The Sulaiman range forms the eastern edge of the Iranian Plateau where the Indus River separates it from the subcontinent. Bordering the Sulaimans to the north are the arid highlands of the Central Hindu Kush, whose heights extend up to 3,383 metres (11,099 ft).
In Dera Ismail Khan, the highest peak of the mountain range is known as Takht-i-Sulaiman at 3,487 metres (11,440 ft). In Balochistan, its highest peak is Zarghun Ghar at 3,578 metres (11,739 ft) near Quetta city.
According to a legend ascribed to Ibn Batuta, Prophet Sulaiman climbed the Sulaiman Mountain or Koh-i-Sulaiman and looked over the land of Asia, then covered in darkness. He turned back, without descending into this new frontier.
Takht-i-Sulaiman, in Dera Ismail Khan, is engulfed in legends about a prophet and the ancestor of the Pakhtuns
Situated 11,000 feet above sea level among three localities —North Waziristan, Zhob and Dera Ismail Khan — the locals call Koh-i-Sulaiman “Da Qaisa Ghar” or the “Qassay Ghar.” They believe that Qais Abdul Rashid — the legendary ancestor of the Pakhtuns — is buried on top of Takht-i-Sulaiman. Qais is said to have been the first Pakhtun to have travelled to Makkah and Madina in Saudi Arabia during the early days of Islam and to have accepted Islam at the hands of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The legend goes that Prophet Sulaiman used the mountain top as his throne or office to control jinns who carried boulders and sculpted them.
The locals residing near Takht-i-Sulaiman believe that supernatural forces still exist in this region and but there is nothing that bothers tourists and visitors. It is a custom for visitors to offer thanksgiving prayers at the throne to avoid the wrath of jinns.
It takes almost a day to climb up to the mountaintop. Visitors often carry a sheep or a goat for the sacrifice upon reaching the top and the meat is used to prepare a meal. The popular item prepared is Khadda Kabab. After the animal is slaughtered and skinned, the meat is marinated in vinegar, salt and spices. A ditch is dug into which the marinated sheep is placed and the ditch covered with a pewter lid. Clay is plastered to the sides of the lid to create a hot oven in which the meat is cooked in its own juices and fat, over slow-burning coals. After about two hours, the delicious meat is ready to be consumed, crispy from the outside and tender on the inside. Visitors have to bring their own supply of water as there is no water on the mountain.
Surrounded by olive trees, Koh-i-Sulaiman is rich with flora and fauna. Markhor, rabbits, jackals, wolves, stags, cobras, partridges, eagles and parrots are abundant, while cheetahs and bears, that once roamed these lands, are not spotted here any longer. Numerous olive trees have been cut by the people of Zhob and Sherani to provide fuel in winter and to be sold for a livelihood. The government has failed to provide a natural gas connection for the people of Balochistan; gas produced in the region is distributed to other provinces.
Takht-i-Sulaiman has tremendous potential for tourism if only some tourist facilities are provided in the region for local and international trekkers. Tourism will generate a huge revenue but, presently, not even people from Balochistan visit this magical place because of inadequate amenities. As a result, Koh-i-Sulaiman remains isolated.
Pine nuts (chilghoza) and olive oil are produced in abundance in the region. Exporting the same would boost the economy but this sector also remains neglected.
There are no basic facilities such as healthcare, clean and safe drinking water in this region and people living here are mostly dependent on livestock and agriculture because of low literacy.
People who have heard about Qaisa or Koh-i-Sulaiman don’t have a clue how to get there. The local villagers are mostly shepherds and can hardly help or support visitors.
Clearly, there are ample avenues to develop this vast area as an eco-friendly destination that can also benefit the local and larger economy.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Balochistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 8th, 2018