Wednesday, June 11, 2008
It hadn’t been a week since we had returned from Makran, but this trip had been planned with Wasim who was like us eager to discover
So off we were again. This time Husni was part of the trip. The car was the same we had had in Makran but the chauffeur this time was Nazir Hajjani.
In the interval, I had fallen ill. I still had no idea what ailed me and Shahana had asked me a number of times if we should cancel the trip. I wouldn’t; besides, Wasim had shortened his stay in the Punjab in order to join us.
The chauffeur was late, a quite normal thing here, but I was upset as this meant Wasim would have to wait for us in Karachi, a thing I myself hate to do. We left an hour behind schedule. Wasim would be at Sohrab Goth and we had convened to pick him up at nine at Sohail No.1 office. Right from the start, there arose a mechanical problem with the car but I thought the car was cold and would improve later. We eventually got to the main road to Karachi at 8:30 [29/11/07]and less then two hours later, we were at Sohrab Goth (Karachi) where our friend was patiently waiting at the designated place.
We drove back to the Northern Bypass and at 11:20, we reached Hub Chowki. After refilling with gas (CNG), we took the Shah Noorani Road that branches off at Seerat Chowk. We passed two roads branching off to the left, one leading to Pâlârri Goth and shortly after one going to Falcon Cement Factory, which we could see at the foot of the hills to the West. Ten kilometers after Hub, we stopped for lunch at a mosque bordering the road [11:55am]. We ate food prepared home by Shahana while Nazir was trying to find out the fault with the engine. 23 kilometer from Hub Chowki, we passed the shrine of Baba Hussain Pir. Until this spot, the land is cultivated and people seem to grow just every kind of crops. There were palm trees, guava trees, chikoo trees, castor oil plants, cane, cotton, maize, etc. From the indication given by a number of people, we understood that we simply had to keep on driving straight on to find Shah Noorani. Past Baba Hussain Pir, the land became arid and we drove through a plateau. Lorries loaded with big stones, usually two or three per vehicle, were plying on the road but we failed to see the origin of the quarry. The road crossed and then followed for a short while an irrigation channel, which certainly originates from the River Hub. After 35 kilometers, we reached Lang Lohar where there is a police check post. There, a road branches off to the West to Sher Mohammad Goth, which is just about a kilometer away. Immediately after Lang Lohar, the road descends and crosses a river, almost dry at this time of the year. We then again drove through a plateau for a while. 16 kilometers after Lang Lohar, a road taking from the right goes to Dureji. I think there is an ancient graveyard [Himidan], which I would like eventually like to visit on my next trip in the area. I do not know the distance to Dureji from this cross road though. Six kilometers further, there is another junction with a road leading west. 73 kilometers from Hub Chowki, the ‘pakka’ road ends and we then proceed on a shingle road. It seems there is a plan to turn it into a metalled road in some future. It was the perfect season to be out on the road in Balochistan; the air was brisk and fresh, yet winter had not yet set in. Our progress was slow, as Nazir had to stop often (every five kilometers in average) to fix the engine. We passed Hayan Pir, 83 km from Hub. We still had to cover 18 km to Mohabat Faqeer. The car was showing more and more unwillingness to go. The passengers were asking the locals how far Jeay Shah was, and the answer invariably was ‘half an hour’. At last, someone said it was a minute away, which translated meant we might reach the place within five minutes or possibly more. It is interesting to notice that time and time concept varies sensibly from a culture to another, from an urban to a rural environment, from the educated folk to the less educated.
We reached Mohabat Faqeer at 4:20 pm. We were glad we had left early in the morning as the day was almost gone and Jeay Shah was still a distance ahead. We posed for a while thinking if we should attempt to drive on or leave the car here and take a ‘kikra’for the remaining five kilometers. Eventually, our Suzuki car engaged on the dusty and winding track. We passed a shrine called Qadam Mawla Ali and at 5 pm, we reached Shah Noorani, 106 kilometers from Hub Chowki.
Shah Noorani Village is located in a green vale watered by a stream, which contrasts greatly with the prevalent arid landscape of this region West of the Kirthar Range. The mountain range where it is located runs in a north-south direction parallel to the main Kirthar Range.
About the man buried here, I haven’t yet got any information beside the one that he would Imam Ali bin Abu Talib himself. The legends want that every single personality of Islamic history would have been here, starting with Adam and including Noah and Muhammad (pbut). If historical evidence points to an impossibility, science-fiction helps the impossible to become possible. Noorani being Imam Ali is of course a secret passed only among the initiated. Shah Abdul Latif would have been here but that is quite acceptable since he himself wrote about it.
Was Bilawal Noorani a local revered man (such as Sachal Sarmast) or someone who had travelled to this spot (just like Othman Marwandi)? Was he renown in his days or did he acquire fame after his death? When did he live? What did he do? What did he teach?
Shah Noorani and Lahoot Lamakan are the destinations of pilgrims who travel on foot from Sehwan Sharif after the urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalander. They take about 17 days to cover the distance –which appears a lot to me- or even seven. I heard about a record of three days only. Naturally, people can proceed at different pace, and the age of the yatri has something to do in it.
This settlement, or village, around the shrine is typical of all those places associated with a mazhar around the country. The shrines are surrounded by lanes of shops selling souvenirs and more useful objects: painted earth-ware such as jars, money savers, baby seats, mandânni (a tool to make butter), decorated plates and religious artifacts: bangles, rings, semi-precious stones or for the most imitation, ‘zehr mohri’ amulets, all sorts of amulets, ‘gano’ (a woolen necklace), chadors, holy pictures, but also ‘naqul’ (a kind of sweet which will be brought back home to the friends, neighbours and relatives), ‘chhunhâre’ (dry dates), ‘kishmish’ (raisins). Lots of plastic items too: toys, sandals, etc. Medicinal items are also for sale along with ‘surma’ (kohl), miswak and dandasa (wooden tooth-brush), ‘mameri’ (eye-cleaner), etc. There are lots of tea-stalls, ‘pakore’ and ‘samose’ vendors, restaurants where people can also sleep. You can also buy music cassettes, particularly devotional songs and qawali but also pop-music. There is always a market for mild drugs, from mainpuri to charas (hashish). Mussafir khanas are spread all around the village. The hammams are located downstream. I noticed a dispensary but I can’t assure the doctor there is really an MBBS graduate.
What make the place are actually the pilgrims, the mixing of people from all ways of life, who have come with their hopes and wishes. There is more of a holiday mood than of an austere religious gathering. People are happy. They pray, they implore but they also chat, pass information, buy, sell, flirt, propose, establish contacts. They all share a thing in common irrespective of their caste or religion; they now are Lahootis, part of the selected who have made it to the tomb of the saint. They yet have to prepare to go to Lahoot Lamakan, the final destination. They will go on foot on a path through the mountain, a distance of six kilometers to the South of Shah Noorani.
Who is –or was- Bilawal Noorani is utterly irrelevant for the pilgrim. They have come for the barakah.
After the visit of the shrine, we sat in the yard listening to dhammal until the namaz of Maghrib. Thereafter, we went off to prepare our camp.
We spent the night under the tent in the outskirt of the village. We woke up at dawn [30/12/07], and had breakfast at one of the restaurants (called ‘hotel’ in Urdu). Oily parattas and sweet caffeine-rich tea.
After paying homage to Shah Noorani, we left in a packed kikra (28 passengers in it plus luggage)for Mohabat Faqir while Nazir drove the car empty. When we reached Mohabat Faqir, the chauffeur was finishing his breakfast and at 10 am we left for Lahoot, a mere five kilometers away to the south.
We left the car and walked along a stream into a gorge. Noé, who had been designated leader of the expedition, was helping Shahana in her progression on this uneven terrain. They had to pass round large boulders detached from the flank of the mountain, hop over the stream, scale inclines. We reached a part where an iron ladder had been affixed to the rock. For this part, Noé was on my back while Shahana and Husni went ahead without difficulty. Wasim was ahead, and he was comfortably sitting at the terrace by the cave when we joined him. Over us hanged stalactites, and water was dripping from the top of the mountain. The air was moist. The sun never reaches this recess of the mountain and therefore the place is a sort of damp even though we are in one of the driest region of the world. After a short rest, we all proceeded to the cave, a few steps higher. An iron ladder, about five meters high, led to the small entrance of the cave. An overweight person could not enter it. Noé and I followed the group and they soon were engulfed into the rock. The tradition wants it that if someone cannot pass the narrow entrance of the cave, he/she is not the child of his/her father. With difficulty, we passed into the netherworld. In the dark, I felt a sudden depression under my feet and at the same time got hold of a thick rope acting as a lead. The ground was slippery, and soon our feet were in the water. Small candles held by other visitors helped us to perceive and discover the cave. People were shouting ‘Ya Ali’ both as part of their religious belief and part to reassure themselves. Noé was getting worried. I heard Shahana scream when she thought a fish was biting her. I tested the way but no fish or crab, or any kind of creature seemed to be present in the muddy, murky water. It was first only a foot deep, but as we advanced further to our right, we went suddenly into deeper water, half to the thigh. My feet planted in the soft muddy bottom, it was difficult to keep balance, with Noé on my back and the digital camera in my hand. Shahana was holding me, I was holding Shahana, Shahana was holding Nazir, Husni was holding herself. We reached an end (20 meters to the right), a pseudo-religious spot with a chanda box by it. Retracing our steps, –by now our eyes were getting used to the darkness- we came to the camel, a stalactite formation, covered with red and green chadors. [See the picture]. Wading up the pool, I reached the bank and leaving Noé with his mother, I went into a series of tunnels and rooms without the aid of light. I used my hands to recognise my way. Two youths who had hesitated to go took up their courage and followed me. Conversation gave courage. The air was becoming thicker and thicker. I followed the rope groping in the intestine of the mountain. I stopped using the light of the camera as I noticed condensation. [See picture]. Eventually, I got into the last room, a space of about 20 square meters which was the end of this speleological experiment.
People come to collect the dripping water from the ceiling, which they hold holy or endowed with curative effect. I drank it; it tasted fine. Exiting the cave with Noé once again on my back was more difficult than the way in. The group was again resting at the platform below, I went up exploring a bit more, passing a tunnel. I didn’t meet any girl at the end of the tunnel and therefore, I didn’t get a sister as the tradition wants it. Above Lahoot, there is a curious mountain in the shape of a sleeping dinosaur. [See picture] It is said that the gap in the mountain- or eye, hole- is the place where the prophet Noah (pbuh) anchored his ship. I am too rational to believe the story, but maybe you do. As a true Lahooti, I had to scale the mountain and I got there quickly. Be sure, no one goes there, or rarely. Once again in the mountain, I felt free. Needless to say, it may be a scary place for most to hang on a bridge just 2.50 meters broad at a height of …well, I don’t know the height but it was high: see picture.
From the top, I could now understand better the geography of the region, and see the path to Jeay Shah with its pilgrims coming and going. In the distance, I could also see the Kirthar Range.
At 3:15 pm, hungry, I was back to base camp. Dal and chapatti was my lunch. They make terrible bread in these parts but the stomach was contented and at four we left. We drove till Hayan Pir Stop where we decided to stop for the night. The clear river near by invited us for a swim. Dinner was chicken à la campagnarde. Early curfew.
With a cup of tea in the stomach en guise de breakfast, we were on the road again at 8 am (1/12/07). Destination Gadani.
We met an interesting gentleman when Wasim and I were chatting at the Allahwala Hotel at the exit of Hub Chowki. An old Pathan in his brown chador sat, apparently listening to our conversation until he presented himself,…in English! “People are uneducated here. There is nobody I can talk to in English. I was born in India. My father was in the police force of the Nizam of Hyderabad. I speak Tamil and Telugu, beside Pashto, Urdu and English. In ’47, I came to Karachi. I have been in Hub for thirty five years. My grand-father was from the Kakar Mountains above Pishin. We are Ahmedzai”. Hajji Moosa is indeed a nice man. I hope to meet him again. If you go to Hub, do meet him!
The police officers at the Gadani check post were a bit fussy, but we eventually got through and spent the rest of the afternoon at Gadani. I swam with Noé. Shahana chatted with Wasim on the rocky spur above the port [See pictures]. Lunch of fried sardines (called seen in Balochi), in the company of Sub-inspector of Police Aslam who had originally objected to the German presence in the area. It is quite natural that the Authority should show itself.
Gadani was followed by a visit to the ship breaking yard which is also a heart breaking business. The task is monstrous. It is an ignoble enterprise and I wonder why ILO does not take action against it. Needless to say, the business is extremely lucrative for the employers. I will send you a few pictures too; see them on facebook.com.
The three-day trip was coming to an end and at Sohrab Goth, we parted from our gentle companion Dr Jürgen Wasim, who was to return to Munich the next Tuesday (That is today). We thoroughly enjoyed his company and we hope to see him again at Hyderabad.
There remain many questions unanswered, which I hope the kind reader will help clarify.
The Ziarat is not (just) the destination, it is the way.
God bless you.
Aly Philippe Bossin Lahooti
Hyderabad, Sindh - 5 December 2007