Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Travel Writing

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The other day, a young friend of mine introduced me to a man about my age. Very enthusiastically he told him I was a travel writer. The gent who had never read anything but Urdu newspapers and for whom writing was only what papers had, asked if I travelled from place to place gathering news for a paper?


No, said I, young Mikhail was such an incorrigible practical joker. I was actually in the leather business. And then I recalled the time I fed this line to another person many years ago. Entirely to my detriment, the man was quite in his cups and also knew someone in Germany in the leather business. He gave me his friend’s name and address and for the rest of the evening pestered me to contact him ASAP so that his friend could get first-class leather. The persistence of drunks is legendary.
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The illiterate Engineer

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On the highroad between Kambar and Shahdadkot (Larkana district), even the observant traveller might be hard put not to miss the large under construction domed building with its tall minaret. This is the shrine of Hakim Shah, an obscure holy man. The building itself is hardly remarkable, what is remarkable though is the fact that it has been designed and is currently being built by Din Mohammed Lashari, a man who has had but two years of schooling.

Seventy years old, he is a brick layer by profession, trained in the craft by his father who, he says, was an ustad - a master mason and teacher of the art. Apprenticeship began when he was still very young and it was a couple of years before Independence that Din Mohammed worked on his first construction site independently. But there was something that must have set the young man apart from his peers, and that surely was an insatiable curiosity - something that would have been lost on a society that cares little for such things. “In those days there was more traffic on the branch line from Larkana to Jacobabad and the wheezing black locomotives drew me like magic,” he says. Consequently, whenever there were a few minutes to spare Din Mohammed would go to the railway station to watch the dark behemoths shunting back and forth.
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The town called ‘Tomb’

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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.
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With Love from Deosai

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Excerpt - Land of the Giant, Review - Deosai Truths [Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore]

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Between Two Burrs on the Map

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I lay dozing on a commandeered charpai in the mellow early September sun of Sost, Pakistan's border post with China on the Karakoram Highway, when I was roused by a crisp 'Major Rashid'? The year was 1990, I was two-thirds through my long trek across the Western Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush.

Poised at the mouth of Chapursan to walk over the 5,200 metre-high Chillinji Pass into Ishkoman Valley, I had been told to inform before hand the commander at the remote military outpost of Baba Ghundi Ziarat. As I made inquiries about the man and if it was possible to get transport to the outpost, I was told that he, Niyat Khan, had only shortly before been spotted in Sost.
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Pir Balanosh, the dragon-slayer of Chaghi

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Urdu article about Pir Balanosh, the dragon-slayer of Chaghi district, Balochistan. A classic study in anthropology where ancient legend alters with changing modern reality [double click the image to enlarge].
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The Men of Hunza

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In August 1861, the explorer Godwin-Austen was camped on the Panmah Glacier when he met four travellers coming down the icy slopes of the glacier above. They were Balti men returning home from Yarkand to meet friends and relatives. Godwin-Austen noted that they were very well-clothed and equipped and guessed that living in Yarkand had done them well in economic terms.


Though the explorer already knew of the depredations of the men of Hunza, he got first-hand information on the subject from his Balti visitors: the robbers from whom no one was safe were all over the place. The road across the glaciated Great Asiatic Divide to Raskam and beyond was within their reach. As well as that, they also prowled along the great trunk road from Leh that we today sometimes know as the Karakoram Route over the pass of the same name.
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شاہ دولہ کا پل

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The Bull and the Boulder

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Through the night the gusting wind kept at it. At sometime after five the sun broke through the shackling layers of gray haze and appeared as a pale yellow disc levitating just above the horizon. It was time to take the short walk to the crest of the ridge of Bail Pathar.


I am no mountaineer and though I’ve been in some high places, I have never actually climbed a real peak. But one thing I know: even insignificant peaks, simply by their very nature of being peaks and therefore higher than the surrounding ground, offer something more than just great views. It was here where long before the dawn of history primitive man placed his gods. Peaks were sacred. Whether it be the puny Miranjani near Nathiagali; or the 4800 metre Deo nau Thuk (Peak of the Jinn) on Deosai; or Musa ka Musallah in Kaghan; or Ilam in Swat; or Kutte ji Qabar (The Dog’s Grave) in the Khirthar Mountains; or Takht e Suleman, they, one and all, were revered places. Those were places for man to approach in worshipful and reverent state of mind, perhaps with an offering or two for whatever gods man believed in.
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Boat Business

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‘My family never gave up building boats since they built the ark of Hazrat Nuh!’ Ghulam Arabi did not so much as bat an eyelid making this startling disclosure. Then he went on to tell me that before the time of the prophet who saved mankind from the Deluge, ship-building was unknown. As irrefutable finality of that statement, Ghulam Arabi cited the Quran. 


For added authenticity he said even his great-grandfather was a boatwright. I did not point out that between his great-grandfather and Hazrat Nuh there must have been several thousand years. Quick to see the doubt in my eyes, he said that since his family knows only this craft, it has long been suspected that they go back to those biblical times. That was arithmetic at its simplest, and I could hardly quarrel with it. At forty Ghulam Arabi, having learned the trade at his late father’s knee, himself had twenty-five years of boat-building experience.
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Grand Canyon of Sindh

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It was in 1996 that my friend Wali Mohammad Manganhar of Shahdadkot arranged for us to travel to the most fascinating natural sight in all of Sindh: Toshangi. HT Lambrick, Deputy Commissioner, Larkana in the 1940s called it the Grand Canyon of Sindh. He was right on the ball.

Here is a rift in the Kirthar Mountains west of Ghaibi Dero (seat of the Chandio Nawab) with walls 200 metres high and a blue-green stream of considerable depth at the bottom. Where the rift opens up at the southern end, the stream, too, fans out to form a lovely tarn. In this placid sheet of water, there lives a colony of gavials. The whole place is straight out of the wildest imagination of a designer of film sets.

Our guide and mentor was the unbeatable Hasil Chandio of the tiny settlement of Rahu jo Aitho. It was a goodly walk from his village to Toshangi and we had to stay overnight in Lohira with Hasil’s kinsfolk. Early on that March morning, we climbed up a large knob of rock to marvel at this remarkable chasm. Created first, perhaps, by an earthquake and then enlarged by millions of years of flowing water, it was indeed a grand canyon.
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Kot Diji

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Town with Seven Lives

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Having pushed his way up through Bajaur, Alexander turned downstream as he reached the Punjkora River. Where Punjkora meets the Swat River, he wheeled north to take the fortified town of Ora, which was reportedly getting reinforcements from neighbouring areas. January 326 BCE, would have made for a bleak setting of leafless trees, barren ground and grey skies in the Swat lowlands, rendered the gloomier in the face of imminent invasion.


History records that the siege of Ora “gave Alexander very little trouble”. In fact, he is said to have taken the town at first assault, winning, among other spoils, a number of elephants from its fort.
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Sarai Chhimba

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If one travels southbound along National Highway 5, one passes by villages their names prefixed by the word ‘sarai’. If these villages do not sit exactly by the highway, they are some ways off. Dr Saifur Rahman Dar, the famous archaeologist, once told me that all these villages are set at the distance one could travel in the course of a day. That is, thirty kilometres give or take a few.


A couple of years ago, I went looking for Sarai Chhimba and found an impressive building from the time of Akbar the Great. But the walled caravanserai had been taken over by local people who are now living in it. The sad part was that every one of these residents was tearing up the place as they saw fit. The worst victim of this historical insensitivity was the destruction of the lovely, bulbous structures on the roof.
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On the Apricot Road to Yarkand

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Rainbow above our camp near Thungal  [image from The Apricot Road to Yarkand]

Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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The great bird chase

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Back in the early 1980s when I lived in Karachi, I spent my weekends wandering about the wild places of Sindh. While old ruins where a favourite haunt, my other preference was the hundreds of small lakes and canals of Thatta and Badin districts. There were birds, birds and birds that I had never seen before. If truth be told, that was when I learned that the pariah kite is not the only hawk-like bird!


Referring only to wildlife, my ten years in Sindh until December 1988 took me to the Khirthar Mountains on one side and to the lakes of lower Sindh on the other. Those wonderful years form a kaleidoscope of heart-warming images: upward of five hundred flamingos in a lake barely off a road somewhere in Badin, a golden eagle on the prowl above the Khirthar crags, a male Pallas’s fish eagle bringing food to its mate on eggs, a desert cat near Naukot Fort and leopard pug marks in the lower Khirthar Mountains. There are also memories of virtually hordes of marsh harriers, Brahminy kites, jacarandas, and migratory ducks of a dozen different species almost within arm’s length.
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Wonderland in Moola

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The Moola Gorge, for centuries a favoured route between the Kalat highlands and the fertile plains of Sindh, is a wide u-shaped, well-watered gorge. It cuts clear across the otherwise unbroken barrier of the rugged and barren Khirthar Mountains providing a travel route that could be used by ancient wheeled traffic. Keen to promote this beautiful valley as a tourist destination, a group of local young men have organised a Spartan rest house (N28°-08.754’, E 67°-08.434’) in the Keel hills.


Just behind and to the west of the rest house, the hills are riven by a narrow circuitous chasm, a feature that would be called a tungi in the Pushto-speaking parts of Balochistan. Here in Brahui-speaking Moola Valley, they call it Chuttok – The One that Drips. This is the site that the young men hope to promote.
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No longer a molehill

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It was back in the early 1980s when journalist Azmat Ansari first brought Gorakh into public notice. In those bygone days, the dacoit problem in the Sindhi outback was just breaking out and Ansari did well to have trekked in the troubled land from the old Gaj rest house to Gorakh hilltop. That was the only way to go for in those far off days, there were no roads leading up into the Khirthar Mountains (it is pronounced as kheer-thar in Sindhi, meaning milk and cream. The British mispronounced it and then misspelled it as Kirthar Mountains).


Gorakh thereafter remained in the news in an on again-off again manner with much hot air being expended about turning it into a summer resort. Ignorant journalists billed it the ‘highest spot in all Sindh’ that was ‘colder than Murree’. For one, at just 1734 metres (5688 feet), above the sea it is way lower than a number of other Khirthar peaks; the highest, a nameless elongated summit, standing at 2171 metres. With the evocative title of Kutte ji Qabar (Dog’s Grave), at 2096 metres, the second highest holds the romantic tale of a faithful, self-respecting dog. On the peak, there is indeed a dolmen of limestone nodules under which, so the legend goes, lie the mortal remains of that remarkable animal.
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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