Describing the importance of the game of polo, the WW-II acclaimed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said that "A polo handicap is your passport to the world".
His words could not ring with more shattering truth than in Northern Pakistan where Polo is truly the national sport, favoured even over cricket and one in which people of all classes participate. The government support the high cost of polo tournaments, making it one of the few activities in Pakistan which is truly open to all.
The approach by jeep from Chitral takes a good nine hours. From Gilgit, east of the Pass, the journey may take probably thirteen hours. With few exceptions, the journey leads through the paradise-like green and cultivated highlands. But one is constantly aware, on the dusty and rocky drive, that the wheels of the jeep can be two inches away from an abyss - from 'hell'.
This nerve-wracking journey along narrow, stony paths from which even the vertigo-free mountain goats retreat, will worsen when suddenly another jeep appears from the opposite direction. Both drivers risk dangerous maneuvers in an attempt to pass each other.
In fact in Pakistan, polo and Shandur are synonymous to each other. While one witnesses polo teams, specially from Pakistan Army, playing in Race Course Ground of Rawalpindi, a far tougher match is played at Shandur (3,700 meters above sea level), between teams of Gilgit and Chitral.
The first time a polo tournament took place at the Shandur Pass, was in 1936. Major Cobb, the British Political Agent of then Northern Areas used to play polo at night when it was a full moon, since he thought that moon looked so near the earth that a match in a moonlit night would change the very meaning of the game. Because of this the Shandur polo ground came to be referred to as the "Moony Polo Ground".
Besides polo, trout fishing at the nearby streams and lakes and a festival of folk dances and music of the Northern Pakistan has added extra attractions for tourists from all over the world.
The site is described dramatically as being on the ridge between Heaven and the descent to Hell, since once the Shandur Pass was regarded as being 'half-way to Heaven', although long gone are the days in which this could refer to Heaven, as in the sense of gods caring for polo, or Hell as in the conquered soldiers who had to march through it.
The polo ground in the Shandur Pass is smaller in width and breadth than the conventional field, being 60 yards wide and 220 yards long. Also alien to a modern western player would be the 2 feet high stone wall which surrounds the ground.
In ice hockey, such a wall could prove advantageous - in polo, it could lead to serious injuries in the event of a fall. The rules recall ancient legends - for instance, how, after a successful goal the scorer can dictate the continuity of a game.
He picks up the ball and carries it back at full gallop in his lap to the centre line, from where he will throw it into the air and try to hit it and score a goal at the opposite end of the field. As in contemporary polo, ends change side after a goal is scored.
The game is fast - tremendously fast. The Pakistani-bred Punjabi and Afghan Badakshani ponies, both the result of breeding from Himalayan mountain ponies and English thoroughbreds, are ridden in a wild style, with a lot of skill and at full speed through the mêlée.
A total of twelve players are not afraid to use their sticks to hit not only the ball but also, and vehemently, the arms and shoulders of their opponents.
Nights are usually spent playing cards and dancing on local tunes. Music competitions are also held between groups from Chitral and Gilgit. During day the tourists go to nearby Phandar Valley for freshwater fishing.
Besides horse ridden polo, there is donkey polo which offers fun of its own kind. Unlike the fast moving horses, donkeys move slowly but surely towards the goal posts. Tug of war, tribal march past, folk dances and paragliding by locals and foreigners add further zest to the occasion.
Mulberries are large, deciduous trees inhabitant to humid, temperate, and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Technically, the mulberry fruit is an aggregation of small fruits arranged longitudinally around the central axis as in blackberry or loganberries. Each fruit measures 2-5 cm long. In most species these berries are purple-red when ripen; however they can be white, red, purple or multiple colors in the same fruit. Black Mulberry is the most tastiest and the juiciest among the available varieties.
Refreshingly luscious, quiche and sugary mulberries are indeed rich in numerous health benefiting flavonoid phyto-nutrients. Botanically, the berries are obtained from the silkworm tree belonging to the moraceae family; of the genus: Morus. Scientific name: Morus nigra. L. In Spanish they are known as moras.
More than hundred species of morus exist. In taxonomy, species generally are identified not by the color of the fruits (berries) but by the color of flower buds and leaves. So, a morus plant can have different colored berries (black, purple, red, white etc) in the same plant.
Pakistani Mulberries are originating in Islamabad. This extremely large ruby-red, maroon colored fruit reaches 2 1/2 to 5 inches long and 3/8 inch in diameter. The berry is firmer than most others with a very sweet and flavorful raspberry like flavor. Amazingly, the fruit juice does not stain, which is good since the Pakistan Mulberry is more than a mouthful. The fruit ripens over a month long period in early summer.
Pakistani Mulberry is a peculiar looking, a long, slender, purplish, snakelike fruit, anywhere from 1 to 5 inches long, with 3 inches being archetypal. Although not yet exactly common at farmers markets, they're not nearly as rare as they used to be even a few years ago. Aside from looking weird, they're quite scrumptious, with a mild, fruity flavor and a good balance of sweetness and acidity. Both for growers and consumers, a major advantage of the Pakistani Mulberry, compared with the more celebrated Persian type, is that it is firmer and has stronger skin, so that it remains reasonably dry during picking, packing and sale, and thus has a longer storage life, two or three days if refrigerated.
Some of the health benefits of Mulberries are they are low in calories but rich source of vitamins, minerals and plant derived compounds. As it carries heavy amount of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals, its consumption is effective against inflammation, cancer, neurological diseases, diabetes and bacterial infections. These are an excellent source of Vitamin C which is a powerful natural antioxidant. Mulberries are an excellent source of iron, which
is a rare feature among berries.
The Pakistan's season is May to mid-June, a bit later at higher elevations. When buying Pakistan mulberries, as with almost every fruit, ripeness is critical: the darker the berry, the sweeter and richer the flavor. Buying light reddish fruits is a waste of money, since they'll be sour and bland, with an unpleasant vegetal taste. Some growers pick them immature because they're afraid that if the berries ripen fully, they'll fall off the tree or be devoured by birds, which are highly partial to the fruits.
One interesting fact about Pakistan Mulberry is it was introduced in USA in 1986 for export and yield purposes. It was done upon demand of the US agricultural Department as they wanted promising varieties of Mulberries from around the World. Cuttings of black Mulberry trees were provided in this regard to the US government by the Islamabad Agriculture Research Center but without a local name so the variety has been called after the origin of its country. Pakistan Mulberry is unique in taste, very juicy and hard to resist so is widely used in high quality jams and protein/vitamin enriched drinks in USA.
Just like the Billboard painting performed in Pakistan, there is another indigenous form of art performed and it is the Truck Painting. With its all colorful floral patterns, depiction of human heroes with creative aspect ratios, calligraphy of poetic verses and driver’s words of wisdom, this form of art is truly a part of Pakistani transport tradition.
This art is so Pakistani, that the freight trucks which are built by Ford, General Motors, Hino Pak etc in beautiful aerodynamic shapes are first retro-fitted with very Pakistani style bodies and a special ‘viewing deck’ at the top of Driver’s cab. The ‘viewing deck’ is a very multipurpose extra space. It is used by ‘cleaners’ to sleep at night and also to load extra luggage when needed.
In Karachi alone… more than 50,000 people toil in small, family-run workshops comprised of apprentices and highly trained artisans, each with his well-defined specialty. Dominated by the painstaking ethic of proudly independent craftsmen, this time-consuming manufacture is the opposite of mass production: Every hand-painted truck, bus and rickshaw, despite sharing numerous signs and symbols, virtually screams its uniqueness.
The extraordinary tradition of decorating trucks has its roots in the days of the raj when craftsmen made glorious horse drawn carriages for the gentry. In the 1920s the Kohistan Bus Company asked the master craftsman Ustad Elahi Bakhsh to decorate their buses to attract passengers. Bukhsh employed a company of artists from the Punjab town of Chiniot, whose ancestors had worked on many great palaces and temples dating back to the Mughal Empire.
It was not long before the truck owners followed suit with their own design. Through the years the materials used have developed from wood and paint to metal, tinsel, plastic and reflective tape. Within the last few years trucks and buses have been further embellished with full lighting systems.
Americans got a tiny taste of Pakistani truck painting in the summer of 2002 at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, when Ali and bodywork expert Jamil ud-Din brought a truck from Karachi to Washington, D.C. They decorated it right there on the National Mall, as outdoor artists-in-residence. As a talent scout for the festival Silk Road theme, truck aficionado Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan and a top US scholar of Pakistani culture, chose the pair for their versatility in incorporating the country disparate styles of truck art. Their finished masterpiece, a 1976 Bedford, is now part of the Smithsonian permanent collection.
A Small town in Northern Sindh called Ghotki is famous all over the world because of a truck painter who originally hailed from here. His name is Kafeel Bhai and he signed his paint work on freight trucks as “Kafeel Bhai Ghotki walay”(brother Kafeel from Ghotki).
As the number of trucks painted by him increased on the roads, so did his popularity because he not only signed his name on trucks but also wrote an introduction to himself as an ambidextrous cricket player who could do both slow and fast bowling. As cricket is a national passion in Pakistan, Kafeel bhai’s name spread far and wide.
Mango (Mangifera indica L Family Anacardiaceae) is the second largest fruit crop of Pakistan. At present it is grown on an area of 170.1000 thousand hectares with production 1727.9000 thousand tones (Agricultural Statistics of Pakistan 2008-09). The area under mango crop has increased but the rise in production is comparatively slow. The main mango growing districts in the Punjab province are Multan, Bahawalpur, Muzzaffargarh and Rahim yar Khan.
In the province of Sindh it is mainly grown in Mir pur Khas, Hyderabad and Thatta in the province of NWFP it is grown in D.I Khan, Peshawar and Mardan. Mangoes have been produced in Pakistan for well over two thousand years, and the country is now the sixth largest producer in the world behind India, China, Mexico, Indonesia and Thailand (FAO STAT).
The climate of Sindh gets warmer about one month earlier than the Punjab which has given the province the privilege to grow early varieties of mango. Subsequently, a new trend of growing late varieties in Punjab has received a wide popularity which has extended the market period and added to the exportable surplus.
Pakistan mangoes are sweet, aromatic, yellow skinned and soft. This delicious fruit is nutritionally superior, source of several vitamins and minerals. Mango farms range in size from less than 2ha to more than 400ha. It is very much unfortunate that mango industry of Pakistan is poorly developed. Production, post harvest and marketing systems are poorly developed and returns are distributed quite unevenly, favoring middlemen.
Fruit quality is generally poor and 30 to 40 per cent of fruit is wasted in the harvest to market system. Modern infrastructure for cool storage, grading, post harvest treatment and transport is almost non-existent. Orchard owners do not take care of their orchards; they simply sell the fruit of the orchard to the contractors. So, very few mango farmers in Pakistan are responsible for selling or marketing their own crop. There is no processing plant installed to properly process mango for export.
There are 6 Global GAP certified Mango Orchards in Punjab and only one in Sindh. The total area of the Orchards in Punjab is 2109 Acres and in Sindh is 135 Acres. Certification is in process for eight farms.
Pakistan produced 1727.93 thousand tones of mangoes in the year 2008-09 (Agricultural Statistics of Pakistan 2008-09). Total world export of mangoes amounts to US Dollars 1,194,775,729 and Pakistan’s share of export is only USD 33,178,617 (UN comtrade).
Ziarat literally means a place for pilgrimage. Ziarat as a small dwelling, existed much before the advent of the British Rule in the Sub-continent. Its local name then was Gwuskhi or Kowashki and was changed to its present name of Ziarat in 1886. It derived its name from the neighbouring shrine of famous Muslim saint Mian Abdul Hakim, popularly known as Mulla Tahir and Kharwari Baba. The shrine is situated in the valley, below south of Ziarat Town.
Ziarat - the capital of Ziarat District of the Balochistan sits at an altitude of 2543 metres (8346 feet). It is famous for the reason that Mr.Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan stayed here during the last few days of his life in September 1948.
According to a legend, the Saint came here from Kandahar in Afghanistan. He opposed the highhandedness of Ghlzai King Hussain. He was forced to leave his native town and migrated to this place. On reaching this valley he took abode on a hill top and prayed for this place saying: "This place shall flourish". Thereafter water started oozing from the spot which is still flowing and is regarded as holy and wholesome.
Ziarat was first selected as health resort by the British in 1883. Till then it was a remote area with few mud houses. The history of Ziarat during the British colonial administration is the same as that of the Sibi district of which it was a part until 1986. The area came under British colonial influence by the middle of the last century, and was made a part of British India in 1887 like the rest of the old Sibi district.
Two years earlier, in 1885, the British Government had acquired land for construction of a civil station (at the present Ziarat town), on payment of Rs.1,400,000 to the Saidzai sub section of the Sarangzai tribe. Before the creation of Sibi district (in 1903), Ziarat used to be the summer headquarters of Thal and Chutiali District (Duki Sajavi Sub Division). Later when the Sibi District was created in 1903, it became Sibi District’s summer headquarters. It formed a part of Shahrigh Tehsil of Sibi District till 1974 when it was given the status of a sub-tehsil.
The first building to come up there was the Political Agent's residence which was constructed in 1891 at a total cost of Rs. 19,666. Piped water was provided to the town in 1898-99 at a cost of Rs, 38,000. A summer camp for European troops stationed at Quetta was first set up at Ziarat in 1885. At that time income of this tiny town stood at Rs. 38010 and expenditure at Rs. 2,689.
Before Independence, the camp offices of the Agent to the Governor General in Baluchistan, the Revenue Commissioner, Baluchistan; the Civil Surgeon, Baluchistan; the Political Agent and the Colonization officer, Nasirabad, used to shift to Ziarat during the summer. Following the creation of Sibi Division in 1974, the divisional offices shifted to Ziarat during the summer.
The hills around Ziarat are thickly wooded and are home to the world's second largest Juniper trees. The junipers are considered to be the real treasure of Ziarat. There are trees in the valley which are more than 7000 years old.
Beside Juniper, which is the major species of trees, other major species include Wild Ash; Wild Almond; Olea species; Khujak. The magic of Ziarat lays in its honey-flowers which attain a large size here, its lush green grass and cool weather even in the hottest months of summer. 'Shinshoab' a lavender-like wild bush, looks lovely in twilights. Ziarat is also famous for its sweet apples, black and red cherry. The cherry season lasts from the 1st to 15th of June.
Prospect Point is an excellent picnic spot 372 miles south of the town. There is a jeep able road but those who want to enjoy the scenic beauty at leisure can have a walk. The road which passes through the lofty hills and deep ravines overlooks the valley, about 1000 feet below, covered by the ever-green juniper trees. There is a newly constructed Rest House from where one could have a wonderful view of the valley particularly during the rainy season. Down below is the
shrine of Kharwari Baba.