Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

By the banks of the Bien

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Years ago, when he was still alive, my uncle Dr Habib ur Rahman once told me that he and his cousins used to cycle out from Uggi (our ancestral village in Jalandhar) to the Bien, a small stream. It was only a few kilometres away and they would spend their summer days swimming in its pellucid waters and picnicking on its sandy banks.


On my last visit to Uggi, I asked Bakhshish Singh to take us to the river. Now Bakhshish, in his early thirties, tall and very good-looking is a mona Sikh, while his father, the venerable Saudagar Singh, large-boned and bewhiskered, keeps the tradition of the great Guru Nanak alive. Back in March 2008, my first ever visit across the border, I was introduced to Bakhshish by the good Gurmeet Singh who looks after the Desh Bhagat Hall in Jalandhar (of this at another time). Bakhshish took me home to show me the village of my ancestors. It turned out that this family and I, they Kamboh and I Arain by caste, were kinsfolk from a distant past.
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The Chandios

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Four kilometres to the northwest of village Ghaibi Dero (Larkana district) a group of domed buildings rises above the scrub and tamarisk-covered sand dunes. This is the family graveyard of the Nawab family of Chandio tribe of Baloch people whose ancestral seat is at Ghaibi Dero. All the buildings have plain exteriors while the interiors are painted with colourful frescoes of curving vines and bright flowers. There are also depictions of hunting and social scenes. These latter have largely been defaced, I am told, on the exhortation of some mullah who condemned them as un-Islamic. Of the two dozen odd tombs in this group the one on the far west end, an unpretentious little building, is that of Hafiz Wali Mohammed a.k.a. Ghaibi Khan. Although the simple headstone gives no date, the family’s genealogy would place him roughly around the beginning of the 19th century.


He was, they say, a man of great piety, humility and love for his fellow man. No traveller, rich or destitute, ever went by his door without partaking of whatever fare the good man could offer. One day, so the story goes, travellers arrived at his door seeking to be fed. Hafiz Wali Mohammed asked his wife to prepare for them, but unbeknownst to him, there was no food in the house. Nevertheless, even before the wife could tell him of their own want, foodstuff miraculously appeared in the kitchen. Now, since the victuals had come through divine (ghaib) intervention, so was Wali Mohammed to be known henceforth as Ghaibi Khan. From then on, too, there was never a fire to be burnt in the village of Ghaibi Dero for Nawab Ghaibi Khan established the tradition of feeding every single mouth in the village.
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Gateway of the Breeze

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The taxi drove me the winding road up Koh e Batil, the massive sheer-sided hammerhead of Gwadar to see the 16th century Portuguese water tanks. The tanks turned out to be a disappointment being no more than a largish clay-choked, bone dry depression fringed by a few date trees. But the views from the vantage of the peak were priceless: the shimmering blue-grey Arabian Sea to the south, the town of Gwadar sprinkled far below on the narrow isthmus to the north with the graceful arcs of the east and west bays of Gwadar on either side of the habitation. Both bays were dotted with dozens of fishermen’s boats. Far away, beyond west bay, the curiously shaped hills of Pishukan scraped the welkin just like the skyline of some modern city. From my vantage, the idyll spread out below seemed part of a Mediterranean resort.


Here on the Makran seaboard, they have always been fishermen. Alexander’s chroniclers tell us of the Ichthyophagi – the Fish Eaters. The Greeks lament the absence of any other food but fish and tell us that even the Fish Eaters’ cattle ate only fish which gave its flesh a fishy taste. This tradition of a fishing culture giving its name to the land evidently goes farther back into history. The Shahnama of Firdausi, the great Persian poet, relates that Makran was part of the Persian empire during the Heroic Age (about 600 BCE) when Kai Kaus and Kai Khusro ruled that country. Even to the classical Persians this was the land of the Mahi Khoran (Fish Eaters again). No surprise then that the Makranis’ pronunciation of the name of their land ‘Mukkoran,’ is a clear throwback on the ancient Persian name.
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Chitral and back in a jiffy

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It was the week before the end of the month of fasting when PIA told me there were no seats on the Chitral flight until August 19. I said fine, I’ll take one on the following day. They said, sorry. There had been a mistake and there were actually no seats until September 26.


Back in September 2010, I needed to fly to Chitral 10 days after eid. I was told I could not until six weeks later. I knew this was a lie: it was the end of summer, there were no tourists headed to Chitral and there was no way planes could be flying full. I requested my friend Khalid Shameem Wynne’s help. I got the in and out seat ‘on the Ministry of Defence quota’ and flew.
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Khirthar Canal, A touch of picturesque

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Work began on Sukkur Barrage in July 1923 and shortly after the first civil works were put in place in the turbid waters of the Indus, excavation of its seven canals was taken in hand. Along the left bank there were to flow the Eastern Nara, Rohri, Khairpur Feeder West and Khairpur Feeder East. Along the right bank, the Rice and Dadu canals, close to each other and only a short way west of the Indus, were designed to flow in a southerly direction.

Canal regulators on the right bank of the Sukkur Barrage for Dadu, Rice and Khirtar canals, the last of which was once called North-Western Canal
The third canal on this side was the North-Western that we today know as Khirthar Canal. It took off from the barrage and flowed, as its name implies, on a north-westerly bearing through Shikarpur and into what now comprises the districts of Jafarabad and Naseerabad in Balochistan. Much of this area was beyond the command of the Begari Canal that was flowing well since its rehabilitation in the 1840s.
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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