Thursday, May 6, 2010

What is in the Name

Pervaiz Munir Alvi

The way a society names its cities and places says a lot about its cultural history and social values. Pakistan is no exception to this either.

The cultural history of Pakistan could be traced from its naming practice. The names of its ancient cities like Peshawar, Lahore and Multan have no resemblance to the names of the newer cities like Islamabad and Faisalabad. Similarly the name of the newer Qasim Port has no resemblance to the name of its sister Karachi Port or for that matter Gwadar Port. In the field of naming names Pakistani society has come a long way since the days of ancient Indus Valley Civilization of Harrapa and Moen-jo-Dero. Even the days of the names like Texila and Ghandara are long gone.

Yes, the naming practice of the society has changed. Now the names like AabPara, ShakarPara, Seem-maab and Gulberg are in vogue. One may find a Lala Zar Colony even in a desert town but will not see a new Chak Lala any where. The most one could expect is Chak Lala I, II, or may be III but there are just no new Chaks any more; not even a Chak Wal I. Don’t come around expecting a new Chak Lala Airport for Islamabad either. Since names like Quaid-e-Azam Airport and Allama Iqbal Airport are already taken, the nation may be hard pressed to find a suitable name for the upcoming new airport for the capital city but fear not; the naming authorities of Pakistan are hard at work.

Mughals had no problem in giving names. They just simply kept all the naming rights to themselves. Go around Pakistan and you will find places like Shaikhu Pura, Shah Dara, and Jahangira, even a Sera-e-Alamgir. If the Shah was generous enough he will allow a Vazir Abad or a Begum Pura here and there. But that’s about it. No nasty practice of naming places after the common folks.

British on the other hand were very sensible people. During their rule of one hundred years they did not offend the natives by naming cities like Abbotsburg or Jacobville. They kept it local like Abbot Abad and Jacob Abad. They did make some mistakes though by naming cities like Montgomery, Lyalpur or Campbellpur. Pakistan naming police in order to save the souls of the citizens had no choice but to change the names of these cities to Sahiwal, Faisalabad and Attock respectively.

Now there is nothing wrong with purs; there are plenty of purs around like Hari Pur, Rasal Pur, and Shikar Pur etc. etc. It is that some of these names are not Pakistani enough like Ali Pur, Mir Pur or Bahawal Pur. It is not the pur; it’s the person the pur is named after that may not be desirable.

But even though the new names are in vogue now, there are still plenty of those old names that stubbornly linger on. For instance Pakistan has a good supply of Wals. Other than Chak Wal, there is a Malak Wal and a Sahi Wal too. There are also some variations to the postfix Wal in the form of Wala and Wali. Now a Wali may not necessarily be smaller than a Wala. Mian Wali is not smaller than Arif Wala. But Gujran Wala and Bure Wala are definitely larger than Rah Wali and Mansoor Wali. Nevertheless the nation is done with them all; there shall be no new Walas, Walis or Wals any more.

Also there is no need of new Nagars either. No sir, no Ayub Nagar wanted here; just Ayubia like Persia or Arabia will be fine. No need of new Kots like Sial Kot or Shore Kot; no new Pinds like Pind Dadan Khan; not even a Dera like Dera Ismail Khan or Dera Ghazi Khan. Like Pakistan Zindabad, Hyderabad, Liaqatabad, and Qadarabad will do just fine. Pakistanis will take their Abads any day before they would take those old fashion Nagars, Kots and Pinds; definitely not Pinds.

Just like every pot has a lid, every circle has a center. Except in case of Pakistan there are more centers than circles. Center in Pakistani Urdu language translates as Markaz or Garh. There are plenty of centers every where like computer center, tuition center even shopping center. Also there may be an Urdu Makaz or Alaj Markaz but not too many Garh except may be an old MazaffarGarh. If you are looking for Towns, there is a brand new Johar Town for you.

If you want a Colony, Pakistan has a Defence Colony in every part of the country. But do not ask for new Nagars, Purs or Kots. That is so so passé.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Around Arrandu

Some places are so peaceful and unspoiled that it is almost unbelievable. One such locality is the picturesque, tranquil and pollution free (and undeveloped) boarder village Arrandu in district Chitral. The very sound of the name is musical. This village is located 'on' the Pakistan Afghanistan boarder. Dir-Chitral Road bifurcates near village Mir Khanni and a jeep able track along Kunar River leads to Arrandu through Domail Nisar and onwards into Afghanistan.

Gateway to the South Asia, the Chitral valley has been center of activity since ancient times. Macedonians advanced through this region in fourth century. In 1338, Timur subdued the area on his way to the plains of Punjab. Mughal King Akbar garrisoned here in 1587 and the British in 1897 in Chakdara on Dir side of Lowari Pass. Among soldiers who served here in Chakdara then was young Winston Churchill who later became Prime Minister of Britain. So far about the past importance of the valley but the little hamlet got the international fame during Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. It remained in the news and was commonly called as 'BBC Baby'.
Arrandu is set up on the bank of Kunar River flowing into Afghanistan. Terraced fields of wheat, barley, maize and fragrant orchards of walnuts, apricots, grapes, apples and mulberries are strung up the valley like flags, at the feet of bare or thinly forested mountain walls.

The 3118-meter Lowari Pass is normally open to vehicles from June to October. One can sometime cross the pass on foot in May or November, despite the snow. One can also reach this small hamlet from Peshawar to Chitral by air and then by road to Arrandu or from Afghanistan. Though taking flight to Chitral is not everyone's cup of tea because the Fokker Friendship can cross the Lowari Pass only if weather permits. It rarely does particularly once the valley is landlocked in winters. First time, I landed in Chitral after three attempts by Fokker. Flying above the clouds, I had a window seat on the West Side of the small and noisy aircraft and could see the sighs of Hindu Kush where clouds allowed. Chitral to Arrandu via Drosh along Kunar River is easily one of the prettiest drives in the valley.

Chitral Scouts have kept this post in a very good shape. And, when ever I happened to pass the post conducting 'travelers' from down country or alone, I was always given a warm welcome and send off by Essa Khan, a local who has the biggest store cum tea house in the village. He also has arrangements for Trout fishing in Kunar River near his store. After zig zagging on a difficult road, one can spend a good day at the riverbank fishing and relaxing, with supply of tea from the Pinion Shah's teashop. And, to me Pinion Shah used to present, every time I visited him, a gift of pure salageet (Shilajit) - an oozing black paste from rocks famous among men in this part of the world as an anti aging and sexual health. After Afghan refugees and occasional travelers, now this road is used by herd of goats lead by a lonely Gujars to and from greener pastures. That is the place, which I use as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life and that is where "I go to reminisce about fairies."

While the entire Chitral Valley is breathtaking in its splendor and beauty, one of my most enduring memories of Arrandu is watching the sunrise over the hills. And, when you devote enough time to look at the mountains, it becomes a bit chameleon - clouding over, changing colors, cliffs turning into convex and concave according to the slant light.

Arrandu has red roofed grand mosque and some makeshift provision stores that are stocked in summers when Lowari Pass is open to road traffic. There is also a water mill for grinding grain. Lot of tracks interlaces the area that is frequented by Mazdas or pedestrians.

At night, lights glow in this isolated village. One finds men spending their quality time sitting on the retaining walls along the razor edged roads and tracks while women (mostly with enlarged thyroid glands due to lack of iodine) working in the fields, homes or collecting woods from hills in conical wicker baskets. Even in their fifties men carry guns along with a belt of ammunition. The fact is that I found them friendly and at peace with themselves.

There are side valleys that yawn on both sides of Kunar River for hiking in its upper reaches. Friendly people of Tajik origin who had came from Badakhshan in Afghanistan only a few generations ago, to manufacture matchlock rifles for the Mehtar of Chitral populate the area. Arrandu Road is an ideal place to study the effects of land erosion: how it ruins the land and clogs waterways. And, there are some beautiful geological formations along the road. Besides scenery, there are many well-used camping grounds on both sides of the road and river, which run side by side.

Isolated from the rest of the country because of the remote location, Chitralis live a primitive rural existence without any civic amenities. Even the TV transmissions, telephone and electricity only in some parts of distract are a recent phenomenon. "Why would anyone want to live in a country like that?" Pinion Shah smiled and said, "I guess we like it here because we like to be left alone. Oh, it is nice to have people visiting. And we like people all right. But we like them on our own terms." And, he was right. I could hear him, murmuring sitting on his old stool: a freedom that meets other people only on its own terms - and yet forces you to care about every one of your neighbors scattered across the hillocks. Most of the Chitralis whom I asked confessed, "We like and want our own way of life." That is what is keeping them there.

Tags: ,

Chill out at Chilas

In northern Pakistan, Chilas - a small town - was once an important crossroads on the ancient trading route taken by travellers like Marco Polo. A jeep track leads from Chilas over the Babusar Pass to the Kaghan Valley. Until the opening of Karakorum Highway (KKH) this track was the main route to the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Going still is tough on the route that is passable only in the summers. We decided to take this track when I took the trip in May with my comrades, which started from Shinkiari.

Before leaving Chilas, visit to the famous inscriptions on the rocks is a must. Ancient inscriptions around Chilas date back in a period around first century BC. The most interesting thematic inscriptions are itched onto the faces of rocks between the KKH and the Indus River below Chilas town. One of the most interesting rock drawings we saw depicts two figures dressed in robes -- presumably Buddhist monks -- approaching a stupa in order to worship.

The larger figure with a shaven head is carrying some sort of offering. The stupa to which theoffering is being made consists of a rectangular foundation with a ladder leading up to the path for circumambulation, which is surrounded by a railing. The dome of the stupa is decorated with a zigzag line, may be indicating a garland, and is surmounted by a small rectangular shrine and a vertical shaft with three horizontal discs. The architectural and stylistic features of this stupa drawing are similar to those of stupas found in the Swat Valley and other parts of ancient Gandhara in north-western Pakistan. Above the human figure making an offer and to the left of the dome of the stupa is a drawing of a single pillar with a capital (apparently a wild goat or ibex, which is the most common animal in rock drawings in the area) on a rectangular platform.

The mountain glen sets the tone after leaving Chilas for going to Naran via Babusar. We were on a four wheel driven jeep. In the beginning, the surrounding of Chilas are dry and the mountains rocky. Greenery is limited. As one moves farther from Chilas while zigzagging on hilly road, the greenery increases. Small villages show their distinct beauty. High mountains and clear and cool water torrents flow alongside the track. There are fruit trees (grape, apple, walnut and pear) in the way and some trees are so spread out that their branches touch the ground and touched the jeep as we passed by. Natural landscapes fascinate the hearts. At places jeep passes through water that flows on the road. Water is sweet and too cold to keep hands in it for a long time. The surroundings of the passageway are populated and people are seen busy in their work: agriculture. The innocent faces of kids and their activities reflect the district personality. The verdant mountains are on both sides of the track. The Rocky Mountains are hidden here and there among the lush green patches. The natural beauty of this territory compels the viewers to praise the Great Creator. This is the route up to the Babusar village -- the last habitat (with tea shops and small eating joints for occasional travellers mostly) before the Babusar top.

Leaving behind the village for Babusar top, the track continuously ascends and the jeep moves even slowly on the track. The cool air is penetrating and adds up to the beauty. The jeeps in the area mostly are without tarpaulin or hard roof. The gorgeous natural view attracts so no one wants to miss these views by sheltering. The clouds moves along and it happens sometime that one find his head in the clouds. The entire belt is shrouded in fortress of clouds and at some places we were unable to see landscapes for quite a distance. One of the magnificent views is of Nanga Parbat -- ninth highest peak of the world at an altitude of 26,656 feet above sea level and the westernmost bastion of the Himalayas. No other mountain within 100 kilometres comes anywhere near its size.

Babusar pass is on of the most beautiful passes in Pakistan. Small colourful flowers bloom here and there. It looks like someone has covered the mountains with green velvet layers and the flowing river increase many fold its splendour and majesty. Every scene is lovely on its own. There is snow on the Babusar top that glitters like pearls among the green mountains. It May, it was cold like a December night in Lahore or Lala Musa. I wished to have a home there, where I could take pleasure from the natural beauty of this area, but the locals live tough life, without simplest of the modern day civic amenities. But some of the more traditional food is still on offer in eating joins in the area: apricot noodles, apricot soup, apricot bread, apricot tea -- the secret of long life in the valley is attributed to apricots. In fact, the diet of people in the area as a whole is famous for its health giving properties. One of the best sites to stay at Babusar top is from where rivers (Kunhar and Chilas) originate.

At places the track down the top is so narrow that the four wheels of jeep could barely fit on it. There are mountains on one side of the track, many hundred feet deep ditches on the other side, and the river flows underneath. A spot in the way, namely, Khari is so dangerous to cross by the jeep that I still remember. It is on this route that the nerves are sharply tested. Gripping the jeep bars with full force, I forgot everything except the name of Allah Almighty. With the help of Allah, we crossed the place safely. Later, the skills of the driver were praised by every one! Due to the dangerous track, most people do not prefer this route and they come from the Naran side and return well before the top and they are deprived of the sights near the Babusar top. That is one thing that makes this jaunt more beautiful and fulfilling.

Next in the way is Lulusar -- a beautiful rectangular lake, about half a mile wide with sheer green mountains rising from the opposite side. The water is clear but dark green with the perfect reflection of the white snow in that depth of green. At various points, not far from the water's edge were icebergs, the tips of the glaciers, which had slid into the lake and not yet melted. Before arriving at village Jhalghat, we saw a beautiful circular hole of green water in the way side track. There are many local legends attached with this hole. Some people think that it is the footprint of a jinni that had been mentioned in the romantic tales of Saif ul Muluk and Princess Badar Jamal; others think that something has fallen from the sky which made this hole. The valley is most beautiful where river and track are almost at the same level. The mountains peaks covered with clouds make the place even more exquisite. We spent the night there.

Fresh, we started for Lalazar next morning. Now the track gets wider as well as is in better condition. The most fascinating thing about Lalazar is its curved path around a mountain towards its top. Lalazar is a beautiful spot covered with pine and spruce, with meadows full of flowers.

After spending few hours, we left for Naran and made it in the evening. Naran is the centre of tourism in the Kaghan valley. I was reminded of a British writer James Hilton who travelled to this remote valley in 1931 and found a place so beautiful, so wild and so remote that he named it Shangri-La, an earthly paradise. So apt! The river takes a leisurely bend forming islands and pools and bubbles over rocks. Taking quick round of the Lake Saif ul Muluk, we started our journey back.

Back in to the real life, we went our separate ways: some back to Shinkiari, some stayed in Abbottabad and some went to other stations, places where one lives the real life. Heavenly! The world is etched in my mind ever since.

Tags: Travel, Northern Areas

Sindhian Horse

Salman Rashid

Chandio shepherds leading their livestock through the bleak, sun-baked valleys of the Khirthar Mountains in Sindh sing the ballad of Sreman Chandio. Pained that his motherland had been ravaged by Zunnu Pathan no less than thirteen times, this great warrior resolved to settle this belittling once and for all. And so he prepared an army of a thousand Chandio warriors to destroy the Pathans in their very home of Kandahar. Such are the words that ring across the Khirthar valleys.

A thousand warriors and as many wooden boxes large enough to hold a warrior apiece, did Sreman make ready. Then with the boxes loaded two each to a camel, did the heroic Sreman set out for Kandahar in the guise of a musk dealer. In their boxes, the warriors were each equipped, besides their accoutrements of war, with a musk-scented kerchief as well. Across the great sandy plains sandwiched between the Sindhu and the brown wall of the Khirthars they travelled many days up into the mountains of Kakar country that give way to the dusty plains of Kandahar.

The sun was low in the west when they eventually fetched up at the gates of the city for Sreman had timed his arrival well: he knew customs officials would be worn-out with the long day behind them and the guards negligent. And so it was. When Sreman announced that he was just a musk dealer from Sindh, the officials looking forward to calling it off for the day carelessly ran a dagger into the thin gap between the slats of the crates. Inside, the Chandio warrior waited ready with his kerchief and quickly let the blade pass between its musk-scented folds. The rich fragrance on the blade assured the weary officials that Sreman was indeed what he said he was and his caravan of five hundred camels was cleared to pass within the gates.

In the dark of the night, when all, even the restless dogs of the city, had drifted into deep sleep, Sreman threw open the lids of the boxes concealing his armed warriors. As wraiths they silently drifted to spread through the city. Every single man that breathed in Kandahar that night was slaughtered. Even Zunnu, who slumbered in the security of a guarded palace, was not spared. And then, even before the women and children were woken by the singing birds of dawn, Sreman and his warriors were miles away on their way to the Khirthar Mountains with immense plunder and no loss to their side.

A look at the genealogical chart maintained by the Chandio family of Ghebi Dera (Larkana district) and a little simple arithmetic will place Sreman Chandio somewhere in the latter half of the 15th century. But Sindhi Sufi poetry and folklore only talk of Pathan raids beginning three hundred years later. For a moment, even the historian is thrown off guard and would be tempted to discredit the family tree and make Sreman a contemporary of Abdali from Kandahar. But then, there is no indication of a showdown between the Chandios and the Abdali host. And a fight, moreover, in which someone called Zunnu, took part.

Not only for the Sindhis but for most other people of what is now Pakistan, anyone who invaded this country from the north was a Pathan. Mahmud Ghaznavi, Shahabuddin Ghori (both Turks) and Chengez Khan or Babur (Mongols) are considered by people of little knowledge to be Pathans. So the only ‘Pathan’ with a name that gets close to the one in the ballad is Zunnun Beg Arghun, a direct descendent of Chengez Khan through his youngest son Tolui.

In the latter years of the 15th century (Sreman’s time), the Arghun was appointed governor of Kandahar by the Mongol overlord Sultan Hussain Mirza who ruled over eastern Afghanistan from his seat in Badakhshan. In 1480, Zunnun Beg extended his authority by taking Shalkot (Quetta) and Mastung and mounted raids on their dependencies. Although history does not record such an occasion, but it is right possible that in the course of these sallies he came against the outlying cities of Sindh. Perhaps the Chandios did try to resist him and perhaps the superior power of the Mongols had humbled them. But if such an event ever took place, it never found its way into any history.

What is recorded is that Zunnun Beg Arghun made the mistake of joining the rebellion of his master’s son. When the rebellion was quelled, the Arghun had passed out of favour of Sultan Hussain Mirza. Not long afterwards, the Uzbeks came down against the Arghun who found no recourse from any quarter. In the year 1507, in a battle near Herat, an Uzbek sword ended the story of the Arghun’s dramatic life.

Who knows if the Chandios, having suffered at his bloodthirsty hands, played with the notion of a stratagem against the Arghun as the ballad recounts? Who knows if Sreman, the Chandio leader, did indeed start to prepare his soldiers for it? Or perhaps none of this happened and the Chandios only continued to smart under the humiliation of the Arghun’s high-handedness. But even if Sreman did start to prepare for war, word arrived from across the wind-scoured landscape that Zunnun Beg had met his end. Thereafter it did not take long for the brave Sreman’s heroic plans to turn into legend where he actually put them into play. That is how legends are made.

In 1999, while doing a series of history and travel documentaries for PTV, I made one on this beautiful legend of the Sindhian (as against the Trojan) Horse as well. Only after it was broadcast and met with censure from a couple of Chandio ‘intellectuals’, did I realise that our so-called local historians are simply incapable of thinking logically.

The burden of the criticism lay on declaring Zunnu a Pathan and that he had nothing to do with the Arghun. Sreman, it was said, was a great warrior king (which he may well have been), and he destroyed the Pathans inside their own stronghold. So far as my critics were concerned, even if this had never happened, that was the glorious light they wanted to see their Sreman in.