The town called ‘Tomb’
29 March 2017
The high, wind-scoured mound of hard-packed clay rises above the date orchards to the north of Turbat town. Closer inspection reveals an array of eroded turrets and bulky walls meant clearly for defensive purpose, foundations of rooms, immense quantities of pottery shards and even a brick-lined well or two.
Locals call it Miri and believe it is the last vestige of the palace of Ari Jam, the king of Kech and Makran. But Ari Jam was apparently a mythical figure for history provides no corroboration of his existence. Instead, there is no dearth of reference to the town of Kech in the accounts of the several Persian and Arab geographers who passed through Makran in the Middle Ages.
Twelve hundred years before the first of these travellers, there was Alexander of Macedon who led his army through the barren, waterless deserts of the land his chroniclers call Gadrosia. Known to us as Makran, this was a land where no provision were to be had and good water only infrequently. The journey was ghastly: thousands perished from thirst and heat. It was a journey in which when even a close comrade or a loved one fell by the wayside, others kept trudging on for stopping meant inviting one’s own death.
At length Alexander fetched up in a region ‘where provisions were more or less plentiful.’ So fruitful was this land after the deprivation of the preceding weeks that a large amount of food was purchased from the locals. History tells us that Alexander’s route led him west from Lasbela town, consequently the region of plenty to be first reached would be Turbat sitting in the fertile flood plain of the Kech River that then flowed somewhat better than today.
After the Arab invasion of Makran in the early 8th century CE, this region saw a flurry of visitors from the west. All those who came, were dazzled by the affluence of the town they called Kedge or Kech. Some likened the richness of its trade and commerce to that of the more famous Multan far away in the Punjab heartland. Others waxed eloquent on the generous hospitality offered by its people – as the Baloch do to this day.
While all agree on the name Kech, the Arab Ibn Haukal (mid-10th century), upsets the balance by writing of a place called Qabr, sepulchre in Arabic. However, he does not elaborate if there were ancient graves or perhaps an opulent mausoleum marking the last resting place of some bygone grandee to justify the title. Now, at the time of the Arabs’ first arrival in Makran, the country was largely peopled by Zoroastrians who do not bury their dead. Yet there appear to have been, if not several, at least one famous tomb for Ibn Haukal to name the town Qabr.
Over the years however, Kech came to be known as Turbat which is the Persian equivalent of Qabr. The mysterious burial that the Arab geographer referred to evidently continued to attract attention and was also noticed by Persian-speakers. History tantalises by keeping the wraps on this mysterious tomb. Could it be that Alexander in his passage through Turbat left behind some graves that were celebrated long after their origin was forgotten?
We do not have the answers yet. And that is because Miri, the mound of Turbat, has yet only been cursorily investigated by archaeologists. Even this perfunctory study reveals that the mound was continuously inhabited from about 1500 BCE until the 16th century of our era, that is, it holds the mysteries of over three thousand years. One day when it gives up its secrets we may learn of Alexander’s sojourn here and the burials he ordered.
posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,
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