Adventures are adrenalin driven quests that are best accomplished curled up on a comfortable chair in climate controlled environments. ….
While reading the Empires of the Indus, you will climb lofty terrains, discover amazing history, travel with smugglers and live beyond your imagination. Her book details the histories and present predicaments of such diverse bands of people like the Sheedis, the boat people of the Indus, the Kalash tribes of the mountains, Pashtun villagers- each a different entity yet bound by the same river.
Alice’s forays into the land of the Indus, reminded me of those beautifully informative travel documentaries by Michael Palin on the BBC which told of rich pasts, historical upheavals, distinctive tribal societies and present disasters. The 300 odd pages of the book cover a 2,000-mile journey and 5,000 years of history.
Alice Alibinia travelled unaccompanied, armed with only her knowledge of Urdu….. an amazing feat in a land which is largely driven by misplaced male maschismo and especially when the traveller doesn’t look like a doughty, travel-hardened adventurer.
She forayed into territories where women need to be inconspicuous and burqa clad and even illegally crossed the borders to Afghanistan. Alice, re-trod the path of Alexander, walked through the valley of the destroyed Bamiyan buddhas, trusted natives who took her deep in territories and places where even locals refused to wander — all in her quest for a river’s history. But beyond great empire conquering histories what emerges is the plight of the river. The Indus, which was once mighty and turbulent and for whom hymns were written in the Rig Veda to placate its divine wrath has now been reduced to a tiny stream in many places. The rampant damming of the Indus has reduced the livelihood of many who relied on its bounties. The book reads like a ballad and a dirge, declaiming past glories and fearing future disasters, when the once mighty Indus will no longer be powerful and desert and doom will follow.
Her last paragraph sums her fears for the land that was once watered by this powerful river. She says:
…..The Atharva Veda calls the Indus saraansh: flowing for ever. One day, when there is nothing but dry river beds and dust, when this ancient name has been rendered obsolete, when the songs humans sing will be dirges of bitterness and regret. They will tell of how the Indus- which once ‘encircled Paradise’, bringing forth civilizations and species, languages and religions- was through mankind’s folly, entirely spent.
(hmmm…shades of Ozymandias)