All that remains
In the absence of conservation scientists, skilled artisans and craftspeople preserving the mausoleum of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro in Dadu is one daunting task
By Dr Shabnam Bahar
Having travelled extensively, as an inquisitive student of anthropology with a quest to learn about exotic peoples and cultures, I have had the opportunity of visiting many exciting, less-frequented places heritage sites throughout Pakistan. These valuable encounters have given me the impetus to write on heritage and how to preserve it.




The exclusive traverse

There's nothing gentle about Shimshal… It's all straight up or straight down and it tests a trekker's fitness to the utmost -- especially when he is 58!

By Salman Rashid

First things first. I wrote my requiem last year in August when I wept on the Mintaka Pass in Gojal. I had walked up unfit after a full year of living without a jot of exercise. To add to that, I had developed, right on the first day of the trek, the most horridly lurid blisters on both feet. I wept when I read on the crest of the pass how fit Peter Fleming had felt coming up from the Tashkurghan side. Sono (Rahman) Aunty called to say I had brought tears to her eyes and that I couldn't give up so quickly. So, even without trying, I did not give up.

This year I returned to Shimshal after twenty years to walk to the summer pasture of Shuwert doing some work for an oil company. I was not prospecting for oil, though. Back in July 1990, with much less flab on the body and much more hair on the pate, I had done a traverse from Askole to Shimshal by the Biafo-Sim Gang-Braldu glacier system. Having crossed the 5700 metre-high Lukpe La, I became the first Pakistani to have done this traverse.

For years after I kept this honour for myself. Some friends attempted, but bad weather prevented them from crossing the high pass that has singularly bizarre ice formations around its crest. I, for example, encountered a huge cornice just below the crest on the north side. It was like the hood of a titanic cobra rising some sixty metres above a jagged icefall. We (my Shimshal guide and porter and I) were lucky the cornice did not snap sending us crashing to a horrid end in the icefall.

A friend in Shimshal reported that at some point, (he could not remember the year) a young woman from Lahore successfully completed the traverse from the Shimshal side. My friend could not say what her name was. Whoever she was, bully for her.

The twenty years since I was last in the gorge of the Shimshal River had not dulled the image of its treacherous and terrifying scree slopes. I say there is nothing gentle about Shimshal, except the disposition of its wonderful, beautiful people. It is all straight up or straight down and it tests your physical fitness to the utmost – especially when you are fifty-eight!

Two weeks earlier in Baltistan, I had heard that a general of the Pakistan army was attempting my traverse of 1990. Consequently, when I reached Shimshal, I asked if the general and his team had arrived. But they had not. Two weeks after leaving Askole this implied that Lukpe La had defied them with bad weather or worse.

On our first day out, as Yahya Beg, my guide, and I neared the encampment of Pust Furzen (Lower Birches), we saw a laden porter coming up the shingle slope.

"That's one of the general's men," said Yahya.

We stopped to chat and the man said he had been sent on ahead to hold a jeep for the exit from Shimshal while the general was following about an hour behind. We climbed down to Pust Furzen and lingered over an elaborate tea, hoping to entertain the general and his friends when they hauled themselves in. Since I knew only of General Farooq Ahmed Khan who did all sorts of unusual things, including, I presumed, walking in the mountains, I was keen to meet him. But no one turned up.

Up again on the high crest between Pust and Uch (Higher) Furzen, we saw them come around the bend. Three of them stepping out in style, not slouching like tired old yours truly. I readied my camera and as they drew nearer called out, "Hail, hail!" The man in front broke into a grin and raised his walking stick in greeting. We drew up and shook hands. They were, in walking order, Major Jawad Shirazi, Lieutenant Colonel Ahsan Kayani and their civilian friend Sheikh Zeeshan.

I asked about the general, but they had no idea about him. He could have gone up the Baltoro Glacier, the colonel ventured. I then realised that the porters in Baltistan could not differentiate between military ranks and any officer was a general so far as they were concerned. These good men had not read my book that detailed my traverse of 1990, but they had heard of it. The big surprise for me was that the soldiers were both fliers from the Corps of Aviation. Why, all the army flyboys I knew were bloody pansies, save Kaukab Bhatti, Raashid and Tanveerullah. I told them so and drew loud guffaws from the three of them. And here were two who along with their friend were doing what I would rate one of the two toughest treks in Pakistan.

It turned out that Jawad was no ordinary hill walker, too. He had authored a book in Urdu about his travels in Kashmir. I have placed this work on my 'must read' list and it shall soon be taken care of. We chatted and my television documentaries came up for discussion. Jawad asked if it was true that Alexander the Macedonian was killed by a Multani arrow. Multanis are laid back, I said, and their arrows must have the same trait. Alexander did take a shot in the right side of his chest when he scaled the wall of Multan fort. But though his lung was punctured, he recovered and led his army successfully through Sindh and the Makran desert, across Persia to Babylon. If it was the arrow in Multan then it worked like a typically Multani taking four years to do what could have been accomplished instantly.

It was weird standing on a desiccated hillside above a sheer slope falling to a thundering river eight hundred metres below us in distant Shimshal and talking Alexander's taking of the fort of Multan. But then odder things are known to have occurred in the high places of the world. One thing was settled, however: despite whatever sham Multani historians may say, it was not an arrow from one of their bows that killed Alexander.

When I started to say parting words, Jawad, the most talkative of the trio, said since none of them had anything to give me to remember them by and because this was such a fortuitous encounter, I should go back to Pust Furzen and have lunch with them.

"And then climb up all the way here?" I asked incredulously.

Thankfully, Yahya and I were spared the ordeal. We parted with felicitation for these young people upon having completed an exclusive traverse. Exclusive it certainly is because for many years to come, it will remain in the realm of the least accomplished treks in Pakistan.

Postscript: A day after returning home, I received a call from Major Jawad Shirazi to ask how far I had gone up the valley. I told him all the way to the summer settlement of Shuwert across the Shimshal Pass. He was surprised.

"We figured you would not last any farther than Arbab Purrian," he said. "What with the tiresome ups and downs of the upper Shimshal gorge and your age, we could not imagine you going much farther."

Jawad had not read my requiem from last August. I did not therefore tell him that I was trying to expunge that damnation not from the pages of this newspaper, but from my own soul. I did not say it was necessary for me to go all the way to be resurrected. If not, the requiem had every capacity of becoming my epitaph.


All that remains

In the absence of conservation scientists, skilled artisans and craftspeople preserving the mausoleum of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro in Dadu is one daunting task

By Dr Shabnam Bahar

Having travelled extensively, as an inquisitive student of anthropology with a quest to learn about exotic peoples and cultures, I have had the opportunity of visiting many exciting, less-frequented places heritage sites throughout Pakistan. These valuable encounters have given me the impetus to write on heritage and how to preserve it.

A similar quest led me to take a trip to the mausoleum of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro, in Dadu district, which is part of the necropolis that has about 100,000 graves and about 60 tombs. Two equally curious researchers, one of whom was a local and was proficient in Sindhi, accompanied me. Our guide to this trip was the knowledgeable custodian of the shrine, Mian Allah Buksh.

It was a cloudy morning when we all left Khanpur to see the necropolis and shrine of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro. The area is known as Kachho. The half-hour drive on a narrow dirt road was an amazing journey of learning and discovery. The breathtaking landscape, starting with lush green fields on both sides to slowly converting into a desert-like terrain as we drew closer to the shrine, was really once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

On our way we stopped at many villages or Goths, as they call them in Sindhi -- like Goth Abdullah, Kali Mori, Goth Piplan, Goth Jattan, Goth Taro Arain, Peelo Patan and Goth Sathal Saand. Here we got a glimpse of the local culture and people.

We were welcomed at the site by Mian Allah Buksh. As we entered the shrine many women and children got together to sing the typical Sindhi shrine lyrics, with frequent and loud resonation of the word Allah to-haar Allah to-haar, Allah to-haar, meaning, with trust at Allah. Local musicians played sarood and other folk musical instruments to entertain their city guests.

Once inside the shrine, the many ghalafs (cotton or thread sheets) on Mian Nasir's grave, as thrown traditionally on the grave of saints, were taken off for us, a rare courtesy extended to visitors.

A lonely woman who looked distraught and psychologically disturbed was seen clinging to the shrine throughout the time that we spent there. She probably had come from some distance to get the blessings of her Pir Nasir, as locals call him. The shrine faqirs believed she was possessed by spirits and tried to chase them out of her by chanting in Sindhi language to invoke the mercy of Pir Nasir, but not to much success. But, the woman did not utter a word during this process.

This initial excitement of the local shrine culture, and of my long haul from Islamabad to Dadu and further up to Kachho area to study the necropolis of Mian Nasir Muhammad, was dampened as we got out of the shrine and started the long walk towards the huge necropolis -- the dilapidated state of most of the tombs and graves inside the necropolis and more so to observe the senseless methods of restoration applied on these magnificent pieces of our heritage was indeed regrettable.

As I have had a chance to visit various heritage sites in the US and Canada, so I naturally started comparing the two sites: in terms of their use, treatment and maintenance. There they are promoted as tourist attractions and the money generated from this commercial endeavour goes into their upkeep and maintenance. Here, the callous apathy and indifference of our people as well as the government towards our heritage sites and the shameful lack of interest in preserving them makes my heart ache.

The appalling state of these rich treasure troves of our past is a nagging reminder that they need to be saved and protected for the future generations. Unesco has already declared many of them as World Heritage Sites and many others are on the waiting list. Having personally witnessed the decay and disrepair of numerous heritage sites over the years, and reading about the dismal condition of many others, has really goaded me to highlight this serious issue.

One is shocked to see the shoddy quality of restoration and conservation work done on the tombs of the necropolis of Mian Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro. Mere funds and finances for restoration and conservation are not enough -- Pakistan needs more education and training in this highly specialised field to produce conservation scientists, skilled artisans and craftspeople who could carry out proper restoration work if we really want to preserve these sites.

The need of the hour is that the issue of conservation and preservation of these crumbling heritage sites in Pakistan be accorded the central focus and attention that it deserves. Undoubtedly, with so many heritage sites waiting to be preserved and restored, it is a highly daunting task, a great challenge for the Department of Archaeology (under the Antiquities Act 1975) in collaboration with international bodies like Unesco, IUCN and the other organisations.

US Ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, recently announced a grant worth $149,000 for the conservation and restoration of three sufi shrines in Punjab, under the Ambassador's fund for cultural preservation.

While commitment and funds are vital for any preservation project, Pakistan is also in desperate need of proper restoration and preservation education and training; to produce professionals who can take up this very skill-oriented job of restoration of historical sites. The assistance of Unesco, CCI (Canadian Conservation Institute), ICCROM ((International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) and other similar organisations should be sought to address this huge task at hand so that the crumbling (world) heritage sites of Pakistan can be appropriately and adequately preserved.

The writer is director research and development, Bahria University, Islamabad. Email:

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