Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Saruna Valley

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I first saw this magical place in 1987. The Saruna River (Lasbela district, Balochistan) breaks out of its narrow rocky gorge and, before going on to run into the Hub River, spreads out to form a tarn. Said to be very deep (so far as I know, no sounding has been done to determine its depth), the water is of a striking deep green shade. And the setting is so uncannily beautiful that it does cause a sharp intake of breath.


The lake teems with crocodiles. Local legend has it that one accused of theft or mendacity thrown into the water will either be taken or rejected: the guilty, so they say, will be eaten. The innocent can swim and gambol in the water even as the crocs look on unconcerned. In 1987, there was one grave said to be that of Ari Pir along with its ancillary burials of lesser saints and one little tea shop and eatery. Ari Pir, so I learned, was a staging post on the route from Sehwan to Lahut Valley that became active in the month of Ramazan when hundreds of bhang-quaffing malangs passed through from the former to the latter. But there was no story about Ari Pir.

In 2000, a legend had been invented and the grave was under a dome; there was a hostel for visiting pilgrims and the shrine was big business. Visitors sacrificed goats and fed the innards to the crocodiles in the lake that were now as overfed as those of Manghopir in Karachi.

They believe Ari Pir was a son of Mahmud, the Turkish (not Pathan) king of Ghazni, who gave up the luxuries of the palace embellished by plunder, to become a peripatetic mendicant. In the course of his wanderings, he ended up in Saruna Valley and liking the place, resolved to make it his home.

Now, the king of Saruna had a right beautiful daughter who somehow old Ari caught sight of. He petitioned the king for the princess’s hand. But the king would have nothing of it. Why, how could he give his lovely princess to a lice-infested beggar who had no fixed abode and no source of income? He told his soldiers to drive the man out of the country. As he was being led away, Ari Pir called down the curse of God on the land. The country that was rich with farmland and orchard, of a sudden withered.

The story has several parallels in history. The most well known being that of prince Siddhartha (Buddha) and 500 years after him, Raja Bhartari of Ujjain, both of whom gave up the throne to spend their lives as saints. But their stories are singularly devoid of malice; they are paragons of compassion for all living beings. In the quasi-Islamic lore of Pakistan, we have dozens of saints who were downright malevolent and I always wonder what holy man would wish to harm his fellow beings and yet claim to revere the Maker. In all these cases, I see a queer strain of Stockholm syndrome spread across generations.

Incidentally, Ari is a rather common name. We have Ari Jam, the king of Kech whose son Punnu, besotted with the dazzling Sassui of Bhambore, refused to return home until his brothers drugged and kidnapped him. The story, immortalised by the great Shah Latif Bhitai, is so haunting and beautiful that it raises goose bumps and mists the eye. The graves of the two lovers lie some way off the Hub Dam Road north of Karachi.

Then we have the shrine of Ari Pir in Lasbela. This was none other than Mohammad bin Haroon, the Arab governor of Makran, who acted as guide to the army of Mohammad bin Qasim. According to the Chachnama, Haroon died of the ague in Lasbela. The shrine, in a quiet corner of town, is a place frequented by seekers of their hearts’ desires. It seems that in Balochi or Lasi (the dialect of Sindhi spoken in Lasbela), Haroon elides to Ari.


There is yet another Ari Pir somewhere in the foothills of the Khirthar Mountains west of Sehwan. This place I have only visited on an army one-inch map. I wonder what tales it holds.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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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