November 2014: After traveling the Karakoram Highway from kashgar, China and visiting the Kalash villages in the Hindu Kush Kalash People, Descended from the Armies of Alexandar the Great, and Traveling the Karakoram Highway, Pakistan | Venture The Planet, my friend Charlie and I decided to visit the desert Sufi shrines of the Cholistan desert. To get there we flew domestic on Pakistan Airlines to Multan. This is the story of my travels to this region of Pakistan.

 

Route of the trip

Our trip to the south was a last-minute plan since we finished traveling the Karakoram’s faster than we anticipated and we didn’t know exactly where and how we would travel. All we knew was that we wanted to visit the desert and see castles and old Sufi shrines I had once seen featured in a national Geographic magazine. This is the itinerary our trip to the south would eventually follow:

Day 1: Fly to Multan, Hotel Multan

Day 2: Bus to Uch Sharif, visit old tombs, camp in Thar desert near Derawar Fort

Day 3:Visit Derawar Fort, visit friends home for lunch, drop off to bus to Multan, hotel Multan

Day 4:Visit Sufi mosques of Multan, depart to Islamabad

When Charlie and I arrived in Multan, it was dark, and we had a few hotels in mind. We hired an auto- rickshaw driver at the airport to take us to our hotel and as we cruised through the chaotic streets of Multan with the wailing of the call to prayer in the background, it dawned on me that we were in a much different part of Pakistan from the mountains of the north. It was hotter, more densely populated, polluted and impoverished here in the Punjab. The people here were far less accustomed to foreigners and everyone turned to look at us and many gathered around to ask us questions about our jobs, nationality, if we were married and if we were Muslim. We went from one hotel to another and so far, we were striking out. The hotels were just too unsanitary and unsecure. One didn’t have doors that shut, and the bed smelled awful. When we finally did find one that was reasonable enough, we were exhausted and quickly crashed for the night with a plan to take a taxi into the Cholistan the next morning. As soon as we were ready to go to bed, we received a knock on our door and the hotel manager informed us that there are some security people that wanted to meet us. I went downstairs to meet them, and the manager is at the front desk and informed me that the security personal informed him that they would come to the hotel early in the morning and that we couldn’t leave until we met them. I had read other tourist reports of ISI being very restrictive in Multan and forbidding tourists from leaving without a guide or in some cases at all, so I told Charlie that we had to leave as early as possible before the police came in the morning, or we might risk being stuck in our hotel. With this in mind, we got up before sunrise, snuck out of the hotel and hired the first taxi driver we could find to take us out of town to a bus station where we joined a mini-bus full of passengers going in the direction of Uch Sharif, where some of the Sufi shrines are located. 

 

Bibi Jawindi Sufi Shrine

We traveled hours to the edge of the desert to a small town of Uch Sharif, famous for having a series of Sufi shrines that were over 600 years old and the final resting place of revered Sufi saints. Sufism is a sect of Islam where worship of Allah incorporates dancing and singing in a prayer like trance and saints are revered like in the Catholic faith. When we arrived at Uch Sharif, we were intercepted by local police who informed us that we needed to hire them for security because it was too dangerous for us. We thanked them and walked away. Uch Sharif was an interesting town and everywhere we went we received nothing but over the top attention.  We absolutely loved the colorful, beautiful Sufi shrines of Uch Sharif and I thought of camping there but once we saw how exposed we would be to worshipping pilgrims, camping didn’t seem very practical. 

 

Road to Bibi Jawindi

Bibi Jawindi’s shrine is one of the five monuments in Uch Sharif and is cited in the list of UNESCO.  An Iranian prince built this shrine in 1493. This shrine was built in the spirit of the historical sufi premier Bibi Jawindi of the Suhrawardiyyah order. Built of glazed bricks on an octagonal base with turrets on each of its eight corners, it is known as one of the most ornate monuments in Uch Sharif. The inside and outside of the shrine are enriched with Islamic scriptures, carved timber, and bright blue and glazed white mosaic tiles. 

 

Bibi Jawindi Shrine

Bibi Jawindi Shrine

Bibi Jawindi Shrine and burial grounds beneath the mounds

Bibi Jawindi Shrine

Bibi Jawindi Shrine

Uch Sharif

Uch Sharif

Uch Sharif

We weren’t exactly sure where to go next. We figured deeper into the desert, so we went to the bus station where we met Imran Khan, having heard through the grapevine of brothers, cousins, and neighbors in the tiny town of Uch Sharif that two foreigners were trying to get to a random corner of Punjab, Irman showed up at the bus depot offering assistance. He said he would take us to Derewar Fort. We wanted to camp under the stars near the old fort there, a change of pace from the intensity of being in the shadow of the Taliban, so close to the Afghanistan border. But there was no easy way to get there. Once we arrived at Derewar Fort, a ruined magnificent 1000-year-old fort that was built by a Rajput leader and over the centuries had seen countless bloody battles until it was eventually used by the British to hold and execute prisoners. Needless to say, the old, abandoned fortress was a place that intrigued me, especially now that we were there at night, and we could walkaround at will and sleep there. Imran did not understand the appeal of camping. “Why would you want to sleep outside? I like to sleep inside my house with my wife.” Imran says in disbelief. Imran kept on trying to talk us out of the camping. We kept on telling him that it is what we would like to do. It took a while for him to get on board with our plan but when he did, he also wanted to bring his brother, Babr Khan. But Imram was worried and not a fan of this idea and he started calling everyone he knew. “It is not safe for you to sleep inside there. You will need protection.” Imran insists. Charlie and I looked at each other and decided not to ask too many questions, including the obvious, protection from what? We realized that Imran and Babr were too afraid to sleep-in the castle, so we compromised on camping outside of it while they slept inside their vehicle.  Babr claimed he would protect us from the Jinns (evil spirits), they said.

 

Charlie, I, Imran and Babr Kahn

Camping at Derewar Fort

Derewar Fort

Other ancient ruins around Derawar Fort with absolutely no commercial tourism infrasture

View from Derawar Fort

Desert village at Derawar Fort

Exploring the abandoned ruins of Derawar Fort

Exploring the abandoned ruins of Derawar Fort

Imran looking into a prison pit deep into the ground at Derawar Fort

Local man in Derawar

Camel nomad

Old palace Derawar

Desert nomad

Palace

Old City

Old palace

Pakastani bus parkedin Derawar 

A simple ride turned into two days of adventure, ending at Imran’s house with his extended family Spending hours in the kitchen with grandmothers, aunties, sisters, and cousins. Imran invited us to his house as honored guests and his wife cooked a Punjabi meal for us. Charlie helped in the kitchen with the wife while I played cricket on the rooftop with the guys. Women in this part of Pakistan are very protected from the eyes of men that are not relatives and I never once saw the women of the household. The men and I had some very interesting discussions, and the khans asked me what i thought of Osama Bin laden and I flipped the question around on to them. I was surprised when they said they thought he was a good Muslim and framed by Israel, who they believed was responsible for 9-11 but I wanted to keep the mood pleasant between them, so I switched subjects. These guys were playful and not at all extremists, so I just wrote off their remarks as propaganda that is likely representative of where they live. We had a great time visiting and Charlie and I were sad when we parted ways in Multan where they drove us to.

 

Me playing cricket with the Kahns on their roof

A local wedding celebration outside of the Kahns house that I watched go by in the alleyway

before our flight, Charlie and I had some time to explore Multan, so we visited the old British fort that was ransacked during a local insurrection. So many locals were out enjoying the day and we probably had been asked by all of them to take a photo with them. The highlight was the Sufi Mosque where Sufis danced and prayed in a trance. Sadly, this place would later be attacked by suicide bombers from a Salafist sect of Islam, who hate them because they practice a different brand of Islam.

 

Multan british Fort bearing cannon ball explosion scars

Local police that wanted to pose with us for a photo

Mosque of Sufi Saints

Pakastani jet from war with India

Pakastani kids on a huge swing

Local family enjoying the park

Sufi man in prayer 

Sufis praying to a saint

From Multan we would fly back to Islamabad and onward to home via Saudi Arabian airlines. Luckily, we never had any more issues with ISI despite the Pakastani sponsor of our letter of invitation threatening to turn us in as spies for not paying him exorbitant amounts of money. 

 

 

 

 

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