Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Discovering Takht-i-Sulaiman By Salahuddin and Ivan Mannheim

Takht-i-Sulaiman, the highest peak of the Sulaiman range is shrouded in myth and mystery. Named after Solomon, the wise Jewish prophet, the peak, on account of its perceived association with the prophet, is believed to possess a strange healing quality.

People in Damaan also believe that Prophet Sulaiman, by exercising his miraculous power, had confined those mischievous Jinns inside it who had refused to obey his command. The evil-spirited Jinns are supposed to remain imprisoned almost all the year, and in Safar, the second month of the Islamic calendar, they are allowed to go free for a while. During this month, after darkness falls over the region, mothers restrict their children within their homes as a precaution against the evil effects of these Jinns.

Takht-i-Sulaiman rises to a height of 3382 meters above sea level. A trip to the mountain is undertaken mostly in summer, and in winter heavy snowfall makes it difficult to approach it from late November until March. Animal sacrifice is an essential feature of a visit to Sulaiman. The locals believe that infertile women can be blessed with fertility when they visit Takht-i-Sulaiman.

Religious connotations apart, Takht-i-Sulaiman is an area of outstanding natural beauty, boasting spectacular mountains, which offer endless opportunities of trekking and climbing. It can be reached either through Balochistan or NWFP. It is advised, for convenience’s sake, to start the journey from D.I. Khan. Draban Kalan, a town 40 miles off to the west, offers a convenient approach to it. Public transport heading up the Ragha Sar, the base of Sulaiman is available here.

Last summer, a few of us with our friend Ivan Mannheim boarded the local bus and headed westwards. The bus crossed the wide stony plain, part of Damaan which stretches for about 120km between D.I. Khan and D.G. Khan, sandwiched between the Sulaiman mountains to the west and Indus River to the east. The road then cut through a ridge of low hill and took us to Drazinda, the Tehsil headquarter. After a brief stop here, the bus drove forward winding its way through the mountains. Then turning west from the main D.I. Khan-Zhob road, the track followed the right bank of a gorge and led to the village of Ragasar.

Ragasar is a village at the head of the gorge. Stone and mud huts show that the modern aspects of civilization have not reached this village. In is inhabited by the friendly and hospitable Sherani tribe. Hostility is reserved within the tribe only. Bloods feuds are common, confirmed by the sight of the guns hanging over the shoulders of many people. After on overnight stay here, the next morning our journey to Takht-i-Sulaiman began. We set out with the necessary provisions and the valuable guidance of Sultan Khan, our friend and host. Shortly afterwards, the track forked right to descent and a swift flowing, foamy white stream could be seen flowing down with a roaring sound.

The narrow track along the stream was pretty strenuous to travel on as there were many small boulders and pointed stones. Precipitous walls of the mountain were on either side. The track cutting its way through sheer rock mountain led us into an open area with the magnificent mountain all around. The four-hour track from Ragasar came to an abrupt end as we climbed up a nearby hill to undergo the next stage of another strenuous journey to reach the next village.

Perched on a hilltop is Tora Tisha, a cluster of four or five stone huts, surrounded by a spectacular mountain amphitheatre. After half a day’s journey on a demanding track from Ragasar, Tora Tisha mosque made an ideal place for relaxation, food and prayer. The path then headed up from the village and crossed a small bridge of tree planks and twigs, built over a narrow gorge. Deep down, water seemed gushing forth at tremendous speed. We proceeded further on and were asked to perform the formidable task of making an ascent up a sheer rock wall, the track on it zigzagging its way up to its top. But our apprehension melted down as the track was comfortably wide for us.

When the tack finally ended, the scenery before us was breathtaking as we could see for miles below us due to the elevation we were at. We could see the slopes of the mighty Thakt-i-Sulaiman, which were covered with green forests, making the sight appear spectacular. We were supposed to make our way through them before completing the first leg of our journey for that day. A smooth climb over a mountain nearby led us straight to those pine forests. We were immediately impressed by lush green landscape that looked enchanting. Chilgoza and Nashtar trees could be seen growing in abundance.

The track, now smooth and straight, was splashed with brilliant patches of beauty. It led us forth to Poonga, a small village. It was the end of our first day’s journey as we would be staying there overnight. Poonga spills down the mountainside. It offers a panoramic view of the landscape. Lush green mountains covered with tall trees and lots of flowers could also be seen growing in the wild. There was a distinctive silence that is peculiar to mountainous countryside.

The next morning we took up the tack to the north of the village. The track is a long, hard uphill slog, notwithstanding its share of picturesque scenery. Further ahead, however, the track turns smooth with an easy stroll that runs along the flank of the mountain, with a large rock overhang. Either side of the track is carpeted with wild flowers. The track then starts to turn and ascend, and at one point it crosses the mountain.

The view on the other side was simply breathtaking. The vast landscape was characterized by lush green pastures and dense Chalghoza forest. Impressed by the beauty of the valley, a decision was made in favour of making a detour from the main track and visiting the valley. It was an idyllic place with a dazzling array of wild flowers. The track passed a pine forest as well as a meadow, surrounded by trees all around. A visit to Takht-i-Sulaiman is not complete without a brief foray into this beautiful region.

We rejoined the main track and reached Kalkarai at dusk. After an overnight stay there, the next morning we took a path to the right, which led steeply to the peak. In sheer contrast to the landscape below, the region around the top has been a victim to intense logging. There is even a camel route for the transportation of timber to Zhobe. The top, which once had plenty of pine trees, now wears a somewhat desolate look.

On the top, we observed many things. A stone-built room came into view. Those who intend to have an overnight stay make use of it. Rainfall fills up a water pool to be used by visitors. Under a shady tree, there is a grave of unusually large size. Qaisa Abdul Rasheed is said to have been buried here. The locals believe him to be an ancestor of the Pakhtoons. A small clean place near the end of the mountain was used as a mosque, said to mark the point where Prophet Sulaiman would land. Towards its end were few stones firmly fixed in the ground. Holding them in hands we were to climb down for about 10 feet on the side of the mountain to the Takht. It is a small stone slab with barely enough space for a man to stand or sit. Two of its corners were fixed in the mountainside, the rest in open air. Holding the stones in hand, a pilgrim is supposed to descend down to Takht to offer his prayer.

From the top, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Far away, the huge expanse of Damaan was also visible. To the north was Waziristan, and to the west was a chain of mountains that marked the region of Balochistan.

Takht-i-Sulaiman is a region of unimaginable beauty, but local loggers pose a serious environmental threat to its very existence. It is time that the concerned authorities take some serious actions to preserve its ecosystem. The government has so far been totally apathetic to this tragedy. It has imposed a ban on the export of the timber from Sulaiman Mountains, but there are more than one ways of smuggling it. Western slops of the range provide an easy access to loggers to Zhob, Balochistan. The government must also pay heed to the genuine problems of Sherani tribal area, and should take concrete measures to eradicate poverty, illiteracy and backwardness from the area.

Land of Damaan

This site is dedicated to the land of Damaan, and its people who are robust, energetic and full of enthusiasm. The site will provide introduction of the land between Indus river and Takhte Sulaiman to the west, a land made immortalised by the name Damaan.