I have been trying to find a reason to visit Dera Ismail Khan (D. I. Khan) for a long time now but due to the current political / ethnic / religious upheaval in NWFP province in general and D. I. Khan aka Dera in particular, my stars would tell me to avoid the journey. I believe it was more of a visit to the largest pool of theIndusriver basin that had always attracted me to visit Dera since I was a young man. Well, I am still young, young at heart at least.
And when I was invited by a very dear colleague (Wazirzada Anees Sadozai) who I have recently befriended at work, to attend his brother’s wedding in Dera, my heart knew no bounds and thus I made the plan to go attend a Pakhtun wedding along with my entire clan read family of five.
By this time (from my other articles) my readers must have realized that I was born to travel and this germ I have successfully infused in my wife, two boys namely Adil (9.5 then), Mohsin (5.5 then) and daughter Ayesha (3.5 then) respectively.
About five days before we would travel, Anees and I sat down and he drew a map for me to reach Dera via the Motor way, Balkaser, Talagang, Danda Shah Bilawal, Namal, Mianwali, Kundian, Chashma and Dhakki route. This was the first time that I was driving down this route and thus I had to be extra cautious about directions while Anees and his family had already left for Dera earlier to arrange for the wedding.
We started off on 25th October 2008, a bright sunny Saturday morning (Of course taking a leave from work) and since Ayesha being rather small; had to start a little late. After driving on the Motorway (a marvel given to us Pakistanis by none other than our famous ex-PM Babloo oops Nawaz Sharif) for a while, we took the Chakwal – Talagang route to the Balkaser interchange and thus left theMotor Way.
(Enjoyed a ‘Chai-Paratha’ breakfast at this tea spot off the Motorway)
We later took the Danda Shah Bilawal and Mianwali route to reach the beautifulNamalLakewhere a towering university is being built by none other than famous Imran Khan ex-cricketer turned politician.
I wonder where Imran will find the scholars to come read arts and sciences in this beautiful valley next to the Namal Lake.
(Namal university next to the scenic Namal Lake)
During the journey, a famous Pashto quotation came to mind which translates that when you travel to Dera from Kohat, your eyes become white but Dera is nowhere close. That was exactly the situation when I read the sign below. Although, I did not take the Kohat route which had become slightly risky to travel with family but reaching Dera from which ever route was indeed arduous.
And finally we reached Chashma Barrage which also houses the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant (Chashnup). This is where one can enjoy beautiful views of theIndusbasin and enjoy these views we did. Had it not been for the wedding, we would have probably ended up staying here and enjoying the subtlety, the sublimity of the blue waters of the Indus.
(Adil and Mohsin at the Indus basin)
I must hasten to mention that mountains, trees and waters bring about an unexplainable calm in my personality and mood and my spirit leaves the confines of my planetary self and reaches for the skies and it starts doing the butterfly dance and it indeed becomes rather difficult to bring back the soul after such an out of body experience.
After spending some time pondering at the Chashma Barrage and enjoying the calm and serenity of these attractive waters, we headed off to Dhakki; a sleepy little village known for its sumptuous dates. Dhakki also has a feeder canal whereby theInduswater is routed through a canal here which irrigates the entire area for an approximate 100 kilometers or more till Dera itself.
(The Dhakki Feeder Canal which irrigates towns uptil Dera and beyond)
On the way back, I did notice a signboard of ‘Qabar Sahabi-e-Rasool’ (Grave of the Companion of the prophet). I have a strong feeling that these dates were indeed brought to this area by this companion of the prophet fromMedinain some pre historic times and thus the resemblance of the Dhakki dates with the famous ‘Ajwah’ dates of Medina.
A little bit of History:
And before I forget, as the legend goes, there were three brothers namely Ismail Khan, Ghazi Khan and Darya Khan and these three sleepy towns are named after them i.e. Dera Ismail Khan (Dera meaning abode), Dera Ghazi Khan and Darya Khan. It is an irony though that Dera Ghazi Khan now falls under the jurisdiction ofPunjabwhile the other two fall under NWFP. This looks more of a political rigmarole than anything else but that is not the subject of my article here.
Commonly referred to as D. I. Khan, this small market town is on the west bank of the IndusRiver, just east of the peak called Takht-e-Suleiman (Throne of Solomon). Although the region is unsettled and potentially dangerous for unaccompanied travelers, the few souls like me who have been here agree that it’s indeed a pleasant place. 1
Its citizens are a mix of Saraiki and Pashtun tribes-people. Surprisingly, this is Pakistan’s only divisional headquarters without a railway station. Often called ‘Dera’, it is known throughout Pakistanfor its decorative brass inlay work. 2
Getting there & away:
Dera is approximately 860 km from Islamabad, 410 km from Lahoreand a little over 359 km from Peshawar. The road from Dera to Quettais 630 km via Zhob, Qila Saifullah and Ziarat is passable but only recommended for 4WDs. Dera Ismail Khan (208 km) is about a four hour drive from Dera Ghazi Khan (D. G. Khan) while it takes about three hours to reach Bannu via road. 3
About the wedding:
My family being from Karachi, had never experienced a Pakhtun wedding and it was more of an experience for all of us. And it was no mean wedding than the nuptial ceremony of the third son of the ex-Vice Chancellor of University of D.I.Khan who are Wazir Zadas (Princes) of the famous Pakhtun Sadozai tribe. The lordship of Anees was only to be appreciated once we reached Dera whereby we came to experience the humility, hospitality yet grandeur of this great Sadozai tribe of Pakhtun princes who had settled in Dera after their great grand parents had initially settled in Bannu before they migrated from Afghanistan.
Incidentally, all the Pakhtuns in NWFP,Pakistanhave roots in neighboringAfghanistanwhich was once a kingdom of warring Afghan tribes before it was constantly ravaged by Huns, Mongols & other Central Asian hordes of war mongering, ruthless invaders.
Unlike Karachi, the wedding is an after noon affair whereby the bridegroom’s family visits the bride’s family and after solemnizing the ‘Nikah’ read wedding, brings the bride back to their place in the form of a ‘Jaloos’ read group of cars, and busses etc. Incidentally, since it took us almost eight hours to get there, we missed this part while we reached just at the time of lunch and without even changing and wearing the designated ‘Shadi’ read marriage attire, joined the feast of sumptuous Pakhtun meals. We ate to our heart’s content and enjoyed the truly Pakhtun hospitality whereby every now and then someone would come and poured some more into our plates till we could eat no more.
We were made to stay at the close-by WAPDA guesthouse although there was an eerie silence in the town due to the recent ethnic / religious killings just a few weeks ago and thus we were told to be cautious in our travelling ventures unescorted. That evening was spent again at Anees’ house which was more of a princely tavern which even housed a small fruit and vegetable garden.
And much to the liking of my boys, loud Pakhtun music played that night on Car stereos and ‘Atan’ the famous Pakhtun dance was performed by young and old alike. This was the first encounter of my sons with the Atan and they also danced with the Pathans.
(The Shaikh boys with the bridegroom Wazir Zada Ilyas Sadozai)
The next day was ‘Valima’ the second day of the wedding whereby the bridegroom arranges the meal for his relatives, friends etc. This lunch was arranged at the Dera Gymkhana where most of the elites of the town were invited and yes they came in all their fancy colors and grandeur. My sons enjoyed a rhapsody of various Pakhtun tribesmen but mostly they were intrigued by the turban clad guest from as far away as Zhob in Baluchistan who they took for a Wazir tribesman from Waziristan where all the military action is taking place these days.
(R-L: Myself, Anees, Ilyas & his cousins / friends)
After attending the ‘Valima’ ceremony, we visited the water front at the Indus and enjoyed a cup of local ‘Qahva’ read green tea by the river bank and after saying our ‘Asar’ prayers headed back to Anees’ house whereby we stayed till late in the night while enjoying the company of Anees’ father.
Anees practically pushed us out around 11 p.m. in the night due to the current uncomfortable situation although we had just started to enjoy the legendary stories of his father and we went back to retire at the guest house. Got up early the next morning i.e. the 27th October 2008 and headed home. It was rather painful to say good bye to this sleepy little town where we got so much love and affection by a Pakhtun family which we could have never enjoyed had it not been for Anees and accepting his offer of his brother’s wedding and thus another worthwhile escapade of the Shaikh family ended.
(A memorable snapshot at the Dhakki Feeder Canal)
This trip we will enjoy for a long time to come and the memoirs will haunt us for years if not decades.
1. The lonely planet, Pakistan, John King, Bradley Mayhew, David St. Vincent, 5th edition, July 1998.
Shaikh Muhammed Ali
‘The Wandering Dervish’
Thursday, 19th February 2009, 12:50 p.m. (PST)
Note: This article was first published on the Internet on 19.02.2009