Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cooking chawal, old Hyderabad, Pakistan

Via Flickr:
Biryani is perhaps the single most popular dish in Sindh and Punjab provinces. Off course, the dish was popularized by people living in Delhi and Lucknow and who then immigrated to Pakistan on the eve of partition of British India in 1947. This man was checking for the right quality of rice, known as basmatti, for using in the cooking of a sumptuous biryani. They say that the best biryani is that of mutton. In fact, there used to certain cooks who refused to cook biryani using chicken!

Please also note one more thing here: Hindu Brahmins of past never ate or even touched meat or eggs. So it is highly unlikely that this man, if he had been here before 1947, would be cooking biryani or any other meat related dish. It is to these Urdu-speaking Mohajirs of India (Urdu speaking is a wide ranging term employed in Pakistan to encompass everyone from Delhi walla to Lucknow walla but not Gujratis) that the popularity of Biryani may be traced. Even today, after 60 years of partition, no other ethnic group can cook a better biryani than Hyderabadis or Delhi wallas. Some say Memons (from Gujarat province of India) also cook good biryani. Sindhis, the traditional inhabitants of this province - hence the name Sindh - are also not good cooks of this culinary delight.

[Now, Biryani is part of Pakistani culture along with Karhai ghosht. I mention this man and his deghs here because his business is now essential part of living in Heerabad area of Hyderabad, Pakistan.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hindu heritage of Hyderabad, Pakistan

Via Flickr:
Real name: Unknown.
Now named: Kashan-e-Amjad, Heerabad, Hyderbad, Sindh province, Pakistan.

Hindu banyas, as the Brahmin caste is known in Urdu and Hindi, knew little while constructing such beautiful entrances that their time in up-coming Pakistan was running short. In 1947, British litrally ran away from British India, dividing the country into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, jumbling up the borders to their own likes and dislikes, putting to sword the lives of millions. Many died in Punjab bloodbath and Pakistan's founder, Mr. Jinnah, wondered whether he done it right by creating a homeland for Muslims of India? He, like millions across the border, were dumbstruck by the results. The results were understood long before blood letting was allowed by the British but to no avail. Rapes, looting and murder were the order of the day. The peaceful Muslims in newly created India were either killed or forced to relocate. Same thing happened to Hindus, people who'd lived here since last 4,000 years or so. But they were to move enmasse. Even personal appeal from Mr. Jinnah was unable to stop Hindus of Sindh from vanishing overnight. But something good also happened here: As against thousands of killed daily in Punjab province hardly anyone was killed or maimed here in Sindh province. It remained largely peaceful except for some isolated incidents in Karachi and elsewhere. Even Parsis, followers of Zarathustra, felt insecure and left for greener pastures. Their places were eventually filled by Delhi wallas, Hyderabadis and Lucknawis, people who claimed big properties in India and who now got such beautiful havelis in return (see this and other photographs).

How sad is our history! But only if we knew.

Hindu heritage of Hyderabad, Pakistan

I am suddenly reminded of a wonderful Hindu heritage present in our country. And some of that I have documented in Hyderabad and in Karachi. Sadly, we have lost much of it. What is left is slowly dying due mainly to the negligent behaviour of our government and ignorance of our general public. World over heritage is lovingly preserved and restored. Here in Pakistan we just tend to destroy everything to make way for the new. For being new is a sign of progress and of modernism. We feel connected to New York and London. But, the question is, can we get connected to these great modern cities by just blowing away our heritage sites? If the answer was yes, then Paris, London and Delhi would already had done away with their respective heritage. Instead, they preserved and today those very old buildings compel travellers from across the world to come and to see and to photograph. In this and other things, I am sad to say, we have miserably failed. We have even tried to forget the heritage of Pakistan focusing only on Islamic structures. In 2008, for example, Taliban blew some really beautiful and historically very important Buddhas in Swat valley. And there was no cry among the general Pakistanis. We did not raise our heads except for a few rare people. Why? Because we are generally unaware - and unconcerned - about our rare and important heritage.

It is in this background that I will be sharing some of my photographs of heritage, dying and dead. Keep watching this space.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fisherman, Mancher lake, Indus River, Sindh

Indus River Saga
Originally uploaded by Ameer Hamza
This is an old fisherman on the bank of a great, now poisoned, Mancher lake (or jheel, as is known in Urdu). It draws its waters from the great River Indus, the lifeline of Pakistan around which all our great civilizations have flourished - and drowned. You may name Indus Valley civilization (Moen jo Daro site, etc), Kalhoras, Talpurs of Sindh, Nawabs of lower Punjab, even Mughuls (on the bank of now-dead Ravi, part of Indus river system) and so on and so forth. It is claimed that the culture on both sides of River Indus are radically different. I have never been able to verify this claim but a good start on the history and present-day scenoria on this river would be to read Alice Albinia's 'Empires of the Indus', a beautifully written, first hand account of her journey from the mouth of Indus to its starting point in Tibet.

[Unfortunately, I have somehow managed to loose this beautiful photograph from my archive].

Friday, December 16, 2011

Islamabad Japanese Park, Pakistan (1990)

You can get some idea about our times in 1990 by the clothes I am wearing. There's nothing else to inform you about those good times. Time when our country was much more liberal, tolerant and understanding of each other. Now, bigotry, religious hatred and ethnic violence cloud our judgment and life. I look happy and most of Pakistan of those times was also very happy, indeed. It was prosperous and affordable for most Pakistanis. Now, sadly, many things are simply out of reach of around 80% Pakistanis.

This photograph is also important on a personal level. It brings back good memories of a time gone past. Like all personal photographs this too is a treasure.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Forest floor, Chota Yasin, Northern Pakistan

Via Flickr:
I just wanted to share this photograph of a forest floor at Chota Yasin, a wonderful place where we camped for a memorable night and a memorable morning awaited us all. This photograph is also important in a sense that it was published by Express Tribune magazine in its Travel feature on 11th December, 2011. I hope wide angle has allowed me to capture enough of floor as well as the trees which contribute to its beauty.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Published: Express Tribune Mag Dec 11- Dec 17, 2011

When men and mountain meet

By Ameer Hamza

They don’t even sound like they belong in Pakistan, these strange and exotic place names that are popping up in my inbox. Immit, Mithramdan, Wargoth glacier, Sokhtarabad, Chitti Boi. With some trepidation, I sign up for this latest travel expedition and agree to pay Rs10,000 in advance to the travel guide who e-mailed this odd-sounding itinerary to me. Feeling the need for a travel partner as I depart to these uncharted territories, I call my just-returned-from-the US friend, Adeel. He gamely agrees to tag along, though he does wonder out loud if good food will be available in these places.

A few days later, we find ourselves munching breakfast in Gilgit, having got here from Rawalpindi via the breathtaking Babussar pass. We’re waiting for the wagon that will take us on to Immit and, while we wait, I keep asking our tour guide, Tanweer babu, if it’s really such a good idea to travel to the Northern tip of Pakistan in the rainy month of September.
Scoffing at my fears, he paints a picture of chirping birds and multi-coloured flowers waving in the breeze … all under a cloudless sky. This is the North, I am reminded, and in any case, September is not the rainy season. Of course, at this time half of lower Sindh is submerged under floodwaters and Karachi is experiencing its heaviest rains in a decade.

I’m reassured, and we proceed on the rather bumpy road to Immit. On the way, we cross a flooded nullah, and a little voice in my head whispers, ‘Turn back…it’s not too late!’ But I pay no heed and then we’re there. Immit is the last outpost of civilisation on this side of the border, the last major town before you enter Afghanistan. This is where the road ends, literally. For us, this means that this is the last chance to buy whatever we may need before entering the wild.

Of course, our tour operator ‘forgets’ to purchase extra oil, wheat and rice and all we have is his vague assurance that we’re well-stocked for the 12-day trek that awaits us.

It’s dusk when we reach our Mithramdan, our first campsite, and there’s just enough sun for us to glimpse the jagged peaks of the mountains against the dying light. It’s freezing cold, and we sleep in a government-run school rather than camp out. Even Tanweer babu looks a little worried as he zips himself into his sleeping bag.

The next day is just as advertised: crystal clear air, beautiful mountains and a veritable aura of happiness. Awaiting us at the school gate is an army of locals, all vigorously bargaining with Tanweer babu. They know the next lot of visitors will only come in June and this is their last chance to make some tourist cash. Eventually one lucky local wins our custom and we head out at 9 am.

As we move on, the stark beauty becomes starker, the water becomes colder the gloves start to come out, and the grumblers (a necessary part of every trek) start grumbling a little louder. At 2 pm, after crossing many beautiful but potentially deadly paths, we reach Chota Yasin. This is the place I really wanted to visit and finally being here is like a dream come true. Ancient Sanober trees dot the landscape,and a single herdsman remains here with his family. the rest having left for warmer climes.
To me, it’s heaven on earth. Imagine a place surrounded by mountains, heavily forested with magnificent Sanober trees and dotted with streams of pure, clean water. Here, the formidable-looking Yak roams free along with the herdsman’s other animals and the conversation revolves around fodder, kids and more fodder. Life is good and all blood pressure patients should come here and stay for a while to sort things out.

The next day we reluctantly pack up and move towards the promised Wargoth glacier. Despite its dangerous sounding name, it is not as formidable a glacier as Baltoro or Hispar but is nevertheless treacherous enough. This is not a place to lose your footing, because falling into one of its numerous crevices won’t just be potentially fatal, but also deeply insulting to someone who considers himself a bonafide trekker. Luckily, no one falls. We soon reach the Wargoth campsite, light a bonfire, and celebrate our first glacier crossing with some warm, salty tea. But it seems the rain gods frown upon our victory as this is when the first (and very heavy) rains begin to fall. All eyes turn towards our sheepish tour operator, who had been insisting ever since we left that rains would not be a problem. We drag ourselves along on slick and slippery paths, cursing him under our breath but still in awe of the landscape.

Twelve soggy hours later, we finally reach Sokhtarabad. It is eerily dark and the rains have resumed after a short break. The sound is so thunderous that it is just impossible to think about anything except how to keep yourself warm and dry. Soon our tents start to leak and we are all wading in cold water, fending for ourselves as our tour operator inexplicably remains fast asleep in his tent, his snores somehow still audible through the sound of the rain.

The next morning, the rain is gone but the clouds remain, hovering around the jagged mountain peaks towards the northwest. I get my first glimpse of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. As a traveler, I am constantly in awe of border regions. I don’t know why, but there’s something about political borders which compels me to visit them. However, I really don’t like visiting Mummy-Daddy-Burger-Baby borders like Wagah, which everyone can get to. I like these tough borders. Rugged places like the one I can see from the Sokhtarabad campsite. Places with names that give you an adrenaline rush.

The next day our tour operator gets sick (or is he fooling?) and we cancel our trek. I give a last, longing look to that now snow-capped peak from where you can hop across into Afghanistan, and return after photographing local yak walking across the landscape. Although we ultimately failed to reach Karomber lake we did manage to see what few Pakistanis ever will in their lifetimes. Leaving the border areas I recalled that remarkable verse by

William Blake,
‘Great things are done when men and mountain meet
This is not done by jostling in the street’

A few days later, Adeel and I are back jostling away in Karachi’s streets, wondering when we will meet the mountains again.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2011.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Last Meal of my Grandfather

Via Flickr:
Yes, you read it right. It was my grandfather's last meal. After this soup he was taken to the Jamal Noor hospital for checkup. When his condition worsened he was taken to Patel hospital. He passed away on 10th December, 2011, just before 3 PM (P.S.T). His namaz-e-Janaza was held at Memon masjid, Pahari walli, Shaheed-e-Millad road, Karachi, at 8 PM. He was finally burried at Mehwashah graveyard.

When I was shooting this photograph my grandfather (dada in Urdu) asked me why I wanted to shoot more when I had already shot 4. I, off course, did not have any immediate answer so I kept my camera and had last lunch with him. Little did I know that it would be the final time any of us present there would be having our last meal with him. He was 85 or 86 years old, was born at Bahwanagar, Gujarat province, pre-partition India (British Raj). He, along with his family, immigrated to newly born state of Pakistan in 1948 (Pakistan came into being in August, 1947, ostensibly as an Islamic state). In India he had run a chai dhaba with his elder brother, Ahmad bhai. In Pakistan, he had an edible oil shop at Jodia Bazaar, Karachi. He also had Noor Electric Co., which he had begun with his brother in 1973-74. It was later split in 1984 when Ahmad bhai decided to leave. (Ahmad bhai was my nana and he had begun Bombay Light House).

Haji Moosa Adhia was his full name. He was expert in Indian herbal medicine, what is generally called 'Hikmah' and is practiced by hakims across India and Pakistan. He wasn't educated in this field but through his immense interest he knew almost all the local herbs by their traditional names and knew what uses each had. This allowed him to treat everyone for free, whoever came for his advice. I never saw him charge a fee for his expertise. Many women came from afar for treatment of their knees, a common ailment nowadays among many women. For men, there could be anything from stress to heart disease. He almost always recommended use of honey ('shehed' or 'madh' in Urdu) in one or the other form for many of the diseases. His breakfast almost always had honey as an important component in it. It is to his enduring legacy that I also adore honey and try it with various meals. Another favourite of him were the dry fruits - almonds, cashew, walnuts, dried figs, pistachio, and others. Every winter we would receive some of these from his as his gifts. As I write these lines I can see on my table some of his gifted dry fruits for this winter.

May his soul rest in peace and Sadqa of our beloved Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (salahu alihi wasalam) bestowed on him and all of us by ALLAH. Ameen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mehndi, Eid-ul-Azha, Karachi

Date: 9th December, 2008.

Location: Karachi, Pakistan.

Via Flickr:
A Muslim girl shoes her hand - but hides her face - to reveal beautiful mehndi on the occasion of Islamic festival of Eid-ul-Azha, also known as Eid-e-Qurban. On this day, Haj in Makkah comes to an end and the slaughter of halal animals (lamb, goat, cow, camel) commences. Across the world Muslims, who can purchase the animal, celebrate Eid starting from Eid prayers and then slaughtering their animals, as per Islamic injunctions. This Eid is for three days and depends on the lunar calendar.

[This is my sister showing her exquisite mehndi. Applying mehndi in Pakistan may cost you anywhere between Rs.30 and Rs.15,000 / hand].

Celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr

Celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr
Originally uploaded by Ameer Hamza
Date: 14th October, 2007.

Via Flickr:
All decked up for Eid-ul-Fitr, a 3-day Islamic festival celebrated at the end of the Holy month of Ramadan.

A Muslim girl displays her Eid best. It is tradition in many Muslim countries that woman, whether married or un-married, cover their hands with dark pigment called mehndi (in Urdu & Hindi languages) or Henna (in English). Most of them also wear colourful, matching bangles, and buy trendy clothes and shoes.

[One of my most favourite photographs. It is a cultural image and is now available for sale at Getty Images]

Friday, December 9, 2011

Memon winter breakfast: Hara lehsun with bajray ki roti, Karachi

Via Flickr:
This is a confirmed Memon / Gujerati winter breakfast across Karachi, parts of India (Ahmedabad and other cities and towns of Gujerat province, South Africa, UK and parts of USA where this linguistic / ethnic group resides). We are Memons and every winter we get to eat this nicely cooked breakfast. It consists of finely chopped spring garlic mixed with either bajray ki roti or chakki ka atta and served with dahi. If you want, you may have chai or sugarcane juice. I prefer chai as sugarcane juice is hard to get at this time. You may also have brinjal.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Foot series: Shrine near Amerkot, Sindh

Date: 9th January, 2005.

This is a beautiful blue tiled Muslim Saint's shrine near Amerkot (now Islamized to Umerkot after creation of Pakistan). Islamists don't agree but most historians now agree that Umerkot is actually Amerkot. It was named after a Hindu Raja.

The reason I and Adeel are here is because of the invitation we received by our friend, Harish Kumar, who lives nearby, and who at that time was studying with us at MAJU, Karachi campus. When we finally arrived via a very enjoyable journey on bus from Karachi there was no Harish Kumar to be found anywhere. And there were no mobile phones, either, to help us around. So we called at his home in Karachi - and thanks to me that I had his number - and asked him to immediately leave everything which we doing in Karachi and come here. He was rather taken back that we were actually in his town roaming its dirty, pre-partition type streets. So he came, almost crashing on Amerkot / Umerkot, and we met up next day. And we roamed around, including a visit to this Shrine. Nearby was a revered Hindu temple. I will need to contact Harish for the names of the two.

[For earlier entries on Foot Series, please see 30th November, 2011]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Welcome to Pakistan: Chaman border

Date: 3rd June, 2010.

On 1st Moharram, 1433, NATO forces (Read: American crusaders) fired at Pakistan border posts killing 24 Army men including a Major and a Captain. Pakistan, as a measure of revenge, stopped all NATO oil tankers, equipment and food containers at its two borders, Torkham (NWFP) and Chaman (Balochistan; Photograph). All Generals along with Kiyani met PM, Gilani, and it was discussed that the upcoming Bonn conference on Afghanistan would be boycotted as well. Americans were also asked to release Shamsi airbase, 300 KM from Quetta. Americans accepted without much hassle but asked Pakistanis to reconsider attending Bonn conference. Pakistan declined, mostly because PPP wants votes in upcoming elections and daylight attack on Armed Forces of Pakistan has rallied entire country against America. PPP cannot, even if it wants to, do anything about this public outrage. Let us see these events and so-called swift decisions in a different light.

We know from various sources that much of the budget of Pakistan Army, including its fighter jets and missiles, comes from US Army. American Congress can easily put a stop to all that, if Pakistan somehow refuses to tow American line. Our Generals, atleast most of them, appear to be on friendly terms with US Army and CIA. There's lot of information being passed to American Government by our Army personal. So even if Kiyani wants to put an end to transportation of NATO equipment and oil, he will have to think a lot about his fighter jets, their spare parts and the sort of intelligence that we presently have. We are no match for the gigantic Indian Armed Forces and we cannot afford to look into the eye of NATO and Americans right now. And I am sure that is actually not what Kiyani intends to do. He intends to put a break to continuous towing of American line. That will certainly improve his image among Pakistanis and specially among Armed Forces personal. That may be necessary now or he could face internal conflict from his juniors. That would be rather disastrous for our Army and our country.

As for the release of Shamsi Airbase is concerned, it is well known that this base is used by Arabs during winter months. They land here and hunt their favourite migratory bird, Horbura Bustard. Therefore, Americans actually did not oblige Pakistanis, they obliged their thorough allies, the Arabs. (Americans will need Arabs when they attack Iran next year). Therefore, Pakistanis should not be very happy when Americans say they are vacating this base. Yes, they are but that is not because Pakistan Army has asked them to. In any case, there are so many bases from where Drones may be flown into Pakistan that Shamsi airbase only acted as a secondary base for them. It was primarily used for servicing rather than flying drones.

As for NATO containers and tankers, it is life line for many well-connected Pashtuns and Punjabis. These contractors have become immensely rich and powerful and it is unlikely that our lame, democratic government will be able to continue to stop them for long. NATO has oil for around 4.5 months in advance. So they won't be loosing any sleep over these oil containers. And, as stated earlier, as much of funds and equipment comes from US directly to our Army, it is highly unlikely that these containers will be sitting idle for more than 20 days on a stretch.

Yes, but there is one point on which Pakistan can play really nicely on NATO / ISAF sentiments: Iran. Americans are preparing feasibility reports on Iran and are looking for various reactions from its immediate neighbors. Pakistan could be a troublesome country for our leadership is Shia (President as well as General Pasha are Shias). And naturally there is lot of sympathy for the fellow Shias across Taftan border. By delaying NATO containers Pakistan might just be giving signal to American forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere that they won't become a part of allied war on Iran. This could be the key for a stable region. But, our hands are tied fast. Let us see whether we can withstand the nerve test.

Fruit & Vegetable seller, Kolpur, Balochistan

Date: 4th June, 2010.

(There are two entries from Kolpur from my Balochistan diary. See June & July 2010).

I really wanted to share this photograph. Sky was stark blue and it appears bluer because of the brownish contrast provided by mud backed shops and the equally muddy mountain in the background. The man is also wearing brownish clothes. And he is selling his fruits placed in brown wooden cartons, as is custom in this country. But this photograph does not tell you about its history.

Last year or so many of the Punjabis were asked by Baloch nationalists to vacate their shops here or face the music. People not aware with the geo-politics of Balochistan province must be reminded that few of the Baloch tribes are fighting for independence or larger automy for their province. Foreign hands are playing their dirty game here.

I personally love this small, muddy town. It is extremely photogenic and you may wander around for 2-4 hours here. It is perhaps 35 minutes from Quetta, provincial capital of Balochistan.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Portraits from Kashmir : Chikar village

November, 2005 | After Earthquake

Via Flickr:
I very clearly remember this cold morning of November, 2005. Waqar, a friend of mine from Muhammad Ali Jinnah University (MAJU), had accompanied me to this village alongwith members of Dawat-e-Islami to distribute aid among the quake survivors. These two children had also arrived alongwith their father or grandfather. And the younger one just looked too mischievous - and tempting - for a frame.

Portraits from Kashmir : Mr.Qadri, Chikar village

November, 2005 | After Earthquake

Via Flickr:
His home was one of the few which had survived the horrible earthquake of October, 2005, in Chikar, Azad Kashmir. We had a good lunch at his him and he was gracious to show us around his village. I wanted to stay longer but there was too much work to be done and we were always short of time.

Portraits from Kashmir : Banjoosa village

November, 2005 | After Earthquake

Via Flickr:
She had just returned from her school and I asked her to stop so that I could take her photograph. She was very shy so a lot of insisting went in from her parents. She finally relented and I had this portrait made.

Portraits from Kashmir : Banjoosa village

November, 2005 | After Earthquake

Via Flickr:
I visited her partially destroyed house and I asked her for a portrait. She was very shy and probably sad as well. So she just kept her eyes low, in time honored Eastern-Islamic concept of modesty. I really like her stripped chador matching with her forehead lines.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shrine of Shah Abdul Lateef Bhitai, Sindh, Pakistan

Date: 11th February, 2009.

We are standing atop an incomplete hotel. This hotel, whatever its name, was where we had stayed for the night. And this is the vision from its roof. I could see the birds flying around, turning over and over again the central, Main dome of the revered tomb of Sufi poet of Sindhi language, Sain Shah Abdul Lateef Bhittai. He is arguably the most quoted Sufi Saint in Sindh. And people from Seraiki belt, which formerly used to part of Sindh province, visit here in their huge numbers, drinking chai and partaking of hasheesh. So much so that amidst Sufi music, played beautifully by ancient looking men (more of them later) the atmosphere is simply mysterious. The smoke obscuring the features of the musicians, the listeners deep in their thought. Most of the audience cannot understand this beautiful poetry - even many Sindhis cannot, but that does not mean any lack of interest. I highly recommend Thursday night at this Shrine. The poetry and the music is remarkable in its beauty of diction, atmosphere and the historical surroundings. Don't you ever forget your voice recorders, like I did!

Boy is born to Ameer Hamza

Date: 1st December, 2011 / 6th Moharram, 1433 Hijri.

Time: 7:25 PM (P.S.T / +5.00 GMT)
Hospital: OMI, Saddar, Karachi
Wt. at birth: 3.25 Kg.

Name: Un-decided as to the time of the this blog (6:33 AM P.S.T).

The foot series of my travels had to be interrupted to accommodate this photograph of my first son. His name is yet undecided at the time of the writing of this blog but Inshallah it is expected that we will have the name today afternoon. Part reason is that we want to name him on Friday (today), and we'v been lucky to have son on the night between Thursday and Friday (Islamic / Lunar calender: 6th Moharram-ul-Haram, 1433 Hizri).

More photographs are expected today. Let us see.

[p.s I know this is not a travel-related photograph. But it surely is a breaking news of sorts!]

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Foot Series: EXPLORERS at Jhaki Bander ruins, Arabian Sea, Pakistan

Originally uploaded by Ameer Hamza
Date: 23rd December, 2007.

Well, actually feet. The same place as below but with lots of feet added. These are the participants - my friends from my university - who had accompanied me to this site. Among them are: Uzair Tahir, Ather Usmani, Asad Hayat Akhtar, Umair Rehman & Ali Pahore.

Foot Series: Jhaki Bander ruins, Arabian Sea, Pakistan

Date: 23rd December, 2007.

This is one of the better shots. It is self evident, I think. You know immediately how it is to walk among these ruins. As a photographer in love with this beautiful place I wanted to share an image of myself, in the condition we are were in, along with the landscape of the place. The weather, as I may note, was overcast and beautiful. The red floor is actually a bed of broken fort tiles. This must have been an ancient fort, probably dating after 800 AD. But this place is incredible and more astonishing is the fact that even many historians of Pakistan are not aware of this site.

p.s Are you wondering where are my shoes or sandals? Well, they were in my hands because it was simply impossible to go around in shoes. They got dirty and they stuck in this sticky mud. Never mind the sharp edges of these long-shredded bricks!

Foot Series: Thar desert, Mithi, Sindh province

Date: 8th November, 2009.

Ah, the sands of my Thar desert. They are so charming, curvy, beautiful. Adjectives may soon run out but the sands remain, curvy as ever. And sometimes, treacherous.

I clearly remember the day when this shot was taken. Sky was a beautiful blue. Sands were brown. And there were people from across Pakistan. They were participating in a Jeep rally in the deserts. I have personally never approved of these rallies because they can harm local wildlife. But such rallies provide chance for the locals to interact with world-weary people from outside.

p.s This chappal I still have. Thanks to GOD!

Foot Series: Bhambhore, Sindh province

My Foot at Bhambhore
Originally uploaded by Ameer Hamza
Date: 5th November, 2006.

Long before I started travel blogging I was doing this foot series on my travels. I cannot remember clearly why I started this but I did. And some of my friends really liked the idea. Since then, from time to time, I have continued doing this. But I am sorry to say that many great places were missed, where foot photography would have been outright dangerous.

p.s This sandal was later stolen from outside a local masjid near my home. I must report that these were one of the best travel partners I ever had. Made by Sputnik.

Life: World in our hands

I really like the feel of this photograph. The hands have good, sharp lines; the flowers have just bloomed; and it is spring time already at Rajpar village, Khairpur district, Sindh province, Pakistan.

The hands are those of my friend, Uzair Tahir. I, him and Haroon travelled to Lahore from Karachi on his old, 1989-model Mehran car and we had stayed at this village because my peon had told me to stop at his village, if I wanted to. Yes, off course, I wanted to.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

25th December : Quaid's Tomb & The Common Man

On a question recently put across on the board by Pakistan Blog Awards team to all of us bloggers, 'What would every bloggers message be for Pakistan, this 25th of December, our Founding Father's birthday?', I put up this photograph, shot by me on 25th Dec, 2006, by my good Nikon and with due permission from a good, old friend in Pakistan Army. Here is what I wrote after uploading this photograph:

Via Flickr:
During the celebrations of the Birthday anniversary of Leader and Founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, common men were asked to stand outside the main gate while the VIP's (Read: Dacoits and Politicians) prayed and socialized over the dead body of their leader.

I am always ashamed by the workings of this country and its politicians when I see this photograph. This country was not made for looters and politicians and army junta. It was made for common Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and for Parsis and for those who would like to live their life according to their own wishes. Unfortunately for the man who created it and for all of us, we now find ourselves among the angry mullahs and the duck-headed leaders.

- You got the point.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Published: Express Tribune Mag Nov 27- Dec 3, 2011

Article by Adil Mulki

Photographs by Ameer Hamza

As so happens with so many Pakistan-based publications, the editors really don't consider publishing the name of the photographer(s). And that is a sad reality and reflects the general thinking among the editors here: Photographs are not as important as a write-up. They are wrong. And everyone else is wrong who considers photographs as secondary. You just need to pick any issue of National Geographic.

You may read the wonderfully penned article here:

'Outside, the desert sun beats down on the baked and barren dunes, but inside the customised SUV, it’s another world. The AC is on full blast and the tinted windows filter the unforgiving rays of the sun into diffused light. Plush seats provide a level of comfort one would find impossible to imagine in such a harsh environment. Beep…beep…beep. The silence is broken by the sound of the scanner; the vehicle comes to a sudden halt, sending the soft desert sands cascading down the dune that it is now precariously perched atop.'


Saturday, November 26, 2011

My home before my wedding

Date: 2nd February, 2009.

Location: My home, Karachi.

Via Flickr:
More work next day: My father (foreground, bending) checks out something as my brother, Ovais, looks for space amidst hoards of items stacked onto one another. Marriage is one big game in Pakistan, which you have to play. And everyone is required to help you out. You can just imagine the predicament of my parents and my siblings in re-arranging all the stuff, just in time for my wedding on 20th March, 2009. This photograph is a reminder of all that transpired.

My home before my wedding

Date: 1st February, 2009.

Location: My home, Karachi.

Via Flickr:
My wedding took place on 20th March, 2009. But before that lot of shifting was done to create space for my incoming stuff, what you call jahez furniture (dowry), and assortment of items. This is my brother, Ovais Adhia, sleeping after spending a day full of work, both at office and at home.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Daily Life: Washing at Sufi Shrine, Karachi

Date: 3rd June, 2007.

This was a good day for photography. Some great shots came through. I particularly like this one. It is full of a typical life around this Shrine of Pir Haji Syed Sakhi Sultan (RA). The hot sulphur spring water, from whose water these two men are bathing, is known to cure skin ailments. And there could be some truth in this: We know from various scientific studies that sulphur waters from spring may cure certain diseases; it also helps to make you fresh as an orange. I tried that too and was happy with the results. But not this time. I think these two men were initially embarrassed that a photographer had popped from nowhere, clicking away continuously.

I also like the worn down structure to the left of the frame, the keekar trees, the un-plastered wall, and one of the men pulling down his shalwar; other one was probably waiting for me to move out before he could remove his shalwar. I moved away. Thanks to me!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Marsh crocs at Hot sulphur springs, Karachi

Via Flickr:
Danger lurks around every corner of the frame: Nile delta marsh crocodiles pop their heads out of the hot sulphur spring found at the Shrine of Sufi Saint, Hazrat Pir Haji Sakhi Sultan (RA). This surely is one of the most fascinating places in the country and surely the oldest Sufi Shrine in Karachi.

For detailed reading of this interesting subject, you must read the following article / blog:

Feeding marsh crocodiles at Sufi Shrine, Karachi

Date: 3rd June, 2007.

This is Sheedi, or black man, standing among the most dangerous crocodiles on Earth: Marsh crocodiles from River Nile. No one knows how they ended up here, thousands of miles from their original place, in the barren of Karachi at a Sufi Shrine near Karachi (now Manghopir, as this place is called, is part of Karachi due to horizontal expansion of the city).

The legend is that these crocodiles are actually lice of the Saint, who threw them into this spring. And they became crocodiles!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shrine of Hazrat Mian Sher Muhammad, Sharakpur Sharif

Date: 8th June, 2011.

And then, after performing wuzu, we entered the small, peaceful, re-constructed shrine of Hazrat Mian Sher Muhammad. Inside, in a small room there were three graves of which one is here photographed. I had my 50mm on which did not allow me enough space to shoot. The place was good and the heat, which was outside now raging, was in control here. Birds were chirping and few people, among them the caretaker of the Shrine, were present. All were in awe of the Saint. I was happy that I was here. I have always respected Saints because it is due to their tireless efforts that most of us are Muslims. We prayed silently, I took further photographs, and then we moved on.

I was soon reminded by father of Haroon, who was with me for the first time on any trip, that it was the day of Haroon's shadi and we better get to Lahore in time. And so we hurried off....

Making ablutions at Shrine of Hazrat Mian Sher, Sharakpur Sharif

Date: 8th June, 2011.

This is my friend and travel partner, Adeel, making Wuzu (Islamic ablutions) at the Mazar / Shrine of Hazrat Mian Sher Muhammad. About him, one website has this to say, 'Hazrat Mian Sher Muhammad was one of the famous Saints of Punjab who got a reputation in Naqshbandiyyah Series (Silsala). He was born as a saint.' ..... And, 'With his blessings many dead hearts were lightened with divine light. Even still now his name is called with respect and devotion.

The Naqshbandy forefathers of Hazrat Mian Sher Muhammad migrated from Kabul to Punjab and lived in Qasoor. Then migrated from Qasoor to Hujra Shah Makeem and then Sharaqpur. The father’s name of Hazrat Mian Sher Muhammad was Mian Aziz Aladdin. His ethnicity was Arian. His family’s professional business was cultivation. Hazrat Mian Sher Muhammad was born in Sharaqpur in 1865 CE (1282 H). After his birth from his body and shining face, the symptoms of as a saint were clear.'

You may read full details about this and other Saints of Sharaqpur Sharif (Lonely Planet Guide to Pakistan pronounces it as 'Sharakpur' Sharif).

It is essential part of Sunni Barelvi belief system that before entering graveyard (qabar'istan) and therefore, any Tomb / Shrine, one must be ritually pure. Therefore, we Sunni Barelvis make wuzu before making our hazri (appearance) in front of Sufi Saint.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Portrait: Shoemaker, Old city of Sharkapur Sharif

Date: 8th June, 2011.

Another trip, another sweltering heat, another place, another interesting person. This time it is Central Punjab (or is it just Punjab?) and we are here - me, Haroon's father and Adeel - at an old town of Sharakpur Sharif (also pronounced and written as, 'Sharaqpur'). And the first interesting person we see is this cobbler / shoemaker sitting on a pavement just outside the old city gate (there are three or four of these left now), polishing the Peshawari sandal. I say my salam and take his photograph but his response, unlike many there, is lukewarm. He isn't smiling at all. But he allows me the frame. I use 50mm for this frame and I think it just came out nicely.

Pakistani truck, Indus Highway, Sindh

We were going to Sehwan Sharif. I think we were four then: Me, Suffian Adhia, Raja Islam and Uzair Tahir. Or, maybe, one of the last two were missing. I cannot now recall because I don't have a group photograph. But I can very clearly recall the heat outside the car. The heat of Sindh is remarkable: It can kill you instantly.

This decorated truck was moving slowly in front of our speeding car. Being a double track (2-way traffic) the incoming cars were not allowing any space to move ahead of this truck. I took advantage of this situation and took the shot using, perhaps, Raja's Canon. I am happy with the results. And I am always happy when I see well maintained, decorated Pakistani trucks on the road. They are a moving form of cultural / folk art.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chestnut tree leaves, Chitral

In my diary style reporting on the latest trip (9th September, 2011 - 25th September, 2011) I did not mention this photograph of chestnut tree leaves lying on the garden just outside the Chitral Fort.

I like this photograph very much. Firstly, because a traveller to Chitral MUST never miss them. This tree epitomizes the stature of the man in Chitrali society. I was informed by a local Chitrali that every self-respecting must have this tree in his home garden. By that definition, the most powerful and rich man in Chitral, the Mehtar of Chitral (former rulers) should have lots of good chestnut trees. And sure enough there are those large, over 100-years old, grand chestnut trees all over the place. Their size must be understood via this frame of giant leaves on the floor.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nature : Marine Turtles, Hawksbay, Karachi

Nature: Marine Turtles
Originally uploaded by Ameer Hamza
Via Flickr:
One of the most magnificent species from the sea and from the land, Marine turtles defy common logic and much else to live their long, adventurous, often hazardous lives on oceans and on selected beaches of the world. They are a lovely creature full of enthusiasm for life and for their beautiful kids.

Their story begins much before they are born. Their mothers, totally aware of issues related to protection of species, lay many eggs. Many eventually won't turn out turtles at all. Some will be eaten by stray dogs, or crows or eagles. Others would be gulped down by various sea species. The left behind turtles would eventually grow up to become the mothers and fathers of this wonderland. They would, in their lifetime, travel thousands of kilometers to feed and to nest.

Pakistan's Sand spit beach (also called Turtle beach) is one of the rare nesting grounds for two species of Marine turtles, the Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) and the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas).

Heritage: Saint Paul's Church, Manoora, Karachi

Via Flickr:
Saint Paul's Church, Manora Island, Karachi, Pakistan.

It is a Protestant Church located at Coordinates: 24°47'37"N 66°58'39"E

Work: Begging at Empress Market

Via Flickr:
Begging at Karachi's premier market, Empress. Poverty is on the rise as inflation breaks new records, as more and more firms are closed down, and as more Pakistanis leave the country for good. Further afield, many Afghans are pouring down with no limbs or no hands or both, courtesy Soviet era land mines, which have devastated entire families and a way of life. Nine out of ten chances are that this beggar belongs to Afghanistan.

Portrait: Blind faqir, Jamshoro

It's September, its sweltering and it's 2006. General Musharraf is at the peak of his power but somehow the PPP wallahs and the courts are somewhat not easy with him. Pakistan's economy is shooting like hell. We are hearing the new money stars: Aqueel Karim Dadi, the Machyaras, the Mengals, the Sardars, Baloch nationalists... but where are the poor?

Here they are, in this frame. I love this frame for what it is. And I am doubly happy that it won a coveted Guardian (London) photography award. The editor at Guardian had this to say on this shot:

" 'Meet the Faqirs' stars grumpy Robert De Niro as a retired CIA operative who is relocated to Pakistan. Once there, he falls in with a wise blind grandmother and her soulful offspring - committed ascetics who have sworn off wordly possessions in their quest for spiritual enlightenment." '

There's nothing more left to say on this!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Published: Humsafar magazine Sep-Oct 2011 (PIA)

Kalat Fort

Khan-e-Kalat's Darbar

Page 4

Published: Humsafar magazine Sep-Oct 2011 (PIA)

Kalat Fort

Khan-e-Kalat's Darbar

Page 3

Published: Humsafar magazine Sep-Oct 2011 (PIA)

Kalat Fort

Khan-e-Kalat's Darbar

Page 2

Published: Humsafar magazine Sep-Oct 2011 (PIA)

Kalat Fort

Khan-e-Kalat's Darbar

Page 1

Lowari Tunnel, NHA Office, Pakistan

This photograph marks the end of my photography session of the entire trip, which stretches from our trek till this place. The heat had vanished suddenly, heavy clouds were hovering around and there was this general feeling that the place was tense but exceedingly beautiful. I was informed at this checkpost that all foreigners are now banned from visiting this place anymore due to espionage problems. Even Pakistanis - all of them and without any distinction - are stopped here and asked to produce their ID cards. Additionally, we were asked to delete all photographs of nearby places. I questioned the rationale here because, if you search and, then you will come across hundreds of photographs of this beautiful place. I let it pass and so did Zahid bhai. But Zahid bhai was also able to take the frame of Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Way to Lowari tunnel and top, Pakistan

And we were here, almost. We could just make out the haze surrounding the famed Lowari top. I could have been dreaming. The Pakistani trucks, decorated like brides, coming towards us in a single, slow, steady file. We weren't allowed to take the photograph of this very sensitive place. Our driver had told us to take photographs but discreetly. But the Army wallah had specifically requested us to avoid them altogether. Our ID cards had now been seen more times than in all of our 12-day trip previously. There was certainly something wrong with this place or the sensibilities. And then, I was reminded by our friend that during past Eid 250 Pakistani madrassah boys had been kidnapped by Taliban from across Afghanistan. More recently they had killed lot of Pakistani soldiers here. Understandably, photography was not permitted.

From Chitral to Lowari Pass

Date: 23rd Sep, 2011.

And our Toyota passed numerous mountains, people and places before coming to a screeching halt outside this stone place. I wasn't sure why until our driver informed us that new driver will take his place, instead. He would be sleeping in the trunk!

Whilst all preparations were taking place, we bargained for the pomegranates (5 Kg for Rs.350, no less); and I took this frame of a boy outside his stone home. This was also the home of our new, youngish driver. I cannot recall the name of the driver now. We picked up the speed again...

Chitral, Pakistan: Toyota everywhere

The photograph before this upload, that of Ayun valley, was taken after jumping out from this Toyota station wagon. In fact, everyone had jumped out of this vehicle to take that previous frame. A personal touch won't be out of place.

But I had forgotten to upload this photograph before. I wanted to share with you this DEVDAS and 'King of Chitral'; the PS number plate indicates that the custom had not been paid on this one and that it cannot be taken out of this province. Period. But you now know that the provincial government supports active rather than passive smuggling of vehicles.

This is Chitral and this frame was shot just before leaving the place.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Places in Pakistan: Ayun valley, Chitral dist.

Via Flickr:

September 23, 2011 at 12.42pm PKT

We were already late because I and Adeel had been roaming around the fort and then talking with the manager of the lodge. All that time, three others had been waiting impatiently near our hired car. According to them, when finally we reached them, we had wasted a lot of time and that we must be responsible, if we cannot make across the curfew. The curfew, as I was to know later, is in place every evening at Lowari tunnel due to Taliban. And I knew that we would be racing against time and military wallahs. I also knew that there would be no photography at or around Lowari tunnel, a project imitated by General Musharraf to ease the traffic flow in that strategically important area. Hence, we moved away and reached this beautiful place. Everyone, including Zahid bhai, who'd be dripping with anger, jumped out of the station wagon to shoot this stunning landscape.

One of the most beautiful valleys of Pakistan, Ayun valley is the gateway to the famous Kalash Kafir villages. I was lucky to have shaded clouds, which provided me with a classic landscape shot.