Mountain of Forty Souls

Balochistan is a country rife with tales of hidden treasures left behind by passing hordes through the long and creative years of history. From the arid wastes of Makran through the juniper-scented valleys of Kalat to the sun-baked hills of the Marri-Bugti area, echo tales of hidden riches. Some, therefore, believe that the name refers to that untold and undiscovered wealth in Hazarganji.
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HAZARGANJI

THE POSSESSOR OF THOUSAND TREASURES

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by Salman Rashid

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Some 20 kilometres south of Quetta, past Dasht-e-Bedaulat (‘Wretched Plain” — a misnomer now because electricity and tube wells have turned this once barren land fertile) there rises an imposing purple loom west of the road. Rising to 3,308 metres (10,850 feet) above the sea, this, in common parlance, is Chiltan. Ask any Brahui who lives in its shadow and he will call it Chehel Tan — Forty Souls. He will also tell you that the valleys below are called Hazarganji — Possessor of a Thousand Treasures.

Aside: Balochistan is a country rife with tales of hidden treasures left behind by passing hordes through the long and creative years of history. From the arid wastes of Makran through the juniper-scented valleys of Kalat to the sun-baked hills of the Marri-Bugti area, echo tales of hidden riches. Some, therefore, believe that the name refers to that untold and undiscovered wealth in Hazarganji.

But the Brahui will tell you another story. Long years ago, there lived a poor Brahui shepherd and his good wife who remained childless despite years of wedlock. Then, Providence gave them not one nor two, but fully forty children. Worried how they would feed this brood, the couple resolved to keep one and abandon the others in the forests of Hazarganji. Days went by and reports filtered in of the mysterious ravines being inhabited by a bunch of elfin children who enticed travellers away. No one could catch them and anyone who pursued them was forever lost in the unknown folds of Hazarganji.

Shamed that he and his wife had not kept faith and abandoned the children, the shepherd went into the forest with his remaining child in order to lure his progeny back. But the pixies of the forest were too smart for the old man: they stole their last sibling and made off into the forest to forever become ghosts that everybody heard of and few laid eyes upon to survive to tell the tale. And so the mountain came to be called Chehel Tan.

Situated as it is in a rather fragile ecosystem with little precipitation, the contours of the mountain are nevertheless rich with flora and wildlife. Here, grow wild olive, pistachio and acacia that shadow herbs, grasses and wild flowers of a hundred different kinds.

And here roam the peculiar Chiltan markhor, believed to be a hybrid of the true markhor and a wild sheep. Partridges and other birds call from the thickets and rodents prowl among the rocks.

Wolf and black bear are reported and the fox is abundant. The skies are commanded by the magnificent lammergeier (bearded vulture) and Eurasian griffon and hawks dash through the thickets in pursuit of prey on the ground. Once seriously threatened, the wildlife is making a slow comeback since the establishment of the Hazarganji-Chiltan National Park.

While the carnivores are as elusive as the Brahui’s children, the markhor can be met with in the higher reaches of the mountain. Travel with a park ranger in pre-dawn darkness and you can lie in a hide to watch herds of markhor making their way from the watering holes in the valleys to the higher slopes where they feed during the day.

Years ago, long before the legend of the forty children was created, the Brahuis recognised the mountain and its valleys as a place of great fecundity. To them, it was like a mother that fattened their herds, gave them herbs to spice the food, ward off sickness or simply to make their homes fragrant, and provided them the hunt for their fleshpots. The valleys were rich and gave of their bounty freely to man. It had been that way for as far back as human memory went and there was no decline in the abundance. This place was the possessor of a thousand treasures. This was Hazarganji.

And so the poet among the Brahuis created the tale of the forty children. Not keeping faith in the largesse of Providence, the couple abandoned them to be miraculously nurtured by the fruitful mountain on whose misty blue slopes the children reside to this day.

This story was the Brahuis’ salute to a mountain whose fertility had kept them alive through the generations.

More from Salman Rashid on Wonders of Pakistan 

1. T h e  s h e p h e r d  f r o m  V i j h a r a 2. B l i n d e d  b y  G u i l t 3. T r e e s and U s 4. T a x i l a 5. N a n d n a : Al B e r u n i W a s H e r e

Related Posts:

1. Pilgrimage to Mata Hinglaj (Hingol), Balochistan [in five parts]  2. Hinglaj, the Hindu holy shrine in Hingol, Balochistan 3. My beautiful Pakistan, the land of Balochistan 4. I too want to go on Hinglaj Yatra [in two parts] 5. Mehrgarh: The Lost Civilisation [in four parts]

The writer Salman Rashid is  Fellow of Royal Geographical Society. His travel writing appears regularly in leading English language journals and he is the author of eight travel books including The Apricot Road to Yarkand and jhelum: City of the Vitasta.
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