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Deosai: Land of the Giant

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It is rare to have the opportunity to hear from someone who has literally written “the book” on a place as mysterious as Deosai. Talking of his Deosai romance (that started in summer 1990) Salman Rashid once told me, “Anywhere on Deosai the fantastic vistas of wide open space of miles and miles hemmed in by snow-capped crags. Here the sky is an impossible shade of blue and the thunderheads like huge, huge bales of cotton flung about by some careless cotton packer. Here the clouds do actually look like anything you wish to imagine them to look like. Here, if one has nothing to do (that is, if you are not on assignment), lie on the ground in the sun and just spend hours doing nothing.”
Deosai: Land of the Giant – a book written by Salman Rashid with photography by Nadeem Khawar tells and shows the story of Deosai, its geography and history as well as the heroic effort of bear conservation and the establishment of a national park on the plateau.

The earliest explorers like William Moorcroft and Godfrey Thomas Vigne, long ago, noted that Deosai was inhabited by large numbers of Tibetan brown bear. Though the elusive snow leopard, fox, wolf and ibex prowl across it, it was the easily seen bear that became the signature species on the plateau. Not anymore. Hope is that the in depth research and rich illustrations will be a great source of awareness and an equally good reminder for all stakeholders to do more to conserve the extinguishing wildlife.

It is also rare to find a story of place like Deosai (its geography and history as well as the heroic effort of bear conservation and the establishment of a national park on the plateau) told with both the compelling lucidity of an armchair storytelling and the rigorous, scholarly detail of a historical discourse, but Salman Rashid has done it with Desosai: Land of Giant. The book is designed into two parts: text and images.

Sharing common interest for vagabonding, Salman Rashid (himself an accomplished photographer) and Nadeem Khawar has long been working together from capturing historic monuments at Nandna in the Salt Range to chasing birds along Nara Canal in Sindh and beyond. But they both did the work for Deosai: Land of the Giant in their own time; separately. Still every reader, expert or not, will be delighted to find this unique combination of two masters of their arts.

As a travel writer, Salman Rashid stands out very tall for his narratives that show ‘another’ Pakistan. Writers of nine travel books and countless articles, Salman is the only Pakistani who have seen the north face of Chhogho Ri (K -2). Each of his pieces is a free flowing specimen, with most knowledgeable description of people, customs, history, legends and yes, anthropology woven into the story - and in language that is fluent and crisp, and also at places containing a fair dose of humor and sarcasm. The panorama that he presents turns most of his work into literary master piece. That is why Sir Vidya Naipaul says, “Salman Rashid writes with wonderful clarity.

Photographer of the book Nadeem Khawar is a renowned commercial photographer who earns his living by working his trade. But this work is the fruit of much labor – and a labor of love at that: we are all the benefactors of his Desosai endeavors that started back in 2005. He kept visiting Deosai each year to get the perfect photos that could truly display the people and the landscape of the unique Plateau. The images are gorgeous and numerous, making the book a pleasure for casual browsers. One enjoys his ability to capture the wildlife as it happens even if he has to wait for weeks to get the right shot. As an aside, following a recent meeting with the artist, I had the pleasure to see some of his other work and was absorbed in what he showed me.

Any authentic record of life on Deosai long overdue, particularly when travel to this part of the land we call home is getting more difficult every day, the book by Salman Rashid and Nadeem Khawar is perhaps the first thorough exploration of this second highest plateau in the world. Beautiful look book filled with interesting facts, stories, and supporting imagery makes it a must read for everyone interest in another Pakistan, history wildlife or nature. It is a wonderful read – right down to every page and 124 photo plate – for all those who recognize and appreciate good writing presented in a clear, concise, interesting manner and matching imagery.

Related: Land of the Giant - Chapter from the Book, Book Review by F. S. Aijazuddin

Salman Rashid blogs at odysseuslahori.blogspot.com and you can also follow him on Twitter @odysseuslahori

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Monday, December 16, 2013,

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