Eight of us friends set out from Karachi to Balochistan for a day. From Hub Chowki onwards, the land was green for 20 kilometres, with coconut, date, chikoo and guava trees, along with fields of sugarcane, cotton and various vegetables. Of course, the ubiquitous keekar trees greeted us from both sides of the road. However, after passing the shrine of Baba Husain Pir, the landscape was pretty arid. The road was good but narrow, and motorbikes and cars zoomed past us from both directions. Trucks carrying huge marble rocks weighing several tons were headed in the direction of Karachi. In order to avoid collision, our driver took the muddy shoulder of the road each time, as we held our breath.
At last we reached a place known as Lahoot Lamakan, located some 110 kilometres from Karachi towards north-west in Tehsil Wadh, Khuzdar District, Balochistan. Disembarking from the vehicle, we came upon some ominous-looking mountains ahead. It was noon and sizzling. We had been on the road for almost three hours, with two brief stops on the way.
Looking around the landscape and the terrain, it isn’t difficult to realise that such places are full of myths and legends; truths and half-truths, stories made up over time that fascinate the believers and non-believers alike. Whether we go to the snowy mountains in the north of Pakistan or move around in rugged and arid Balochistan, the wilderness calls out at every turn of a large boulder for a myth waiting to be told. Remote places with very little human activity in the area have been ideal for storytellers of spirits and saints from time immemorial. Shrines, temples and monasteries located in far-flung, secluded and high altitude places evoke awe and respect as humans find themselves dwarfed by the grandeur of such places.
In Balochistan’s Khuzdar district, a mysterious cave and a saint’s shrine hold typically fascinating stories
From where we stood, we could see limestone stalactites on the roof of a cave and a large gap at the top of another mountain right behind. We were told that after climbing up to the deep cave — the main place for the Lahoot Lamakan pilgrimage — we must crawl on all fours to get into its inner chambers. The gap at the mountain top was credited to the Ark of Prophet Noah; he apparently had anchored his ship there and caused the indent.
Four of us — two men and two women — went ahead to climb and explore the mysteries of the mountain, while the rest of us decided to wait on the edge of a raised concrete shelter nearby. Despite the soaring temperatures, we had hot, comforting tea at a dhaba, as a soft breeze made the heat tolerable in the shade. After some 45 minutes, two women returned to declare that it was impossible for them to go climbing further and, exhausted by the heat, they preferred to rest somewhere under the cave’s flank.
After another 30 minute-wait, the two ‘climbers’ returned and we heaved a sigh of relief. After climbing an iron ladder that was affixed to the rock, only one of them had made it inside what is known as the cave of Shah Noorani. He excitedly told us about the stalactites that dripped water on him. Since the sun cannot reach there, the place was rather damp but he proceeded inside the dark cave. He got used to the darkness after a while and saw a stalactite shaped like a camel. He decided not to venture further on all fours and returned to us. While we waited, the local men lounging around regaled us with stories of how the stalactites used to be like udders oozing milk — once a panacea for all incurable diseases but they dried up when people began to sell the milk. The animal etchings inside the cave appear to be made out of rock during the day and turn into flesh and blood after 5pm. So no one is allowed to enter the cave in the evenings.
By this time, we were all craving for the sajji that was promised to one of our friends by a Baloch sardar, at whose ‘farm house’ we were supposed to have lunch, so we hit the road. After what seemed like a never-ending track through the mountains of Khuzdar, we arrived at a large house with a garden but no farm in sight. Instead, it turned out to be a hunting lodge. Our host (in absentia) had made elaborate arrangements for a delicious lunch to be served to us. We rested for a bit and hit the road again.
On our way back to Karachi we stopped at the shrine of Sakhi Shah Bilawal, famously known as Shah Noorani. It is situated in the remote and hilly Wadh area of Dureji, also in the Khuzdar district. In order to reach it, we had to transfer from our vehicle into a 12-seater kekrra at village Mohabbat Faqeer. Kekrra [crabs] are rickety old trucks, which were popular for transporting war goods during World War II. The equally wobbly shuttle buses that ply the deserts of Tharparkar in Sindh — a common mode of transport there — are also known as kekras, and are from the same period.
The rocky track to Shah Noorani is on an incline from Mohabbat Faqeer. It took a 15-minute, rib-breaking ride for us to reach our destination, where we had to walk another 15 minutes before reaching the shrine, to be greeted by a green landscape of date palms, a stream and several peacocks. This was certainly an oasis in the arid landscape, but sadly, littered with plastic bags and plastic bottles. As is commonly seen in our part of the world, a small, basic bazaar is set up near shrines, selling all types of inane objects such as bangles, rings, dates, slippers, toys, etc, and quackery also does good business. On sale were amulets, sande ka tel (oil of a spiny-tailed lizard) sold as an aphrodisiac and bear and lion oil too! A bespectacled old woman sold things that she claimed to be for good eyesight. She tried to convince me that her surma, kajal (kohl), and all else was great for the eyes, but shooed me away when I questioned her about her own spectacles.
This area has its own myths, including one about the mountain in which a jinn was imprisoned by Shah Noorani for making trouble in the Garden of the Fairies. Legends also claim that this is where Adam and Eve descended from heaven and that Hazrat Ali also passed through here.
Each year in the Islamic month of Sha’aban, devotees arrive on foot across the hazardous landscape and seven mountains from Lal Baagh in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh to the Shah Noorani shrine and go on to Lahoot Lamakan. They rest at 14 destinations, spending one night at each, after which they come to be known as Lahootis.
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 8th, 2018