Wednesday, June 11, 2008

HINGLAJ and GWADAR

Makran 07

Every year we wait for winter to make small excursions in the region. I can bear the heat, Shahana doesn’t. From November to March, the weather in Sindh is pleasant. The only inconvenient is that the days are shorter. This year, we had chosen to go Hinglaj, to Lahut and to Shikarpur and Mehrgarh. Hinglaj because we had spoken about it for some time with Georgiana and she wanted to see the place. We had been there three years ago and we would be glad to go there again. Lahut Lamakan because it had been thought about going there for a long time and it had become in our minds a sort of mysterious place; ‘la makan’ means ‘no place’. Going to a nowhere place! This trip is planned for next week in the company of Wasim, therefore I won’t dwell on it now. About Mehrgarh, I got recently the bad news from the director of the department of archæology, Dr Qasim Qasmi, that the site has been destroyed due to tribal warfare and that there is nothing more to be seen. I wonder if he is trying to keep me away from it. On the way to Mehrgarh, we had planned to visit Shikarpur, the only city of Sindh I have not visited. Quetta: let’s see. Noé talks a lot about seeing snow. Seeing sandy tracks of land in Balochistan, he pointed out it was snow. I had to convince him it was not and that it had to be cold to be snowy. Jabal Gorak, the highest mountain of Sindh is also considered for a trip but our car can’t make it there, we would need a sturdier vehicle for that purpose.

As planned, we left on Wednesday, 21st of November. We had decided to hire a car instead of driving our own. We had asked a couple of car rental companies, and Shahana’s brother, Akhtar told us that he was renting out his car, with a driver.
At 10:40 am, we left Civil Lines. We were six people on board: Shahana, Noé and I, Georgiana Griffin and her daughter Iram, and the chauffeur, Mohammad Sumar Khaskheli.
We’ve been travelling with Georgiana on two previous occasions: in June ’06 to Chitral with her elder daughter Umbreen and to Nangar Parker in November of the same year. She is indeed a good travelling companion who can adapt to new situations. Georgiana is the principal of Piggott Girls College, Hyderabad. With Iram, her younger daughter, it was the first trip. Georgiana, Iram and Shahana are all Rotarians, but the friendship dates back earlier.
At the Qasimabad Caltex Station near Wadhu Wah, we filled up with both CNG and petrol, had the pressure of the tyres checked and Iram bought a few snacks and drinks.
Up to Karachi, the trip was uneventful. We wanted to fill up with CNG, and so we did not avail the Northern Bypass, which would have saved us time. We bypassed the bypass. At Sohrab Goth (entrance of Karachi), we filled up and proceeded through Karachi passing many unknown areas to us; first North Nazimabad, Banares Chowk, and then skirting the hills bordering Karachi to the North-West, entering Pathan mohallas, and then areas populated by Baloch folks. From avenues, we passed into streets, and from streets into lanes. We asked our way from chowks to chowks until we eventually got out onto the main road leading to Balochistan at 2:20 pm.
At 2:45, we passed Hub [179 km from Hyd], a fast growing town. It is probably the second largest town of Balochistan. We reached Gadani at 3:15 where we had a picnic lunch prepared by Georgiana. We all sat down by the jetty with a good view of the bay. Chicken, vegetable, chapatti and rice were on the menu. Gadani is a charming fishing town, which would be even more charming if we could get rid of the rubbish and flying plastic bags. (I have never seen how plastic bags are manufactured; I know now they grow on trees, yes I saw it!) It is ideally located in a scenic bay protected by a rocky hill to the South. Beyond this rocky spur is the well-known ship breaking yard not anymore in use since India, Taiwan and a few other countries have taken the lead in this field by better offers to companies which want to get rid of their old ships. This industry was conducted in total oblivion of elementary safety rules for workers and has cost the lives of some of them, or very often the amputation of limbs. The work they performed was comparable to that of slaves in ancient times as described in our books of history, the ships were hauled onto the beach by human muscle power. Poverty had brought them to perform this hard labour. But to us tourists, Gadani did not present this aspect of life, it was just another picturesque spot far remote from the reality of the hard life of fishermen. The tourist typically browses over what pleases him with special focus on landscape, local colour and handicrafts. We stayed for an hour and then proceeded on our journey to Hinglaj. It was 4:15 and we had lost hope to reach it before night. We would probably have to stay at Dur Mohammad’s, 62 kilometers before Hinglaj. Passing a few sandstone hills, we drove for a while parallel to the sea, a mere three to five kilometers to the West, along the escarpment of the continental plateau. The most common vegetation there is shrub and bushes, most of it tamarisk. Trees are rare and are mostly grown up devis. We passed Vinder, an important trade centre of the region and reached Zero Point as the start of the Makran Coastal Road is called.[278 km from Hyd]. There, the road to Khuzdar and Quetta (ca. 600km) proceeds northward and the road to Gwadar westward (570 km). We prayed in the mosque and had tea. I kicked the football with Noé.
The sun had gone down when the car was rolling toward Liari. The car slowed down, Sumar had switched to petrol mode. We passed the petrol depot, which had been mentioned to us, without noticing it, and so we had to drive 19 kilometers back to it in Liari to fill up. To our revelation, Irani petrol was not available, and the Pakistani one was overrated. We bought it after bargaining at Rs. 65 per liter (instead of 55 in the rest of the country – they wanted 70). We had also to check that we were given the right quantity; how can we be sure that the measuring doses really contain what they indicate?
Skirting Sonmiani Bay to the north, we drove until we reached at 7:55 pm our destination for the night: the oil depot of Dur Mohammad Jagdal at milestone 177 km to Karachi and 47 to Agor which only has the dim sign of a petrol lantern hanging at his hut. Dur Mohammad recognised me quickly and as a Baloch was very pleased to offer us hospitality. We had brought our tents and he showed us a spot where we could settle. After leveling the ground, the tents were set and we had our dinner, which consisted of the same dishes previously enumerated.
For Georgiana and Irum, it was an entire new experience; to sleep in the middle of this big empty land, with a minimum of comfort. All I know is that the ladies spent quite some time in the night chatting in the tent, as I once woke up - a rare thing with me - and heard their chattering. I had woken up in fact to check on Noé. His feet were cold, as he had removed the part of the shawl that covered us. The humidity was intense and the tent was dripping. I estimated the temperature to be around 17ºC. (I don’t know why but at this instant, I am thinking of someone …don’t ask me how many Fahrenheit this is!)Our tent was very simple, whereas the one in which the ladies slept was more protective.
The light of dawn woke us up. Tea was served. Ablutions and stuff, and soon we were on our way; it was already 8:20. Half an hour later, we reached the bridge at Agor and turned left on the dirt road to Hinglaj. At that stage, I proposed Mohammad Sumar that I should drive. We stopped on the way to enjoy the view and take a few photographs by the river. At 9:44, we reached Hinglaj. [453 km from Hyd].
The shrine of Sri Nani at Hinglaj is the most westerly located Hindu shrine in South Asia, a place of antiquity probably antedating the religion of the Hindus. It is surprising that the place has not been ‘islamised’ as it is the case with Lahut Lamakan and every other magic places. Because of the improved road, the annual pilgrimage performed here in April sees more and more people coming year by year. As a result, infrastructure has developed to accommodate the growing flow of pilgrims. Most of these visitors live in open places or in makeshift huts. Hinglaj is not just the shrine, it is the whole cañon. The heights are also used as retreats by holy men. This morning, it was only the five of us. Sumar stayed behind to put the spare wheel; we had had a puncture. Following the brook, I took Georgiana and Iram further into the gorge of Hinglaj toward the spring. Noé was proudly showing us the way. They got a bit tired, and half way we returned to the shrine where we had left Shahana.
At 12:20, we were at Agor, and had lunch at al-Hassan restaurant on the other side of the bridge. Fish, bindis, dal. I spread the tents still wet of dew. An hour later, we were heading up toward Ormara. We stopped for a while at the beach a few kilometers ahead of Kund Malir where I went swimming with Noé. The beach is not a lonely spot as there were crowds…of crabs. At our sight, they scrambled into the sea. I hurt the sole of my foot on buried rocks and I am still feeling the pain.
Upon seeing the name of Gwadar on the milestone, Iram wanted to proceed all the way to the end of the Makran Coastal Road. I told her it would employ all our time as it was 400 kilometers away, making it 800 to return to this present spot. On the other hand, they would probably never get a second opportunity, and we went ahead with a view to reach Gwadar. From now on, we would not be able to stop too long anywhere.
Leaving the coast, the road passing through the mountains become more scenic, and after two passes, we come into a valley, which I call ‘Monuments Valley’. There, the rocks and the mountains evocate figures and statues. Most of them have the shapes of forts and castles. Depending on the time of the day you are there, the impression will differ, also according to the angle of light. From this valley, the road took us to the third and highest pass, the Buzi Pass, a feat of engineering and one of the finest roads of Pakistan. Beyond Buzi, the road resumes its westerly direction following parallel ridges, which look like frozen waves. This is the straightest mountain road I have ever seen. After about 50 kilometers, the road descends gently into the Ormara plain and after passing three dry river beds, reaches the coast. At the junction, the town of Ormara is three kilometers to the East and the road to Gwadar to the right. [588 km from Hyd]. We prayed at the mosque there, and a little further away, bought 31 liters of fuel (@ Rs. 65.).I found out that Iram was good at haggling, something I am now getting tired of. I drove. Time passed. Miles after miles, the road took us through small mountains, hills, flat expenses with dwarf vegetation, mostly tamarisk and mesquite trees. From time to time, I listened to the conversation going on behind me. However, my intervention not being appreciated, I was kindly reminded that this was a ‘women conversation’. The orange sun was now burning my eyes. At a time, I felt I might have to stop for a while, but then the road passed through a mountainous areas therefore screening us from the sun. Sometime after sunset, we stopped at a little mosque. Sumar had the tyres checked for pressure, and two kilometers further we reached the Pasni junction [740 km from Hyd]. From there, the port of Pasni is about ten kilometers further south and the road to Gwadar turns at right angle to the East. Gwadar is now 105 kilometers away. This stretch of land is rather flat and the Makran Coastal Range rather remote to the North. It’s night, the passengers in the white Suzuki Liana are only thinking of reaching destination. Sumar is driving. Noé, as usual, controls the music player. We skirted Nalient. We reached another junction: Turbat road to the right; we turned to the left.
The Koh-e Mahdi was now uncovering itself from the hazy moonlit landscape; Gwadar was near. At 8:05 pm, we reached the check-post at the entrance of Gwadar. [863 km from Hyd].The policeman on duty asked us questions. We answered that in Sindh, we were not used to be asked questions, and upon questioning his sense of hospitality, he let us go with advices how to avoid the forthcoming police check-posts. The more I live in this country, the more I love it! From the check-post, the road goes directly South to ‘Downtown’.
Let me now tell you something about Gwadar.
Gwadar is uniquely situated on an isthmus leading to a tableland called Koh-e Batail. This big rock has a length of 15 km and is at the most a kilometer and half in breadth. It runs parallel to the coast and is surprisingly similar to the Ormara Mountain. It is elevated to the side of the continent and tilts toward the sea. They are in fact the first foldings parallel to the Makran Coastal Range and a continuation of the coastal range between Jiwani and Pishukan. Gwadar was purchased from Oman and joined Pakistan in 1957. The culture and tradition of the place have a tiny tint of Arabia. A fort is there as a testimony of this past. To this day, a very large segment of the population live in Oman and trade is maintained. As for the present demography, it is changing; changing fast and it is to be feared that the Gwadaris will soon become a minority in their own town, something seen before. Unless serious efforts are made to uplift the level of education, it is easy to guess that the foreigners will strongly establish themselves. The economy of the town is –or was- fishing and smuggling. The Iranian border isn’t too far, and launches cross to the Emirates. Items brought from Iran are petroleum products, paraffin, shoes, motorcycles, tin food, fresh food, soap, and more. There is a lot of booze too, which must be coming from the UAE or from ships plying by.
Not only is Gwadar a great place, but it could –and should- have a great future. Let’s put aside the promises given by property dealers, promoters and other crocodiles. Gwadar could indeed become another Dubai if…if the following conditions are met. First, peace in Afghanistan if Gwadar has to function as a seaport for the Central Asian countries. Two, internal security in Balochistan and every parts of Pakistan, especially the NWFP. Three, bringing up Balochistan to the economic level of Sindh and the Punjab. That can only be done through education. Education can make the Baloch competitive and assure their autonomy and rights. Four, get the blessing of Russia. (China is interested in Gwadar for obvious reasons.)
More about Gwadar: it is exotic, romantic, the people are nice, the climate is temperated by the sea, with not too hot summers and mild winters, the breeze is pleasant (Gwadar means Door of Wind; Gwa = Wind, Dar = door). Rainfall is low which used to cause water shortages. There were about ten wells in the city but water now comes from the Akra Kaur Dam and the Saji Dam. People speak Balochi in its Makrani variant. The old social order has weakened as it is now an urban society and the hierarchy Hakim/Baloch/Golam has disappeared in the new cosmopolitan fabric of society.

We stopped at the first hotel on the way, Islamabad Hotel. The ladies went to inquire and came back: too dear (Rs. 2000/) for what they had to offer was the verdict. Inspector Narejo called on Georgiana’s mobile but no khas arrangement could be done; his friend was in Quetta. Iram said she wanted to go to PC (That’s what the Pearl Continental hotels are called in the jargon of the elite). We couldn’t miss it; the PC is the big, bright, large, shiny building overlooking the city. Georgiana wanted to stay in the car while Shahana and Iram would go to inquire for rooms, she was obliged to follow. I did not, I was covered with dust and was looking messy - I always am but this time…-
I stayed with the chauffeur, but when they were late coming back, I went to the car to put a fresh shirt on and went into the hotel. I asked where the three ladies were and at that time, they came out of the lift. Everything was arranged, we would be staying at the PC. Noé was very happy and excited to stay at a luxury hotel. Oh, what a contrast with Dur Mohammad’s jhompri!
We had dinner at Diamond Hotel and Restaurant in the city, and returned to PC. Noé was the first to have a bath. He than sat in the bed like a king in front of a large screen TV set. Iram was in high spirits; I’m not sure she is into camping. We slept late, we got up early. The breakfast was excellent and the croissants tasted just like in France.
At 10:22, we left the hotel and drove around on Koh-e Batail. We then went to the bazaar. Most of the shop were shut for the fourth day in protest for the assassination of a leader of the National Liberation Front, by one of the Government agencies. Investors in Gwadar, please be a bit patient. A few boutiques were open to satisfy their shopping urge. It was high time to leave if we had to be home in time. Iram, Georgiana and I had to work the next day. After buying fuel (30 liters @ 55/liter), we left Gwadar at 12:10 pm. The journey back was rather monotonous, and Noé fell asleep. At 3:20 we were at Ormara where we had lunch, and refueled. From there, I drove; the chauffeur was too nervous, especially on the mountain roads. We reached Buzi before sunset and again got a chance to see the valley from a different angle in a different light. The next stop was at Dur Muhammad’s where we had tea, it was 7 o’clock. At 8:35, we were at Zero Point, Hub at 9:55 where we took CNG. We found the access to the Northern Bypass and from there there was just 172 km to reach home. We arrived at Civil Lines at 12:53 am, having covered 1737 km.

1 comment:

Daniel Sprague said...

What an enjoyable read. You have a great eye for detail, and write very well in English. It's lovely to hear all the old names again. Thanks for sharing.