Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

On the edge

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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].
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SALMAN RASHID – ODYSSEUS OF PAKISTAN’S TRAVELOGUES

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by Fatima Arif

This quote by Martin Yan sums up the role travelling plays in the developing our minds. “People who don’t travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what’s in front of them. Those people cannot accept new things because all they know is where they live.”


When it comes to travelling it is not just travelling to other countries that help form your perspective (though that definitely is a plus) but visiting places can introduce to experiences that would help your intellectual growth.
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Grandeur in the wilderness

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The Kalhora dynasty ruled over Sindh for a full century from 1680 to 1783. Whereas the decline of this house of religious and military leaders owed all to inept bumblers, there were in the early years of the rise and power of this dynasty men of remarkable acumen and administrative skill who guided its fortunes.

Drigh Bala necropolis
Many remember the Kalhoras as builders of the most elaborate irrigation system in Sindh prior to the British advent that turned vast desert regions into fertile farmland. The Kalhoras were noted also for raising the new city of Khudabad (Dadu district) and virtually rebuilding Hyderabad from scratch to give it that name after Ali (RA) the last of the rightly guided caliphs.
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Inana or Nani

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There is in south-east Balochistan, on the banks of the Hingol River, a shrine called Bibi Nani. Muslims resort here to celebrate and worship a saint of whom only the vaguest of stories are told. Hindus, on the other hand, believe that the spot marks one of the places where the goddess Durga’s body parts were flung to the earth when she died. They call it Sri Mata Hinglaj. At any given time, followers of either religion can be met with at Hinglaj; both sides wonderfully tolerant of the other’s practices and worship.


There is another Bibi Nani shrine 10 kilometres west of Sibi, at the foot of the Bolan Pass. Here, too, a vague story of her and a pious brother is told. Having come to this country, she and her brother invited the heathens to Islam. But the king took rather unkindly to them and sent out his soldiers to bring them to him in chains. The brother walked into a rock face and disappeared, leaving only a copious spring to mark the spot. We don’t know how the sister Nani met her death and was buried on the banks of the Nari River.
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Jalebi Bend

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I called the bends in the Kuday Dawan jalebi from the name of a stretch of road in Zanskar (near Kargil in India of which I have seen some images). These bends in the Kuday have no similarity with our Khyber Pass. For one, the scale is much grander in Kuday at 3300 metres as against the 600 metres of our Khyber. Secondly, I have seen fewer places as dreadfully desiccated as the Kun Lun Mountains; the Suleman Mountains would be a virtual oasis in comparison. Also there are villages in the Khyber, boys grazing livestock, traffic driving past etc. The Kuday is utterly, utterly uninhabited.

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

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The Wonder Woman of Dadu

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The land around village Kabir Panhwar, a few kilometres from Johi in Dadu district, has remained unirrigated and uncultivated for centuries. Only hardy desert trees can grow in its sandy soil. Amid the prosopis and acacia, the thorny mesquite provides rich and poor alike with excellent fuelwood. The only patches of cultivation that one sees are owned by landowners who have their own tubewells. The landless of Kabir Panhwar and nearby villages can either work on the farms of the rich or, if they are free-spirited, can be wood cutters. The remarkable Laalan Khatoon used to be among the latter.


Every two or three days, Laalan would hire a donkey cart, spend the whole day hacking away at the mesquite even as the thorns cut her skin and tore her clothing to make a cartload of firewood. In Johi she would sell the load for 1,000 rupees. Paying cart rental at 200 rupees per day she would share the rest of the profit with whoever partnered with her, each person ending up with, on average, a little under 300 rupees per day.
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Moola Pass

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Read in Urdu about Moola, the wonderland in Balochistan. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].
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Roghan Sheher – the city of Caves

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The ravine of the Kudi Kor, one of the several tributaries of the Porali River that flows by Lasbela town in Balochistan, is wild and desolate with water in the bed only when it rains. The sheer sides of the gorge rise from about fifty to a hundred metres above the floor and would be unremarkable but for the caves that pock them.


Carefully hewn into the walls of conglomerate, the caves form proper dwelling places with a veranda in front that gives access to a room behind through a doorway. The rooms have windows looking through the veranda and niches for lamps. In at least one or two, remnants of in-house grain storage vats can still be found tucked into a corner. Locals know this site as Roghan Sheher.
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Gandava

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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.
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Sincerity

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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.
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Deosai People

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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

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When there is nothing to write about

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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]

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Baghsar Fort

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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].

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Train tourism

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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.
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Security Risk

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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.
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The Talpurs’ last stand

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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.
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‘Dust unto Dust’

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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.
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Ancient history of Taxila

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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].
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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