to this post

Euthanasia

Bookmark and Share

Euthanasia comes from the Greek eu meaning good and thanatos for death. My Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has three definitions for it. Firstly, ‘a gentle and easy death; secondly, ‘a means of bringing about such a death. Lastly it says, ‘action of bringing about such a death, esp. of a person who requests it as a release from incurable disease’. In plain speak folks call it mercy killing.

The last one clinches it. Plagued as this unfortunate country of Pakistan is at best by deadwood and at worst outright ill-wishers and perpetrators of evil against its very corpus, we could do with mass euthanasia. Going by the third definition of euthanasia, the people of Pakistan should request mercy killing of several hundreds of thousands of miscreants in order to save Pakistan from the sickness that those people are.

Thankfully the bastards who plagued this land in its early and formative years have rotted in their graves. Years ago, beginning in July 1977, every evening as I lay in bed under the high roof of the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters behind Log Area Mess, 45 The Mall, Peshawar, I used to pray for someone to inflict euthanasia on the Incubus of our Eleven Year-Long Night, the Grinning Demon of Islamisation. It is another thing that then I did not know how long the diseased vermin was going to be around.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Bookmark and Share


On the bank of River Jhelum, looking west to the road bridge

Image from jhelum: City of the Vitasta - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:30 AM, , links to this post

Security Risk

Bookmark and Share

I don’t know when they started it – it seems to have always been around – but this paranoia of security against the ‘enemy state’ (dushman mulk) pervades the national psyche deeply. This so-called security entails only a moratorium on photography, all else like blowing up PNS Mehran or Kamra apparently being kosher.

In nearly seven decades of the country’s existence, the painter of the ‘Photography Prohibited’ sign has never known poor business. Though the powers-that-be keep the identity of this person a tantalisingly guarded secret, his artwork adorns every bridge, culvert, railway station, airport, dam, power grid and rubbish dump around the land. For his meritorious and assiduous service to the country he must have received the highest awards from the government.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

On the edge

Bookmark and Share

Rabat is an ancient caravanserai situated at the edge of Pakistan. Read in Urdu about history of the place. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The Talpurs’ last stand

Bookmark and Share

Hard by a farm-to-market road outside the village of Sahib Khan Chandio, ten kilometres north of Hyderabad and just off National Highway 5, there stands amid the fields a yellow sandstone obelisk. The white marble plaque on one of its faces tells us that the monument was ‘Erected by Major General Sir Charles Napier GCB and the officers, non-commissioned officer and soldiers of the British army under his command in memory of their comrades who fell in the battles of 17th February and 24th March 1843 fought with the Ameers of Sind.’


The plaque then lists the names of those three hundred or so British and Indian men who gave up their lives fighting for control over Sindh. Understandably, the monument commemorates the men who were in the service of the British crown, not those who fought for the independence of the country of Sindh.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

‘Dust unto Dust’

Bookmark and Share

In the year 1902 parts of the Shikarpur and Karachi districts of the province of Sindh were carved away to establish the new district of Larkana. Long before that this area was known as Chandka after the well-established Chandio tribe that still lives in great numbers in the western hills of the district. Now the newly established district was to get its new name from the Rajput clan of Larik.


In a paper submitted to the Government of India on 31 December 1847 Hugh James, the Deputy Collector (equivalent to the modern Assistant Commissioner) of Shikarpur, did not hesitate to call Chandka the ‘Garden of Upper Sindh.’ His reason for this appellation was the number of waterways, both natural and man-made, that meandered across the district bringing it great fertility.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Deosai People

Bookmark and Share


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

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

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

To the Shrine of the Invisible Saint

Bookmark and Share

The hills – as gold-brown as sun-dried chaff, or dark grey like fire-scoured lead, rise sharply on either side of the narrow gorge. Rarely is their burnished starkness broken by vegetation; rarely, save during a downpour, does one see a trickle of water on these slopes. Desiccated, harsh and barren, the slopes run down to the pebbly bed of the Bolan River where the water flows in a narrow channel. Rarely does the entire riverbed know the feel of water sluicing over it – and that again only during a downpour.


Long, long before Alexander the Macedonian was born; long before the Aryan hordes swept into the plains of the Sindhu-Ganga river system to give rise to a new religion and a new culture; even before the great tragic hero Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk (lower Mesopotamia), disturbed by the demise of his dearest friend, undertook his epic quest for immortality; the Bolan Gorge had resounded to the tramp of marching feet, to the clink of armoury and the jangle of camels’ bells. For this was the highroad leading west from the plains of Sindh where one of the great civilisations of prehistory flourished. The discovery of the ruins at Mehrgarh near Sibi at the lower end of the Pass and the verification that this ancient city had flourished as far back as the eighth millennium BCE testifies that the Bolan route has certainly been used as long as that.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Baghsar Fort

Bookmark and Share

Read in Urdu about history of Baghsar Fort situated right on the Indian frontier, near Bhimber. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].

Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Gandava

Bookmark and Share

Abu Ishaq, that native of Persepolis as the Greeks knew it and Istakhr as it was later called, wrote his Kitabl al Akaleem in the middle of the 10th century after having travelled widely across the Muslim world. His travels brought him to Sindh as well and it naturally features in the book.

One of the cities he visited was Kandabil and Abu Ishaq Istakhri wrote: 'Kandabil is a great city. The palm tree does not grow there. It is in the desert and within the confines of [the province of] Budha. The cultivated fields are mostly irrigated. Vines grow there and cattle are pastured. The vicinity is fruitful.'

A hundred years before Istakhri, we have Ahmad al Bilazuri telling us that Kandabil sat atop a hill. Now mounds signify age because as habitation decays and crumbles new buildings rise on old ruins and over time a mound is created. And so, a town on a mound back in the year 850 would mean a town that was ancient even a thousand years ago.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The funny side of… monkey business

Bookmark and Share

Old Mr Darwin said something about all life evolving to higher forms, which we take to mean that we were monkeys at one time. On the other hand, the Quran has a line about some Jewish miscreants being turned into monkeys. (Aside: With only a few date trees in Arabia, I wonder where the poor newly-evolved simians would have lived in that desert land.)

Here in merry old Lahore, we have our own bunch of folks struggling to return to the primate shape of their forefathers. And it all started about four years ago. An errant Qingqi (oh, who wretch invented this monster?) driver was booked by a traffic warden. Leaving his machine in the middle of the road, the driver quickly clambered up a power pylon that happened to be at hand. There, from ten metres high, he threatened to jump if the warden did not cancel his ticket.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The last post

Bookmark and Share


On The Apricot Road to Yarkand - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, ,

A nation of tree haters

Bookmark and Share

Some years ago, having seen a lovely pipal fronting an empty plot near a friend’s home, I would carry on about the beauty of the tree. The tree stood their magnificent, gorging itself on atmospheric carbon dioxide; holding the carbon in its body to reduce global warming, it spewed out pure, unadulterated oxygen so that no life on earth may die of asphyxiation. The plot being unoccupied, the tree had been there undisturbed for decades.

The tree on the highroad south from Jalandhar to Ughi
But then my friend told me the plot had been purchased by some yahoo who was going to build a home on it. I said I would bet my last rupee that the first thing that foolish buyer would do is to chop down the tree.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

We are being bitten back

Bookmark and Share

Many years ago Edward Tenner wrote a thought-provoking book titled Why things bite back. It was all about Nature reacting to what we know as technological advancement. That is, the unintended consequences of what we do to the planet Earth.

We of Pakistan are unfortunately blissfully and utterly ignorant of such ‘inconsequential’ matters. On page 18 of Metro, Dawn newspaper (5 Nov 2016) carries an item about a mayor from some Japanese town visiting Sialkot and planting a sapling in some school or the other.

The accompanying image shows an araucaria being planted!

I do not expect a Japanese mayor either to know about our indigenous flora or to really care about our ecology and what we plant on this blessed land to blight it ever further. Nor too do I expect any such consciousness from the cock-eyed school teachers, bureaucrats and politicians who attended the planting ceremony. Even if there was an official of the Forest Department in attendance, it would be way too much to think he would know any better than planting the araucaria.
Read more »

Labels:

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Ancient history of Taxila

Bookmark and Share

Read in Urdu about history of Taxila - seat of ancient civilization. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].
Read more »

Labels: , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Walking into the unknown

Bookmark and Share

Funny thing is that I get lost driving my car around in some cities. I have never lost in a serious major sort of way in the wild places of Pakistan except one time on a solo trek when I blundered off the trail in Chitral and ended up on a dangerous rock face. Got out without any damage, though.

Another time, leading a group of Asian Study Group folks including the elderly and wonderful Dr Lois Mervyn of the then American Centre, I lost the way from Ara rest house to Nandna because I was too busy yakking away with my dear friend Rhona Atkinson. Lost face very much because only a few minutes earlier I had been telling young Brad, an American kid, 'only a fool would lose the way here.' Brad did not miss a chance to rag me to death after that.
Read more »

Labels: ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

The Men of Hunza

Bookmark and Share

In August 1861, the explorer Godwin-Austen was camped on the Panmah Glacier when he met four travellers coming down the icy slopes of the glacier above. They were Balti men returning home from Yarkand to meet friends and relatives. Godwin-Austen noted that they were very well-clothed and equipped and guessed that living in Yarkand had done them well in economic terms.


Though the explorer already knew of the depredations of the men of Hunza, he got first-hand information on the subject from his Balti visitors: the robbers from whom no one was safe were all over the place. The road across the glaciated Great Asiatic Divide to Raskam and beyond was within their reach. As well as that, they also prowled along the great trunk road from Leh that we today sometimes know as the Karakoram Route over the pass of the same name.
Read more »

Labels: , , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

With Love from Deosai

Bookmark and Share


Excerpt - Land of the Giant, Review - Deosai Truths [Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore]

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post

Glint Gone Dim

Bookmark and Share

‘Only they who understand the intricacies of misgari will appreciate the hard work that goes into producing a copperware item and will be willing to pay its price commensurate with the work that went into its making.’ Khwaja Safar Ali says referring to a copper plate he has in his home.

The master copper craftsman of Peshawar, Khwaja Safar Ali at work in his cubicle provided by the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Constructed from twenty different sheets of copper heated to glowing redness to be stitched together, weighing some ten kilograms and engraved and chased with intricate patterns, the plate took four months of painstaking work. But today the buyer who would be aware of the value of the work is hard to come by. And so Safar Ali has not been offered the asking price of Rs 200,000. He produced it knowing well enough that it may be months before he might find a buyer for it. This piece was a labour of love for Ali. It epitomises his pride in the craft kept by his family through several generations.
Read more »

Labels: , ,

posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM, , links to this post




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