Camel riding and camel caravaning is still much in vogue in Multan and Cholistan areas. Though I did not have Cholistan in my itinerary, I did get the chance to travel on a camel back as highway was about three kms away from the village I had put up a night before. To reach the bus-point, I had three options: a donkey or a camel or a backseat of a cycle. I opted for the camel. In a moment, a camel was saddled and forced to sit before me. The cameleer was Masti Khan, a Baloch by decent and Turkish by look. He helped me to mount on. The camel lifted itself up with a jerk, oozing and gargling as if to protest. I became frightened and wanted to dismount. This brought a burst of laughers from kids. I waived them good bye and left the village.
TO SUKKUR, QUETTA, AND ZAHIDAN IN IRAN
by Hafeez R. M.
A HITCH HIKE
In about three hours I decided to leave for next destination, Sukkur. The highway was about three kms away. To reach the bus-point, I had three options: a donkey or a camel or a backseat of a cycle. I opted for the camel. In a moment, a camel was saddled and forced to sit before me. The cameleer was Masti Khan, a Baloch by decent and Turkish by look. He helped me to mount on. The camel lifted itself up with a jerk, oozing and gargling as if to protest. I became frightened and wanted to dismount. This brought a burst of laughers from kids. I waived them good bye and left the village.
With reins fastened to the camel’s nose peg, the steering seemed easy. We passed through a semi-desert filled with sand dunes, shrubs and tiny cultivated fields. Young boys & girls appeared from nowhere. They were herding sheep and goats. There were bells around the neck of the animals. The desert silence and occasional tinkle of bells were quite romantic. A camel ride was the best way to see a desert. A vehicle could be like a cell. The constant noise of engine would blur the solitude. Our speed was hardly 6 km/h, enough to appreciate the magnificent surroundings. We hit the highway in about two hours. I boarded a waiting bus and saluted Masti Khan and his camel. I reached Khanpur covering 90 kms and contacted a near-by sugar mill over the phone. A bank, where I had worked for 30 years, had financed the plant. Soon a jeep arrived and I hopped on and was taken straight to the rest house. I was dead-tired, my legs were cramped and my back was aching by ride on a camel and jolts from a bus with weak suspensions. A hot bath and an aromatic tea relieved me to some extent.
This was off-season for the sugar mills. The chimney was cold and giant crushers were lying dead. Farooq, a young engineer from the mill, met me in the morning. I told him that I wanted to go to Sukkur, about 275 away. He said, No problem, we have lot of jeeps. Bux, our Chemist, would accompany you. You mean a Chemist would drive the jeep, I was startled. No sir, he would just accompany you, said he and added in a whispering tone, He has his wife there.
The road was excellent and shaded by trees. We drove through Indus Plains, formed of thick alluvial soil. When irrigated & fertilized, it became very productive. Many modern factories and well-populated towns were on the roadside. With a little detour, we saw a beautiful mosque with mosaics of tiny mirrors on the wall. In the adjacent bazaar, there was a grand display of pointed-toe leather sandals with beadwork . On the way, we crossed many sandy ranges. The dwellers were tall with sharp features, living in large round mud huts, usually atop sandhills. The landscape became luxuriant as we neared Sukkur. Bux dropped me at Inter-Pak Inn, near Indus River. Then he shouted at the driver to rush up and crush whosoever came in the way. It made sense. He was about to meet his young wife after abstinence of 3 months.
Next day, I got up early and walked along the River facing east. Soon a tip of sun appeared from water spreading its crimson shafts all over. The sun was rising, its red ball getting higher and higher. It was awesome but there were few on-lookers, some fishing and some jogging. Milkmen were peddling hard on their bikes fitted with large containers. Donkeys were laden with vegetables, their backs bending with the load. Soon Indus Barrage was in sight stretching well over one thousand metres. I could count its spans, 46 in all. It fed seven canals. One of canals was wider and longer than the Suez or Panama canals. A little further away, a suspension bridge could be seen. It was extremely beautiful and linked Sukkur with a town on the other side, Rohri. On return I was walked through a long strip of gardens running along the river. I had my breakfast on a roadside cafe: milked-tea (only milk, no water, no sugar) with freshly baked nan, heavy neither on pocket nor on heart. Afterwards, I resumed my stroll, getting away from the river and nearer to the city centre. Sukkur was sprawling town with beautiful mosques, gardens and shrines. A desert-oasis town, it could boast of many havelies (mansions), decorated with geometric & floral designs painted in variety of bright colours.
It was still early for the bazaar. A few shops were opened. Nevertheless, it was a rare opportunity to walk through the empty winding lanes. Wandering aimlessly, I reached Shrine of Masoom Shah Bokhari, a landmark of Sukkur, its high tower glittering in the morning sun. There were more women than men, a sharp contrast from the scenes in the streets. Men wore embroidered caps with tiny mirrors. A red cloth slung over their shoulders. It was hand-printed from vegetable dyes and cow-dung. Women were clad in richly patched and stitched dresses.
Many were behind the veils having different pattern identifying their tribes. Dupatta was worn over the head and wrapped around the shoulders. As the day wore on, more and more devotees were entering the shrine. Many were barefooted in dusty clothing from traveling through desert, their faces squeezed with thirst. Inside, people were whispering their secret wishes to the saint. Desperate women, under threat of divorce, prayed for a son.
ON WAY TO QUETTA
I got a wakeup call at 5:00 followed by a steaming hot tea. I went to railway station and occupied my reserved seat in an air-conditioned coupe. The scene inside was different from economy class of Shalimar Train. Young ladies had no cover and were oblivious of any stare at their faces. No one talked to me nor did I venture to. They belonged to high society, cocooned and wary of any contact. I felt suffocated and looked out through green glass window but it had already distorted true colour of the land.
After about two hours, the train stopped at Jocababad, hottest place in the world, temperature could rise much beyond 48 degree in July. I got down to see the real life. Men wore big, baggy trousers and shirts with or without a turban. Women were in kurtas decorated with delicate mirror embroidery bearing a testimony to their dexterity and skill. On the first whistle, I got back in and resumed my armchair travel. The train started and steadily went uphill. The area was scarcely populated, mostly by nomads chasing short-lived greenery followed by odd shower of rain. One could see their tents looking like big beetles in the oases. The landscape was brown and treeless except for needle-leafed tamarisk and the thorny bushes. The sun rose higher and higher burning all colours to half tones.
Into the compartment entered a ticket checker. Unexpectedly, he asked, Any one for Iran? When I nodded, he came towards me. An old man wants to go to Tehran. He knows nothing. Be kind to him. God will protect you from the evil-eyes. I had no choice. Soon he led an old man in who was stiff scared. Consider me your slave. Here is all I have, said he placing a passport and a fist full of dollars in my lap. By this gesture, he begged me to rob him here if I had such intentions. In tears, he beseeched me not to ditch him in a foreign land devoid of any near and dear. We reached Quetta at dusk. Situated 1,700-meters high, it was a pleasant escape from heat and dust.
We stayed in Railway Retiring Room for just two $ a day. Iran was 732 km away. A bus would take 24 hours while a train would take 36 hours. One more problem on rail, either you meet smugglers or nice people going for pilgrimage, two worlds pole-apart. Because of the old man, I decided to go by train which, being weekly, would leave on 19th April 1997, two days away. This afforded me an opportunity to move in and around Quetta. Being a transit for Iran and Afghanistan, the city was hemming with activities. The shops were loaded with fresh & dry fruits. Roads were lined with trees. Teashops alternated with stalls selling green onyx carvings. For lunch, I had sajji, barbecued lamb-leg. It takes a lot of preparation, Only well-fed, tender and plump lambs are chosen. Their meat is marinated in salt for two to three hours before roasting. The lamb leg is skewered and posted around slow burning firewood. It is turned clock-wise after short intervals. The process takes 2 to 3 hours making it so delicious that one would like to swallow the whole leg with bone, hook line and sinker. Green tea with cardamom is must after belly full of sajji.
Hanna Lake in Quetta is one of the main attractions of the Quetta city. The lake is located a little short of the place from where the Urak Valley starts and is about 10 km from Quetta. Golden fish come into the lake swimming right up to the edge of the lake. There is a lakeside restaurant with picnic tables shaded by pine trees. At one end, the irrigation dam rises out of the depths like battlements of a fort. It is very attractive for holidaymakers, and is crowded with hikers and campers in the holidays. The turquoise waters of the lake provide a rich contrast to the sandy brown of the hills in the background. One can promenade on the terraces or hire a boat and paddle on the lake, go around or right into the middle where an island is located. Wagon service operates from city bus station at Circular Road. The transport can be hired through the PTDC Tourist Information Centre, Muslim Hotel, Jinnah Road Quetta.
In the evening I went to Hanna Lake on a local bus. It passed through low brown hills. There was an open-air restaurant beside the lake. I sat on a chair facing west. As sun sloped down, the lake water turned turquoise and then emerald green. A shrine on the small island in midst of the lake was cast in stark relief by the last light of the day.
The train started at 8 a.m. Our compartment was full by people and bales of second hand clothing. We had to travel with a group of smugglers who consider the world as borderless. It was otherwise quite a spectacular trip. The desert was flat and vast with undulating sand dunes looking like water waves. The mountains, sky blue in colour, seemed very distant. A well-paved road was running along the railway line with lot of trucks and fish-eye buses. The train stopped in the afternoon at Naukundi. We had traditional lunch; a tasty spread of local bread, mutton and sauces. The train had to give long long whistles to bring back its passengers from open eateries. On the way, we saw modern nomads moving in group of 12 or more on tractors with everything in the trailers – wives, children, animals, firewood, tents and foods. They would look for grass and pitch their tents.
The train stopped about four kms before the border town, Taftan. It used to be caravansary (camel stopping place). There were no more camels and the town was almost deserted. We had to walk to reach there for immigration and customs. Soon we crossed into Iran. Though a neighboring country, I felt tense as I was no more among my own people.
To be continued….
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Note: This is an old yet interesting travellogue [as you might have also noticed], hence the prices and costs of staying at different places mentioned by the writer may be much higher than the ones prevailing at the time he undertook this journey.
More Posts from Hafeez R. M. on Wonders of Pakistan
1. Footloose in East Africa – [in three parts] 2. Escape for a while 3. The Shrine of Hazrat Ayub Ansari in Istanbul 4. Sacred Crocodiles 5. Shalimar Gardens, Lahore 6. Gorakh Hills, A pleasant surprise 7. The tomb of Hazrat Abdullah Shah Ghazi 8. Thar coal – hope or despair [in three parts]
Hafeezur Rahman Malik is an ex-Bank Executive. As says Hafeez, he now whiles away his time in teaching and traveling. Each year in summer and winter holidays, he goes on a footloose and fancy-free safari to a new country or to a new area of a large country like USA. His travel tales are published by various websites specially www.hubpages.com & www.cstn.org . He lives in Karachi, Pakistan, with wife and a cat.Email: email@example.com
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