Dadu is a treacherous, arid district. The weather can be unforgiving and water is hard to find. The landscape is vast, and the settlements sporadic. However, in this very landscape, many civilisations have risen and fallen, some possibly dating back to 5000 BCE.
I am here with a rather odd group of people.
One of them is a commissioned officer who likes to introduce himself as the Minister of Sound and Music. The other is an engineer and has recently moved back from abroad. The Minister of Sound and Music takes the DJ’s role as soon as we cross Karachi toll plaza. He changes the melancholic tone of the playlist to that of flamenco – from Geeta Dutt to Gypsy Kings.
I am on the road again.
July is not the best time to be visiting Dadu, but I am hoping for a cloudy day. The drive on Indus Highway is scenic and without any hiccups. We reach Dadu before sunset, entering the city through the mighty gates which have been built in many interior Sindh cities as a sign of development.
On both sides of the road are dingy shops, mostly belonging to mechanics, with greasy auto parts lying in front of the shops. There are no women to be seen anywhere. We struggle with directions for a bit, but finally find my friend’s place, which is our home for the night.
We drop our luggage in the rooms. There is no electricity, so we go out into the lawn. My friend is hosting some other visitors from Rahimyar Khan, who are making an overnight stop here. We sit on lawn chairs and talk politics.
The industrialist from Punjab tells me that he feels sorry for the state of affairs in Sindh. He tells us that a tehsil in Punjab has better infrastructure than Dadu, which is a district capital. He says that he finds it hard to believe that he is still in the same country when he crosses the border into Sindh. The engineer tells the industrialist that he has a similar feeling when he crosses the border into Punjab.
After the engineer and industrialist call it a day, I am left alone with my host. He tells me that he moved to Dadu a few months ago, but did not intend to bring his family. "There is not much to do for women here, you see," he explains. "There is not much to do for men either, except for their jobs," he says wistfully. The waiter serves us green tea which we sip silently.
Suddenly, the night smells of jasmine and melancholy.
Sado Mazo – The land of legends and pre-historic paintings
We rise up early in the morning. Our host has arranged for a guide who has accompanied many eminent scholars on their journey across Kirthar range. He introduces himself as Miskeen Laghari.
The Minister of Sound and Music asks Miskeen if he is also a poet. He nods, but says that he is more of an explorer now. He is wearing a mustard-colored shalwar kameez, a black and white angoosha on his head, and plastic chappals on his feet. His face is tanned and wrinkled. He tells me that he has walked thousands of miles by now across Kirthar range.
We drive towards Sado Mazo, which is accessible from Wahi Pandi. The streets of Wahi Pandi look like a swamp and around it, a small bazaar bustles with activity. We get some water from one of the shops and continue our journey. Due to torrential rains, the dhoras (tributaries) are full of water and at some places, Miskeen has to walk through the water to ensure that our vehicle can go through.
|The main street of Wahi Pandi turns into a swamp during monsoon season.|
|Miskeen gauges water for that rest of the entourage.|
|People of nearby villages gather at a stream to take a dip.|
|The rocks in the area are not particularly beautiful.|
|Tributaries are full of water due to the recent rains.|
|We park our cars and embark on our journey on foot towards Sado Mazo.|
Sado Mazo takes its name from a local legend. The area has seen a lot of tribal conflict, which has given birth to many legends; of betrayal or trust, of bravery or cowardice, of values or the lack of it.
As we walk through a gorge, Miskeen narrates the legends. He says that the Lasharis and Rinds have inhabited Kirthar range since ages, and have been at daggers most of the time. During one of the fights, two sisters from the Lashari tribe, Sado and Mazo, asked the drum-beater to use different drumbeats to announce the result of the war.
They told the drum-beater that in case of defeat, they would commit suicide in order to save their honour. As the legend goes, Lasharis went on to win the fight, but the drum-beater, in his vile curiosity, announced defeat instead. The women, upon hearing the beat, jumped off the cliff into the ravine. The cliff is named after both sisters since.
I ask Miskeen why women are celebrated only for their modesty and sacrifice. I read him lines from Majaz’s poetry.
This scarf that covers you is beautiful indeed
It would be better if you converted it into a banner of revolt
Miskeen shrugs his shoulders and tells me that the conflicts have always been a bad thing, putting men and women of honour at crossroads.
We keep walking. It is a walk of death; the temperature must be nearly 40°C. I hear the engineer cursing the barren terrain, the unforgiving sun and much more. We take a turn and reach a water body. Miskeen soaks his angoosha in water and rounds it up on his head. It beats the heat, he tells me. The Minister of Sound and Music announces that he will go to take a dip in the water. We leave him there and continue walking.
I see a group of local people walking ahead. We meet and they tell us that they are residents of Wahi Pandi, and are going up in the mountain to fish in the torrential streams. Their feet are much quicker than ours, and they disappear into the distance soon.
|We see some local people in the distance and walk quickly to catch up with them.|
|One of the local residents tells me that they are going up the mountain to fish.|
We are not far, assures Miskeen to the engineer, who is left with us along with another local. Soon, he announces that the rock on the left is the place where the most prominent of chiti – prehistoric paintings on the wall – can be found. We climb up to see it close. The rock has eroded at few places, but we can still make sense of the paintings. The most prominent painting is that of a horse with couple of lotus flowers on its body.
We walk further and notice a cave on our left. Inside the cave, we find more paintings, presumably dating back to 5000 BC. Miskeen keeps running from one cave to another. We follow him forgeting the heat and the salty sweat which keeps dripping on our cameras.
|Miskeen leads us to a cave which is full of prehistoric paintings.|
|He finds another cave.|
|Miskeen walks us to climb other rocks where prominent chiti can be found.|
|Prehistoric paintings inside the cave.|
|The engineer and a local resident looks at the paintings.|
|The rock has disintegrated at a few places.|
|View of the area from the rock.|
|The peak of Sado Mazo from where the sisters jumped off to commit suicide.|
Miskeen tells us that the peak in front of us is the place from where Sado and Mazo jumped off the rock. The ravine below is full of torrential rainwater. We stretch out in the shadow of the peak. I tell Miskeen that I want to swim. He tells me that the water is 30 feet deep and there might be alligators in it. I doubt it, but I still hesitate.
Instead we take a dip in a nearby shallow stream. The water is refreshing. Our bottled mineral water is warm, so we gulp down some stream water instead. It is good for digestion, Miskeen assures us.
|The long way back.|
|Going downhill towards our cars.|
|We decide to take a dip in one of the streams.|
We decide to return on on foot. On our way back, we find the Minister of Sound and Music swimming in a stream. He tells me that he has beaten the heat with the water and is ready to resume our journey.
We reach Wahi Pandi and take some time to rest and have lunch. Since there are no restaurants open by that time, our host arranges for home-cooked food – daal, channa and rice. Miskeen uses his angoosha to deter flies from hovering over our meal.
|Children pose for a photo, while we break for lunch.|
|Children take a break in the shade.|
We finish our meal and lie down on a charpai, while the people from nearby houses come for katcheri. I ask a boy in his mid-20s what he does, and he tells me that he plows the land with a tractor for the farmers in the area. His heavily tanned skin attests to his toil.
Peeplasar – The holy pond and unlikely waterfall
We resume our journey to Peepalasar – the holy pond which has been a popular destination for Hindu pilgrims through the ages. A deteriorating law and order situation means that hardly any pilgrims visit the place now.
The journey is taxing on all of us. The road is broken at places, forcing us to take detours. Luckily, an oil exploration company has built a dirt road connecting its wells across the area; one of them takes us closer to the site.
On our way, I see Butta Quba in the distance, which we had visited back in December. We make a brief stop at a village which looks deserted. On Miskeen's suggestion, I decide to visit the village mosque, which has colourful floral work on its walls. I find dozens of children inside, reciting their afternoon lessons. They look at us blankly. We leave the village after drinking some water from the mosque.
|A mosque enroute Peeplasar.|
|Children take midday lessons inside the mosque.|
|Enroute Peeplasar we cross Butta Quba.|
|Enroute Peeplasar we cross Karokot which is in shambles.|
|A few local visitors spot us and join us on the way to Peeplasar.|
|A kids sells cigarettes to a customer.|
After an hour’s ride, Miskeen tells us to stop. The area looks like an oasis in middle of arid land. The miracle of Peeplasar!
We start walking and after a while, notice the remains of Karo Kot, which was built by the ruling dynasty of Kalhoras. The Minister of Sound and Music is gasping for air by then, but is determined to complete this part of the journey. We see shrubs on both sides of the stream. A group of people join us midway. They are residents of Wahi Pandi and are there to spend the weekend. They tell us that they have brought nets, which they put inside the stream to catch fish for their dinner.
The path gets narrow and difficult near the pond. There is swamp grass on both sides, and we can hardly see where we put our feet. Miskeen makes way for us with the same pace, as if he has rehearsed each step before. Suddenly, we are in front of a majestic pond. There is pin drop silence here.
|Miskeen enters the pond to gauge the depth of water.|
|Peeplasar is still a popular destination as we come across many groups of mostly locals.|
|The holy pond has water as deep as 30 feet.|
The engineer whispers in my ears that the place has the aura of a mythical site, as if making noise will destroy it. The water appears to be deep, and I can see shrubs inside the water. There is a bunch of Peepal trees growing from the ridges, which is probably the reason why it is called Peeplasar. The engineer tells me that it is the first time that he has seen Peepal trees in Dadu district – a miracle of the holy pond, I suppose.
The Minister is absent from the scene. Suddenly, I hear his shriek. We quickly make our way through the swamp grass and to our surprise, find ourselves looking at a waterfall. We are keen on taking a dip in the waterfall, but Miskeen asks us to wait till he gauges the depth.
He takes his clothes off, ties the angoosha around his waist, and jumps into the water. The Minister tells me that he wants to buy an angoosha too, which is probably the most useful thing on planet, much like the towel from Hitchhiker’s guide to galaxy.
|Making our way to the waterfall.|
|The waterfall adjacent to the holy pond.|
|We make our way through the wild weed to make space.|
|The greenery in the area is proof of the wonders that a stream of water could do to an arid zone.|
|A group of locals that has decided to stay back for the night near the waterfall.|
|A view of the area around Peeplasar.|
|View of the waterfall from the top.|
|Another view of Peeplasar pond from the top.|
We lie there in the waterfall for a good while, absorbing the surreal, hearing the legends whispered in the faint wind.
— All photos by author