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Salt Range

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The Salt Range derives its name from extensive deposits of rock salt. It stands as remnant of forts with bastions and temples. Exceptionally, this region maintains an almost continuous record of history that can define the evolution of society. Forts and temples surviving along the range are a reminder of how untouched many of the ancient remnants are. Alexander from Macedon came to this range twice: one from Taxila and later once his forces refused to go any further from the banks of the River Beas. From here he marched towards the Arabian Sea on his way to Babylon. And, now an NGO is constructing the monument of Alexander near Jalalpur town in the foot of the salt range in district Jhelum.

For those who take their first chance to the area, the landscape all along the Salt Range is rock-strewn, lacking in softness and loveliness. In many parts, it becomes barren and uninviting. But, in truth the range is dotted with historical wonders, romantic legends, archaeological remains, and varying geological formations. Surroundings are very quiet. Urial is also found in the range though facing extinction. A journey along the range is exiting as well as informative.

After crossing river Jhelum from Rasul Barrage, one passes through 'Rasul Barrage Wildlife Sanctuary'. After monsoon, environs are green and this wetland is full lotus. Flocks of Siberians Cranes and Strokes and local black winged Stilts are the common winter sights in the area. Though at the dawn of a hot August day, I was able to see only few Tobas perching over their morning catch or a few flocks of Murghabis (wild ducks).

Turn west along the range from Mishri Mor bus stop in the beautiful 'bela' of River Jhelum and the road will take you to the town of Jalalpur. One could come on this road from Jhelum side but these days the Jhelum-Pind Dadan Khan Road is closed due to want of bridges on the torrents coming down the range to join River Jhelum so you can only come through Rasul Barrage. The River Jhelum used to flow full to the capacity but now it remains mostly dry. Water of the River Jhelum is transferred from Rasul Barrage to the River Chenab for strategic water management in the country.

Jalalpur Sharif, as the town is called, is opposite village Mong where the conflict between Alexander and Porus took place. Mong used to be the garrison of King Porus who had assembled 30,000 men, 2000 cavalry, and 200 elephant to fight against the Macedonians.

Right on the Jhelum-Pind Dadan Khan Road, tucked inside the Salt Range, is ancient Jalalpur that was built by Alexander in the memory of his general who was killed in the battle with Porus. Coins found among the ruins date back to the period of Graeco-Bactrian kings. Remains of the ancient walls are still there at the summit of the hill, which rise 1000 feet above the present-day Jalalpur.

It is at Jalalpur that in the absence of any route marking or sign posting, we started asking for the monument that is being made in the memory of the great conqueror. Few people did not know any thing about the monument; few others did not understand what we were looking for. Ultimately once we were about to give up, an old driver came to help and gave us some directions to go onto a road leading to village Wagh inside the range where we were to find the unfinished monument structure.

The structure of the monument stands on the bank of a torrent, which flows during rainy seasons. The huge pedestal is graceful and on the platform stands a room. On the roof of the wide room, and flanked by Grecian style arches, is painted a map of Alexander's empire from Greece to South Asia showing the route he took in this part of the world with arrows (Hund - Taxila - Jalalpur - Beas - back to Jalalpur and to the Arabian sea along River Jhelum).

There is no doubt that this scenic place could be turned into a lucrative and busy tourist attraction and may be a research facility. Presently, the construction work has stopped and thorny bushes are placed on the stairs to stop any one going up on the roof to see the map. The colours of the map are already peeling. The pits all around the monument suggest that some trees were also planted but only a couple of them have survived. On the wall facing road, names of the donors have been written in different colours (along with the legend for the colour code). There was no one, not even a janitor, who could tell us about the current state of affairs or why the construction work has been stopped. Why? Lack of funds, lack of interest, or both!?

Alexander was undoubtedly a man of great substance: "He was an illustrious soldier who always followed the rules of war. He brought disciplines of medicine (Tibb-e-Yunani) and philosophy to what is now Pakistan. More than two thousand yeas ago he recognized the enormous potential in terms of commerce and trade of the immediate hinterland of Karachi. He called this place the bridge between east and west," reads a current report of Wildlife and Environment Quarterly. Not always. Travel writer and researcher Salman Rashid says Alexander did not only get away with murdering 7,000 soldiers from the central subcontinent who had joined the Pakhtoons in an attempt to defend the Masaga fort, he gives him a lenient title of a daghabaaz (at its most mundane a fraud, at worst a cheat). And, "We all by now know that it takes a general more than this to conquer the world," adds Ashaar Rahman.

People with time and will to explore are constantly looking for quiet and new destinations. Locally, if nothing else, this monument could give a boast to rural tourism and economy.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Monday, February 08, 2021,


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