By Farooq Soomro | January 7, 2015
The night sky in Kirthar range is so clear that you can spot the Milky Way with your naked eyes. The landscape is so vast that it stretches beyond man-made boundaries.
A land so enriched with history that one feels lost in time. The mountain range forming a natural boundary between Balochistan and Sindh is home to several peaks, most notably Gorakh Hill (5,700), Kuttay-ji-Qabar (6,877) and Bandu-ji-Qabar (7,112) .
The 150+ mile long stretch provides a sanctuary to different wild life and its torrents, tributaries, canyons, ponds and historical sites making it an ideal excursion for a variety of people.
Unfortunately the uncertain security situations cloaks the ground reality that the local hospitable people are more than eager to welcome tourists and help improve the image of their area.
I went to Gorakh Hill last year and had been yearning to go back to Kirthar range ever since. A family friend was hosting a kacheri on Badro Jabal and I jumped into the invitation as soon as I heard about it.
Badro Jabal in Kirthar range was a much safer and easier destination than the rest. It was only 320km from Karachi and a metal road connected it with the Indus highway.
The drive was rather uneventful until we reached the elevation of 3,000 feet where we saw the panoramic view of the valleys below. An oil exploration company had dug wells across Badro plateau and we could see dirt roads connecting various spots across the mountain.
We found a small guesthouse there that had been built by the government a long time ago and was now in desolate condition. We made a stop there and walked leisurely to the edge of the mountain. We saw a dirt road below in the gorge.
Here we met a local shepherd there who lived across the gorge. He told us that they had been promised development in the area due to the oil company’s investment.
The weather was getting cold so we went back to the guesthouse. By then our hosts had transformed the dysfunctional hut into a typical autaq with a bonfire in the middle.
They had invited sughars from Nawabshah who initiated the kacheri in a traditional way. They recited Shah’s poetry and even sang famous folk songs. Badro Jabal had been a favourite star gazing spot for the Karachi Amateur Astronomer Club due to its clear skies.
Someone had told me that due to its clean air, the government had once commissioned the construction of a TB hospital; a project which was abandoned half way.
The next morning we drove down from the mountain, I could see the majestic Manchar Lake in the distance; with the other end out of sight. It had appeared like the sea.
My wanderlust had not been satisfied and I somehow convinced a few friends to continue our journey towards Wahi Pandi, the small settlement before Gorakh hill station which was home to torrents, ponds and ancient rock art sites.
Serendipity had been my greatest ally and I was somewhat relying on it again. However, our host insisted that we take a guide along with us. Hence we took a detour towards Manchar Lake to find one.
The lake’s water glittered in the pallid winter sunlight. We saw a lot of small settlements on our way resembling the shore of the Mediterranean. We found our guide; he got into the front seat of our vehicle and told us to follow the road.
Our guide, Juman Shah was a busy entrepreneur. He was in the middle of a sale agreement on his phone. He was trying to sell half of his boat. I found it odd and wondered aloud how half a boat could be sold.
What if both the owners decide to go in different direction? Juman Shah gave me a look.
“We divide the ownership across the days”, he explained. He went silent for a bit and then pointed in the distance and said, “There, look at that. It’s a camel”.
I had lost my credibility so he had to start with the basics. Public transport was almost nonexistent in that area and people shared motor bikes, camels and jeeps for moving across the terrain.
The road disappeared after a while. On a dusty track we saw a family riding on a donkey cart carrying jerry cans full of water. Juman told us that there was no electricity and people had to fetch water from far. I wondered how life would be like there. What would one do if they had to run away from oneself? Or maybe those were self-inflicted wounds for the town-bred.
A little moment later we saw a graveyard on the edge of a cliff. It looked surreal in its royalty. Standing gloriously in middle of nowhere!
Our guide did not have any idea about the origins of the graveyard. Maybe there was a board there which could have helped, a friend suggested and we should walk towards the graveyard.
There had been no indication and no inscription on the otherwise decorated graves. I had a feeling that it was the graveyard popularly known as “Butta Quba” where Mughal and Kalhora plenipotentiary were buried.
The monuments were in excellent condition and the graves had been well adorned with colorful carvings and designs though surprisingly they did not indicate the name or titles of those buried. There was a small beautiful mosque on the edge of the cliff.
I spotted a rather unique structure on the adjoining cliff. We drove toward it and I instantly knew that we had hit the jackpot.
The small canopy and a grave may be the only survivor in what seem to be another graveyard but they are believed to point to an interesting connection of this area with Zoroastrians.
These graves have been associated with a long forgotten tradition of burials by Zoroastrians in this particular region. The graves were constructed using yellow stone and had carvings which looked like rays radiating from Sun. They were popularly known as Roman graves as some believed that they belonged to the army of Alexander who invaded Sindhi in around 300 BC. We stood there in silence. As if mourning the diversity which this area was well accustomed to.
We continued our drive towards Wahi pandi. We still did not have a plan as my guide and I struggled with the pronunciation of some famous sights in the area.
“Let’s go and see Bodho waterfall”, I picked up a place with the easiest of pronunciation. We all agreed instantly.
Bodho was one of many waterfalls near Wahi Pandi where spring water was harnessed by locals to cultivate chilies, tomatoes and other crops.
The remaining water falls into one of main torrents. The people lived in huts made out of mud with a roof of straw.
Juman knew the locals and they immediately opened their autaq and hearts for us. They had to have been one of the most resilient people in Pakistan; living in a difficult terrain where only small pockets of land were cultivatable.
Highly seasonal rain made it even more difficult to have a sustained livelihood but we met them in high spirits. Kids smiled for the camera and elders gathered around for a cup of tea.
We sat there, sipped tea and chatted leisurely. They spoke Brohi with occasional sentences in Sindhi. I wanted to lay there on the charpoy and sleep but we had promised our host that we would get back to Nawabshah by sunset. We settled back in the jeep with a feeling of leaving unfinished business in Wahi Pandi.