Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The Shaksgam River

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Shaksgam River valley - the view is to the east in the direction of the Shaksgam headwaters

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

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Tombs on the seafront

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Pakistan is a country of suni-sunai history: someone mouths some silly banality prefixing it with a weighty-sounding, ‘In 315 BCE…’ and all within earshot gobble it up as gospel. No one bothers to counter-check. The result is that fools and charlatans have become our most respected historians and the plethora of worthless television channels has turned these wafflers into national icons.

A cluster of ruined elaborately-carved sandstone tombs at Aghor
End result: most people, even those supposedly educated, know no history. They only memorise tripe they think is history. For the past decade or so, I have written several times on the route Mohammad bin Qasim took into the subcontinent and the way he exited under arrest to be imprisoned in Iraq and die there in ignominy.
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History’s uncharted Backwater

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A friend working with an international NGO in Lahore showed me some pictures of a ‘stone wall with patterns.’ It was located, he said, in Nag Valley of Balochistan about a hundred kilometres northeast of the town of Punjgur. I was intrigued. I had never seen anything like these walls with chev ron patterns created by an arrangement of shards of stone and large, flat pebbles. And so there I was heading out for the boondocks of Balochistan in the company of two friends from Houbara Foundation International Pakistan.


Some ten kilometres to the east of the little village of Kirichi (about seventy kilometres east of Punjgur), the walls lie hard by a dirt road. (The coordinates for this site are: N 27º - 18.373’, E 65º - 03.330’). This is the favoured smugglers’ route between Punjgur and Besima (near Kalat in the east) because of an absence of anti-smuggling road blocks. The stone walls make up eight enclosures measuring no more than ten to twelve metres square and all contain Muslim burials. The graves are aligned on the prescription north-south axis and each enclosure has a clearly marked mehrab in the west. In all, the graves in the various enclosures and those outside would number about two hundred.
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Tauheen!

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There will be few people in Pakistan not acquainted with the Persian word tauheen. In English its equivalents could be disrespect, ridicule or derision. In Pakistan it can even mean blasphemy.

Here we have all kinds of tauheens ranging from religion to judiciary to political figures – regardless of how characterless and yellow the last two are. And since some months ago, we also have tauheen e fauj. To be honest this phrase is not used as such and I have invented it for the purpose of this piece. To be second time honest, the army has always been holy and beyond censure perhaps because it defends this ‘Fortress of Islam’. Only now it has been decreed that criticising the uniform can have one branded traitor.
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Agamkot of Sindh

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Read in Urdu about the ruins of Agamkot near Tando Allahyar Sindh. This article appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].
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Traffic Wardens

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Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has today (Dawn, 17 December 2016) promised to gift the entire province of Islam with the traffic warden system that currently works in about half a dozen district headquarters only. That’s great news. But let us look at what he Shehbaz Sharif himself did to a perfectly fine working system.

The grey-uniformed traffic wardens were a brainchild of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi when he was chief minister Punjab several years ago. They system came as a breath of fresh air. No longer the ‘Oye! Khlo ja oye, teri tay main etc etc.’ Suddenly road users were treated as humans for the first time since the 1960s. For the first time in many years, a traffic police officer would use his motorcycle to give chase to an errant driver.

Since the 1960s? you ask. That was when those white-clad British-trained traffic sergeants on white Harley-Davidson motorcycles (even tricycles) began to retire. Sadly, for some unknown reason, those well-trained and courteous officers failed to leave behind a legacy. We were left with uncouth yahoos instead.
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The Funny Side Of...

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In December 2013, I was in Karachi where I spent some time at the Herald office after a very long time. This was a favourite haunt many years ago, especially during the decade between 1997 and 2007 when I wrote a regular monthly travel piece for the magazine. At the office I met all the boys and girls and had a generally great time getting to know them.

About a fortnight after I returned home, I got a call from Faiza Shah on the Herald staff. She asked if I would be interested in writing a short humour piece for them. Now, this is the kind of thing where you can say stuff that bothers you but cannot make a regular newspaper piece. And you can say it in a way that the protagonist in the piece cannot even take you to court. Well, in most cases, at least. It helps the writer blow off steam. And so I said ‘Yessssss!’
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Picture perfect

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In the beginning, back in the early 1980s, when I went travelling to, say, Jhangara the little village near Sehwan through which so many Victorian travellers had passed whose descriptions I had read, I was hardly disappointed. In fact, places like Bahawalpur, Sadiqabad, Lasbela, Khuzdar, etc had not changed at all in the hundred years before me. I can say the same for Gandava in Balochistan which I visited for the first time in 2002. Other than the motor vehicles in the bazaar, nothing had changed from 1882.

Gwadar and to a lesser degree Turbat in 1987 were picture perfect places. And Punjgur in 1999, oh, what a beautiful little town and what great climate. I must not forget to mention the grapes and dates of this magical garden city.

Then I saw the change coming over. Some of it wrought by the petro-dollars of the 1980s. Old houses were pulled down and replaced with new-fangled ones with bathroom tile facades. It was very sad. And the speed of this change was staggering. Because I saw all this happening, I was in a way expecting the change when I did not find what I had read in early accounts. I have come to expect and accept change and my vision is no longer infused by what I have read.
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Running the Achieves

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My first encounter with the Punjab Archives was about 20 years ago. Located in an 18th century tomb inside the provincial secretariat, the premises - even in those far more peaceful days - was of difficult access. But having gained access and inside the cool, high-domed interior, I was completely awed by what was on display. There was yet more substantial historical matter to be had from the coffers not open to direct reach.

The staff was helpful in that they got me a cup of extra-sweet tepid tea while I looked through the catalogue. I asked for some documents going back to the 1840s. More tea was ordered as the peons hurried around with exaggerated displays of activity. This was the procedure with each insistence of seeing anything beyond the catalogue. After my fifth or so demand to see the material, the Chief Moron of the Punjab Archives invited me to his desk.
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Khunjerab: the upstart pass

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As renowned passes go, the 4730 metre-high Khunjerab is an upstart. Until the building of the Karakoram Highway it was a nonentity. For as long as humans have travelled, and they have travelled since the beginning of time, they sought the shortest route between two points. Consequently, to enter the habitable parts of Gojal and Hunza from the north or to travel the other way, they used the direct line over the Mintaka Pass.


Indeed, the Khunjerab Pass was no crossing point at all. Here in the wide open upper reach of the Hunza River valley the shepherds of Gojal herded their cattle in summer. Here the yak, so used to the arctic winds, fattened well on alpine grasses and flowers. But when the first snows fell in September, the herders withdrew, livestock and all, to the more amenable climes of their permanent villages lower down the valley. For the next seven months, the snow-swept uplands of Gojal remained inviolable.
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Deosai Waters

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

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Walk the old city of Peshawar

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In the Bazaar Qissa Khwaan (popularly Qissa Khwani), opposite the lane leading into Mohallah Jehangirpura, there stands a pair of marble cupolas. The plaque below commemorates the patriots who laid down their lives on the twenty-third day of April 1930. That was when the freedom movement took off in Peshawar. As the demonstrators reached this point in the bazaar, a heavy police picket opposed them. Then as the sides stood facing each other down, there came from the side of the cantonment an armoured car that drove right into the rioters as Raj authorities would have called them or the patriots as we like to say.

Then all hell broke loose. The authorities opened fire and many died. That was what made it to the history books. What never merited recording was the story of the boy not yet past his tenth year who had come to watch the demonstration. He stood to one side of the surging crowd and when the first volley was fired was as terrified out of his wits as any ten year-old should be. Ducking quickly under the shop-front ledge that extended over the gutter running along the side of the street, he could only get himself partially under cover.
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Philosophers of Taxila

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Read in Urdu about Philosophers of Taxila who astounded Alexander with their wisdom [double click the image below to enlarge and read].
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Isakhel Estate

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If it is anything, Isakhel Estate near Kot Samaba in Rahim Yar Khan district is a museum – a museum of industrial and agricultural machinery. Here are sheds crammed with lathe machines, steel fabrication presses, furnaces, shelf upon shelf of die-cutters and dies for the production mostly of farming implements and allied spare parts.


Outside in the open is scattered such a variety of farming machinery that even experienced farmers would not know existed. Here are curiously shaped ploughing machines to turn the soil up from a depth of a metre below the surface. Here are antiquated sowing machines; and reapers of the kind called cutter-binders that harvested wheat and bound it into sheaves. These are implements scarcely known to most other farmers in Pakistan.
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A Chorus of Craft

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Crafts, like all other inventions, are parented by human needs. Sometimes this birth takes place by sheer fluke. The first drum played a hundred thousand years ago, if not earlier, was perhaps nothing more than a termite-ridden trunk of a felled tree pounded with a club to loosen grubs to feed upon. Played to a cadence, the hollow sound morphed into music. Simil     arly, some 50,000 years later, the first stringed instrument may arguably have been a hunter’s bow indifferently strummed during the wait to spot game.


Anthropological research suggests our Neanderthal ancestors were wearing colourful shaped and polished stone pendants as early as 60,000 years ago. They were also interring their dead with similar ornaments and powdered dyes.
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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