Salman Rashid — Odysseus of Pakistan’s Travelogues
This quote by Martin Yan sums up the role travelling plays in the developing our minds. “People who don’t travel cannot have a global view, all they see is what’s in front of them. Those people cannot accept new things because all they know is where they live.”
When it comes to travelling it is not just travelling to other countries that help form your perspective (though that definitely is a plus) but visiting places can introduce to experiences that would help your intellectual growth.
However, there is one Pakistani who stuck with his childhood passion for travelling Pakistan and went on to document them as well, showing the rest of the world a side of the country that hardly ever makes the headlines. Salman Rashid is a renowned travel writer who has nine books under his belt. As a child when he was not able to travel, his alternative favourite hobby was to look at maps in atlases. He was interested in seeing the world but his first attraction was to explore Pakistan and thus kept on going back to the country’s map in his atlas.
After dabbling his professional career between the armed forces and the corporate sector, he ended up dedicating his life to becoming a full time travelogue write. The first time this realization set in that he is able to communicate well through writing, when Talat Rahim, then Director Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, pointed it out. It was 1983 and she asked Salman to write for the organization’s magazine and it was published without any editorial work done on it. From here on as they say rest is history.
“A travel writer educates. He has to be a historian, geographer, geologist, anthropologist, sociologist and at the end maybe even a biographer.”
On the subject of travelogues and a declining interest in them, Salman is of the opinion that it is a language barrier. A very small percentage of the local population reads English for the love of it. Urdu is still more widely read but there is no quality content available in it. What is available misleads people and does not fit the definition of what a travelogue is. Generally people visit tourist spots for two reasons: to get away from the heat or to go on a picnic. They are not interested in history, culture or architecture. Some of his work is in the process of being translated and he hopes that people will develop an interest and appreciate value of knowledge in his writing. However, he also fears that people might reject his work because it lacks the frivolity that they are accustomed to.
Salman’s key interest was roaming around in the wilderness along with an auxiliary interest in exploring monuments, which later became a passion. While in conversation with him and if you are not familiar with his history, your first impression is bound to be that you are face to face with a scholar of history, archaeology, cultural, geography and ecology all combined in one. The reality is that he is a college dropout! He credits his education to nature, through exploration and self-study. His preferred mode of exploration is on foot as this way you don’t miss out anything from your surroundings that otherwise you would.
His travels are also what got him interested in environment and ecology. Someone who doesn’t take up things at a superficial level, Salman Rashid started reading about the subjects, combining what he learned with ground realities. In his lifetime, Rashid has seen a consistent deterioration of the environment and what saddens him the most is the insensitivity of the majority of citizens — be it individuals, officials or institutions. However, where there is a lot to despair about, there is hope in the form of individuals, organizations and the un-adultered folk lore intellect which has an in-built mechanism for protecting and maintaining a sustainable environment.
Salman Rashid’s full interview will be featured in the next issue of our magazine Natura. Find more information here.