Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Palace on the Rock

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It is a handsome complex of stone-and-timber buildings virtually smothered with various fruit trees and grapevines. Here and there willows, their branches drooping narcissistically over water, are dwarfed by towering poplars where golden orioles sing and magpies engage in noisy arguments. Outside its boundary wall a tumultuous river crashes over rounded boulders on its way to pay tribute to the glacier-born stream that is here known as the Shigar. Not many miles to the southward, right outside Skardu the capital city of Baltistan in the Northern Areas, the Shigar River in turn yields its waters to the great Sindhu.


Outsiders simply know it as Shigar Fort, but for the people of Baltistan it is Fong Khar – Palace on the Rock. An apt enough name for the main wing of the building straddles a huge rock. Admittedly although the rock could not be moved, there being ample space, the palace could have been designed differently to avoid building around its protuberance. One wonders, therefore, why the builders incorporated the rocky mass into the design for it serves no apparent purpose other than giving the place its name.

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Deosai - where earth meets the sky

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Deosai - where earth meets the sky [Image from Deosai: Land of the Giant] - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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Set in stone

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Over three decades ago, I saw for the first time a stele on the bank of Bhodesar pond outside Nagarparkar town in Sindh’s Thar region. It was a time of drought. The pond was dry and an upright sandstone slab was standing there.

Courtesy Memorial Stones Thararkar
The slab carried a beautiful carving of a horse rider, his raised left hand holding what appeared to be a staff. At his waist was a quiver bristling with arrows. In a panel immediately below the artistic rendering were a few lines of writing that I thought was in Hindi. Nearby was another slab bearing what was clearly the depiction of a woman. Her dress was notable for being quite similar to the ghagra still worn in Thar.
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Celebrating Real Heroes

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Urdu article that appeared in Armed Forces Monthly Magazine Hilal.

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The old man of Ghund

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When he was finally himself again, Baba Ghundi told the woman that under no circumstances was she to leave her home because he was bringing down a flood of mud and stones to destroy the evil folk of Chapursan. For her kindness, she alone was to be spared.


Chapursan is a right picturesque valley that stretches from the Karakoram Highway at Sost a full sixty kilometres westward to the watershed of the 5185 metre-high Chilinji Pass. Well-watered by many silvery streams and fertilised by the fine loam left behind by a glacier that melted perhaps about four hundred years ago, Chapursan has rich farmlands and orchards. The people, of old Kirghiz stock who speak Wakhi, a language that descends from archaic Persian, are notable for their extreme hardihood and cheerfulness.
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To the Shrine of the Invisible Saint

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The hills – as gold-brown as sun-dried chaff, or dark grey like fire-scoured lead, rise sharply on either side of the narrow gorge. Rarely is their burnished starkness broken by vegetation; rarely, save during a downpour, does one see a trickle of water on these slopes. Desiccated, harsh and barren, the slopes run down to the pebbly bed of the Bolan River where the water flows in a narrow channel. Rarely does the entire riverbed know the feel of water sluicing over it – and that again only during a downpour.


Long, long before Alexander the Macedonian was born; long before the Aryan hordes swept into the plains of the Sindhu-Ganga river system to give rise to a new religion and a new culture; even before the great tragic hero Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk (lower Mesopotamia), disturbed by the demise of his dearest friend, undertook his epic quest for immortality; the Bolan Gorge had resounded to the tramp of marching feet, to the clink of armoury and the jangle of camels’ bells. For this was the highroad leading west from the plains of Sindh where one of the great civilisations of prehistory flourished. The discovery of the ruins at Mehrgarh near Sibi at the lower end of the Pass and the verification that this ancient city had flourished as far back as the eighth millennium BCE testifies that the Bolan route has certainly been used as long as that.
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Trek record

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Trekking, as we know it, is actually a spin-off of the work of the early 19th century European explorers, surveyors and map-makers. Hiring local hunters and shepherds as guides, they followed the barely marked trails plied by earlier natives. The first adventurers, in the true sense, were mountaineers who had little to do with exploration and map-making, but were obsessed with climbing the virgin snows of the  system.


By the 1920s, yet another breed of adventurer was roaming this great knot of high peaks and glaciers. This bunch did not climb per se. Driven by curiosity, they simply walked the trails. Their purpose was largely historical and sociological studies and they worked on shoestring budgets. There was, of course, another sub-caste: wealthy, highly educated, cultured persons of the world. Theirs was the best written record.
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The Last Post

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

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'The Great Opportunity Is Where You Are'

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Twenty-seven year-old Ali Buksh comes from a poor Shahwani Brahui family of Mastung. His father is a watchman with the Meteorology Department at Quetta. It was no small miracle that on his father’s meagre salary Ali Buksh managed to complete eight grades of school — especially when there were six other brothers as well. Then, in order to augment the small income, it was into the grind of unskilled construction labour for him. Over time, realising that this was not the end-all, he learned driving. By and by he got a license and became a pick-up truck driver.

That was a good deal better than the back-breaking labourer’s work, but working as a paid driver Buksh’s income was never more than two hundred rupees a day. The rattle-trap that he drove would habitually break down and more often than not Buksh was expected by the owner to get it going again. As time went by, more than the driving, it was the tinkering with the engine that Buksh began to enjoy. And so, having done his day’s work as driver, he went under the wing of a master mechanic in Quetta.
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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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Walking into the unknown

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Funny thing is that I get lost driving my car around in some cities. I have never lost in a serious major sort of way in the wild places of Pakistan except one time on a solo trek when I blundered off the trail in Chitral and ended up on a dangerous rock face. Got out without any damage, though.

Another time, leading a group of Asian Study Group folks including the elderly and wonderful Dr Lois Mervyn of the then American Centre, I lost the way from Ara rest house to Nandna because I was too busy yakking away with my dear friend Rhona Atkinson. Lost face very much because only a few minutes earlier I had been telling young Brad, an American kid, 'only a fool would lose the way here.' Brad did not miss a chance to rag me to death after that.
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The Apricot Road to Yarkand

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Excerpt: Journey’s End, Review by Maheen Pracha 

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

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Why Large Biomass and Why Indigenous?

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Global warming is caused mainly by gases such as carbon monoxide and dioxide in the atmosphere. This is a fact now known to everyone except only the stupidest among us. During hours of daylight, foliage captures oxides of carbon and water from the air. Chlorophyll, the substance that makes leaves green, uses sunlight to process the oxides and moisture into sugar for the tree’s food and releases the oxygen back into the air. This process is called photosynthesis.


The less carbon in the atmosphere, the cooler the earth’s temperature. That is an unalterable scientific fact. However, the process of photosynthesis slows down considerably during hours of darkness.
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Invasion of the Aliens

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Pakistanis have the greatest knack for making the worst possible choices insofar as the natural environment is concerned. In 2016, motoring north on M-2, I was very pleased to see large scale destruction of the non-native, water-guzzling eucalyptus underway. On another trip shortly afterwards I was aghast to notice that the stumps, about a metre in height, were left standing. Today, one year on, every cut eucalyptus has transmogrified into 10 that stand about four metres tall and they are still growing. If the earlier trees were each consuming massive amounts of water per day, these new hydra growths are several times thirstier.

Each eucalyptus trunk left in the ground next to the M-2 is sprouting with over a dozen new trees
The eucalyptus is not invasive and it does not cause allergic reactions among humans. However, in the early 1990s, research by Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB), Faisalabad, showed that a three-year-old eucalyptus can process upwards of 100 litres of ground water in a 24-hour cycle. In a water-scarce country such as Pakistan, threatened with a dreadful water shortage within the next half decade, eucalyptus should not be seen. Yet the provincial forest departments continue to encourage its plantation.
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Learning From the Ignorent

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Forty years ago when one flew over Lahore, one saw a vast sea of green. Today one sees great dusty swathes. Two things happened in the interim. One, the agricultural land around the city has turned into housing estates. Secondly, the centuries-old native trees that adorned that land as signs of ancient wisdom have been chopped down, burned and replaced with exotic dwarf ornamental flora.

Date palm obsession in Lahore

General duty bureaucrats masquerading as horticulturists with blighted visions of water-scarce Arabian desert and California with their date palms and ornamental bushes have in the past two decades engaged in ‘beautifying’ this sorry land that same way. The result is the brown expanse one sees from the air. Sadly, this pattern has now been followed in all other cities with their ‘development’ schemes.
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Sher Bano Jungle

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Lovelorn Poet

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We met him on our way up the Ajri Kandao. He sat by the path whittling away on a tiny piece of wood with an ungainly adze. Taj Mohammed said he was making a needle to apply antimony to the eyes and paused to greet him. The man looked up abstractedly, shook hands, mumbled a few words in Pukhtu and returned to his work. The faraway almost vacant look in his eyes gave the unmistakable impression that he was mentally deficient, but as we walked away, Taj Mohammed said, the man had ‘two cupboards full of books’ in his home in village Rashung. He was also a poet, he added.

As we lounged over tea in the little inn below Ajri Kandao, the poet caught up with us again. The haunting, faraway look was still there as he quietly came in and sat to one side of the single room inn. Wordlessly cradling his cup of tea in both hands he started to sip without looking up at anyone. Wazir Mohammed who sports the nom de plume of Sha’ir Wazir Mohammed Zakhmi, had to be coaxed into speaking.
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In Dyer’s footsteps

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If it were not for the copper mines, Saindak, way out in the backwaters of Balochistan, would never have appeared on the ordinary Pakistani’s mental map of the country. The old town with its collection of scattered huts looks little different from any other Baloch village. But the industrial part is new-fangled with plenty of concrete and metal, clanking lorries and huge dump trucks, the hum of machinery and chimneys with their plumes of ash-white smoke that marks a factory.

Colonel Reginald Dyer’s bungalow, Saindak
Over six hundred kilometres west of Quetta by the railway called the ‘Lonely Line’ by British engineers who laid it, and about twenty north of Koh e Taftan, the last station in Pakistan before the line enters Iran, Saindak lies virtually on the edge of the country. All around it in an arc from the northeast through to the southwest there spreads a desert of wind-sculpted crescents-shaped sand dunes and rocky wastes devoid of all but the lowliest vegetation. In this wilderness there stand isolated cones of extinct volcanoes and jagged peaks burnt to sterility by sulphurous deposits. The bleak grey-brown hills that loom to the west of Saindak are the southern end of the Kacha Koh range which stretches a full one hundred kilometres to the northwest.
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Tomb of Kamaro

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Back in 1987, in my freewheeling days in Sindh, I one day found myself in village Kamaro nearly midway between Mirpur Khas and Tando Allahyar. Otherwise unremarkable, the village was known for a shrine and its adjacent mosque. But not being a believer in miracles attributed to shrines, I was there only because I had heard of the beauty of both buildings.

I was not disappointed. Compared to those humongous buildings that we generally see, these two were tiny. But the splendour of the predominantly blue tile work was exquisite. So exquisite was it, that it will not be wrong to rank the two buildings of Kamaro among the most beautiful of Sindh, so far as tile work was concerned.

Both buildings measured about seven or eight metres square and, not taking the minarets of the mosque into account, were of equal height. So far as I remember, the mausoleum did not have a dome. If it did, the flow of the patterns in blue was so smooth that one simply did not notice the dome. One was only lost in the melody of the ornamentation.
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Deosai Sky

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More images in Deosai: Land of the Giant - available at at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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Bunni Bungla - a rest house and a memory

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The magic of the narrow Grand Trunk Road as it wound through the acacia and shisham-covered slopes of the Pabbi Hills between Jhelum and Kharian has been lost to progress. The highway has been widened and straightened and zooming through one hardly notices the clayey vegetation-covered hills.

Lost too is a lovely old rest house that was about eighty years old when I first knew it back in the early 1970s. Bunni Bungla, as it was called, was the property of the Forest Department, if I remember correctly. It was a bulky looking brick building with a pillared veranda on three sides, one large drawing room and two or three other rooms. It sat, unseen from the main road, on a knoll amid tall grass and trees all but forgotten and scarcely visited.
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Jadoo Nagri Chuttok

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Urdu article Jadoonagri Chuttok, the lovely tangi in Moola Valley where water flows everywhere appeared in newspaper Roznama Pakistan [double click the image below to enlarge].
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Hisper: fortress of ice and snow

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The Biafo-Hisper glacial system, extending ninety-eight kilometres in a gleaming white line of ice clenched within the jaws of the most dramatic granite spires, is among the longest ice stream outside of the polar regions. Its southeast end rests a few kilometres from the Balti village of Askole while in the northwest the houses of Nagar feel the icy blasts of wind scudding down its surface.


Right in the middle, equidistant from both ends of the glacier, there sits the gentle saddle of the pass that the people of Nagar know as Hisper. For the people of Baltistan, this is R’Dzong La (Pass), however. Now, R’Dzong in Balti signifies a small defensive turret. The question is: why should anyone need a fortification 5230 metres above the sea on a glacier?
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Dodo Chanesar

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South of Badin (Sindh), in the heart of the Great Rann of Kutch, there is a place called Rupa Mari — Palace of Rupa. In that vast emptiness there sits a low conical mound of clay and an unpretentious grave under a timber canopy. The land around is strewn with pottery shards to remind us of a now forgotten town. They say the ruins are named after the queen of Bhongar, the second of the Soomra kings of Sindh who built the town. The grave is that of their grandson Dodo II.

Legend relates that the first Dodo had two wives: one a blacksmith’s daughter and the other a Rajput woman. The former bore the king a daughter and a son called Bhagi and Chanesar respectively. The other wife was pregnant when Dodo fell in battle, and when the child was born the aged Bhongar named him Dodo after the fallen king.
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Folklore: The Haunted House of Sanghar

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Wow! This must be the Addams Family home!” I said as my friend Hameed Mallah drove through the open iron gate. It was almost 10pm, one March night in 2010 or the year after. Before us lay a brick driveway bordered on the left by a hedge that hadn’t seen a topiarist’s hand and shears in ages. Spread out on the right was an open plot that could have been a perfect flower-spangled garden around a patio.

But it wasn’t.

The creepy interior of the Sindh Irrigation Department resthouse in Sanghar

The house stood at the apex of the arc of the driveway: two-storeyed with what we call a mumti in Punjabi, at the top. In front was a car porch, its pale blue tiles offsetting the general dreariness of the building. The entire grounds [spread out with plenty of potential to convert them into beautiful gardens] bore a look of aggressive abandonment as did the house itself. Such then was the resthouse of the Sindh Irrigation Department in Sanghar.
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jhelum: City of the Vitasta

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jhelum: City of the Vitasta - Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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Kirkit Again

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Someone connected with kirkit has finally woken up. It’s this man called Lara. But first of all, let’s get one thing straight: his name. It is mispronounced by those speakers of that utterly deficient language called English because they cannot produce the hard palatal r that we of the great subcontinent can.

The man’s name in its uncorrupted form is actually لاڑا which means bridegroom in Punjabi. I don’t know when this blighter got married – or even if he ever did – but it’s a bit of an overkill to continue to call himself bridegroom all the time. If he is not married, I suspect a deep longing for the event to occur in his life. And if he is married the man is bloody suicidal. I suppose he has converted to the one and only true faith.
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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