Thari culture, palla fish, Bombay bakery and my meethi journey through rural Sindh
Quiet recently, I joined a small group of close friends on a trip to Tharparkar, Sindh. The three of us reached Karachi by air and went to Hyderabad by road, where two other group members joined us. The five of us started our journey to Tharparkar via Badin.
Our first stop was at Mithi, the district headquarters, where we experienced the first taste of hospitality by a Hindu friend’s family, who despite being vegetarians had prepared meat for us with various other delicious vegetables.
After enjoying the scrumptious meal, we continued our journey onwards to Nangarparkar. On our way to Nangarparkar we stopped at the Marvi well in Bhalwa. To our surprise, the road from Mithi to Nangarparkar was in a quite good condition.
The Culture Department under the Government of Sindh has renovated the Marvi well. To facilitate the tourists, a picnic point has also been created, where we enjoyed a cup of tea. There, I strongly felt there was a need for environmental protection initiatives because the surrounding view of the historical site was extremely unpleasant due to pollution. I believe the Sindh Government and the civil society organisations (CSOs) working in the area should focus on environmental protection and creating awareness.
We reached Nangarparkar late in the evening. Nangar, the short name used by the locals, is a fascinating place with plenty to see and enjoy about the Thari culture and hospitality.
The next morning we started our journey to the Saldro temple, a holy place of the Hindu community, where there were a number of Hindus and Muslims as well. The mountains surrounding the Saldro temple were lovely and unique. There were a number of children at the Saldro temple who were begging instead of attending school. This is another matter the government should look into as it is important for residents of this area to obtain their right to education given to them.
On our way back from Saldro, we visited the beautiful Jain temple of the Jain religion. There are no followers of Jain in the area anymore – a reason why the temple was in such a dilapidated condition, but the interior of the temple was striking and the art work snaking up on the walls was exquisitely inimitable. I thought to myself,
“What if this historical site was somewhere in Europe?”
It would definitely be more looked-after and people would travel from across the world to visit it.
Sadly, we have no insight and acumen to preserve such places of historical, cultural and archaeological significance. The dwindling state of the invaluable architecture disappointed me. Hence, I took to Twitter to see if I could, in any capacity, help restore these antique structures, but it resulted in nothing.
Cosbo village, a beautiful traditional village of Tharparkar was another spectacle with the gorgeous Shiv temple. At the temple, we relished Kabir and Farid’s poetry sung by a local folk-singer Yousaf Faqir, who is quite famous in Thar.
Yousaf Faqir is visually impaired. He lives in Cosbo village and goes to Shiv temple regularly. His visits to the temple are a testament to the harmony in which both the Hindu and Muslim communities co-exist peacefully, respecting each other’s ways of life.
We had lunch at the Cosbo village and were served finely cooked vegetables with chilled lassi – a mouth-watering treat by some locals who were friends with one of my group members.
From Cosbo village it took us almost two hours to reach Choryo mountain temple; another breath-taking sight atop the Choryo Mountain. It is also a picnic point from where one can see the border Pakistan shares with India, though it is not as clearly visible as Wagah. The view of the vast desert at both sides of the border was overwhelming from Choryo – a lifetime experience.
While roaming around in Nangarparkar, I realised what a serene place it is. Its plains, the desert, the rolling hills, the water reservoirs; everything was calm and tranquil. People were cordial and welcoming. They patiently responded to all our questions, putting a positive impression of the area and its residents. A friend from the development sector said,
“Tharparkar disproved the fact that poverty gives birth to crime. Poverty is very evident in Tharparkar, more than any other part of the country; yet, the crime rate is almost zero.”
Back in Mithi, we stayed at a guest house at the famous Ghadi Bhit, which provides a divine picturesque view of city. Friends from Mithi were way more generous than we thought and we were amazed to know that a musical evening had been arranged for us.
After dinner, there was a joyful sham-e-ghazal where the rising local folk singer Rajab Faqir, a student of famous Sindhi folk singer, Shafi Faqir, gave a delightful performance. He crooned everything from folk to ghazals in Sindhi, Saraiki, Punjabi, Pashto and Urdu.
The morning after, we visited village Nenisar near Mithi. It is a traditional Thari village where we were welcomed by the villagers who put tikas on our foreheads – a tradition observed by the locals.
During the course of our conversation with the villagers, I was surprised to learn that the literacy rate of the area was alarmingly low, with only one girl having a Matric certificate. There were no middle or high schools in the village and that is why most of the girls quit school after primary education in most cases, got married. It was quite evident that child marriages were common and culturally acceptable. Speaking of health, one can easily witness the poor nutrition of the villagers, particularly women and children.
I must mention that Sindh was the first province to introduce the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2013 in accordance with Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, whereby education has been made a fundamental right for children from five to 16-years of age. Similarly, Sindh was the first province to motivate changes in the federal laws and make child marriage a punishable offence under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2014, also the Sindh Multi Sectoral Strategy was introduced to respond to the issue of lack of nutrition amongst women and children. The key however, is implementation of the laws and policies and making budget allocations for the purpose with a focus on neglected areas such as Tharparkar.
Frankly, whoever I asked about their political affiliation or who they voted for, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was the only answer.
I once asked a philosopher and political thinker about the reasons of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) little or no following in the rural Sindh. She was of the opinion that Imran Khan has only one agenda and that is corruption and corruption charges against the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership, which is not an issue for the people of Sindh. Imran Khan should broaden his narrative and include key issues such as land reforms, minorities’ rights and education etc. and should also pay regular visits to the interior Sindh.
Although very short, but it was an incredible experience to visit Tharparkar.
Wrapping up our journey, we reached Hyderabad in the evening and had a delicious dinner at the unique Khana Badosh café. I really liked the slogan of the café, ‘where creativity meets.’
Pictures of famous poets and scholars including Faiz and a collection of excellent books spoke at length about the literary taste of the owners/initiators of the Khana Badosh café. It further emphasised upon the fact that such people have played a key role in keeping the rich culture of Sindh intact. This is one of the reasons why Sindh is a land of peace while most of the country is challenged with intolerance and various types of conflicts.
The next morning we travelled to Hala to visit the tomb of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. Hundreds of followers of the Sufi saint were paying homage and revelling in the folk music. Love and respect for Sufism and saints like Bhitai is another solid reason which makes Sindh a land of love and peace.
We were awestruck when we saw the traditional Sindhi ajraks and other items being produced at the Lateef Ajrak Centre. The role of the Sindh Government in preserving this traditional art work is admirable.
I was a bit disappointed to see a child working in the ajrak factory but was pleasantly surprised when the 80-year-old owner stated that everyone working there went to school. Each worker trained there was required to regularly go to school and complete at least Matric level education. I was impressed with the motto of the little owner,
“When there is a will, there is way.”
This was the perfect example of how learning, art, skill and formal education can go hand in hand.
Hospitality by Sindhi friends continued till the end. The palla fish we had for lunch, hosted at the University of Sindh, Jam Shoro was another great delight.
Speaking of our stay in Hyderabad how is it humanly possible to not buy a cake from the century-old Bombay Bakery while in the city? Bed sheets from Lateef Ajrak Centre and cakes from Bombay Bakery were the biggest gifts for the people back at home.
I would earnestly request the Sindh Government, civil society and media to join hands and focus on promoting tourism in the province, particularly in stunningly beautiful but under developed areas such as Tharparkar.
I am sure there are millions of people in our country and around the world who do not know about the culture of love and peace and the beauty of Sindh. Once people get to know about these sights via social media, they would be tempted to visit at least once.
All photos: Arshad Mahmood
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