I forced my shuddering sedan up the slanted rock face. The hill looked over an untouched beach and sand dunes. We had postponed dinner to do this, choosing instead to get a look at the Buzi Pass around 40km further west on the Makran Coastal Highway before retreating to the village for the night. Our host Mir served fish gravy that we thankfully and hurriedly devoured. Later, his son brought us a finger bowl and a slice of lemon.
Once fed, I ventured out to shake off the long hours of stressed driving. A chilly but pleasant breeze drifted head-on. The stars and moon glittered above and their reflections did a stunning dance on the waves about 150 feet below. The night sky’s splendour is amplified by the fact that this part of the country has no electricity and is thus unspoiled by “light pollution”. As inconvenient for the locals as that might be, it is heavenly for Karachi-based astronomers hunting for “dark sky” sites.
The entry to Kund Malir. PHOTO: FARHAN HASSANY
I stood in the darkness, by the highway, which is the only major development this area has received and now serves as a lifeline for the locals. After watching the occasional truck seemingly crawl by, I headed back with a craving for some Kehva.
Over the hot sweet drink, Mir regaled us with the myths and folklore from the area. According to him, a long time ago, a freshwater well irrigated a lush green orchard of dates and mangoes besides the crystal clear sea. The tides came and went in peace and the garden flourished and became known for its fruit. It was a small wonder in itself that mango trees grew right besides the beach in this otherwise arid area, for this is no tropical island. This land is said to carry the curse of Sassui, whose heart was broken by its princes when they kidnapped her beloved Punho, their brother, from Bhambore.
This place, called Makran for centuries, extends all along the Arabian Sea from the eastern coastal edge of present-day Iran almost up to Miani Hor Lagoon. And just as the land’s face has been sculpted by the elements over time, so has its name. It is believed to have morphed from the original “Mahikhoran” or Fish-Eaters. In Persian, “mahi” means fish, as in the Urdu word “mahi-geer” for fishermen. “Khore” refers to “eater”, as in Urdu’s “Adam-Khore” or “man-eater”. Interestingly, Alexander’s officer Nearchus calls Makranis “Ichthyophagi” which is Greek for fish-eaters!
(L) The ‘Sphinx’ sculpture on the drive to Buzi Pass, (R) Cars racing down the Buzi Pass and (bottom) The Princess of Hope, Sassui waiting. PHOTOS: ADIL MULKI
Mercantile incentives fuelled the growth of Arab maritime skills and Makran’s coast was charted. Every small peninsula or cape came to carry the prefix of Ras, such as Ras Al Khaimah on the Arab side of the Gulf of Oman to Ras Gawadar and Ras Malan on the Makran coast right up to “Ras” Mauri near Karachi, or “Cape” Monze as we know it today. Every lagoon or inland bay ended with the suffix of Khor (Arabic for bay or lagoon), such as Kalmatt Khor and Miani Khor, which later came to be known as Miani Hor.
According to Mir, the Arabs established tiny settlements on the coast. Some old graves, said to be theirs, still reportedly exist around Singhar Hill in Gawadar, that is now adorned by a five-star hotel. Gawadar itself was purchased from the Sultanate of Oman in 1958.
With the Arab expeditions came their families and their slaves, who were mostly of African origin. Their descendants are referred to as “Sheedis” probably as a derivation of “Sayyiddi”, a title sometimes used to address their masters.
At the orchard-village, the Arabs left after a clash with a clan leader. In their haste they left behind only a few graves and a little boy. A mysterious old man in Arab clothing is often seen lurking around the site of the old graveyard and he often scolds anyone sleeping around the village in the open! At this point, my friend Farhan and I exchanged meaningful smiles as the motivation for our host’s history lesson became clear. He wanted to make us stay the night at his guestroom while we had preferred to either camp on the beach or park next to the old dhaba by the highway, before our departure at dawn.
We mischievously asked what happened of the little boy and were told that he was raised by the clan leader as his own son and that the progeny of this boy are still called Bidu-zai (clan of the Bedouin) in this area.
The clan leader, a pious man, had saintly insights, and had predicted that a day would come when a “black path” would be built by his garden and that his labour of love, the orchard, would be consumed by sands which the sea would regurgitate. The setting of this legend is called Kund Malir beach.
It is located a stone’s throw from the rocky hills and is flanked by sand dunes. Today, the marvel of engineering called the Makran Coastal Highway runs alongside it and Arab hunting parties whiz by in their powerful 4x4 vehicles. One of them has built a beautiful mosque and a rest house on top of a hill. Kund Malir is where I once had the pleasure of swimming besides dolphins and learned from fishermen how to land a heavy boat onto high ground. The orchard’s story was difficult for me to digest.
We thought that the entire legend of the Arab spirit, graves, the left-behind boy, the orchard and the clan leader’s predictions were concocted by our Scheherazade of a host.
If the clan leader had ever lived, hoping for a future highway nearby would be a natural desire. An oasis on any caravan route would be a profitable enterprise. It was hard to also believe in the mango orchards as they don’t do well in sand and that too besides the sea. Like any dry area with a little water deep underground, the only vegetation that subsists here are some date trees along with desert shrubs.
At dawn, after getting a few hours of rest, as we waited for a boat that would take us to a nearby mud-volcanic island, we walked around the dunes that seemed to have been pushed out from the sea towards the land. Wavy patterns on their golden sands created a mesmerizing play of light and shade under the rising sun.
Surrounded by large dunes, and partially buried under their sand we came across a swathe of hard dirt exposed by the winds. It was covered with salt flakes like the thor-effected lands of Thattha. It had green vegetation, mostly weeds, and was littered with pieces of old wood which had been withered by salinity such that the fibers underneath the bark could easily be torn apart. From here, we took a short cut to the shack that was our “hotel” by the highway. And there I stopped in my tracks.
Between a clump of date trees, surrounded by the sand dunes that the old man in the story had predicted, by the highway the old man had spoken of, was a live mango tree. Perhaps malnourished and neglected — like the Bedu-zai — abandoned and forgotten, but alive and green.
The author can be reached at [email protected]
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 21st, 2013.
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