Indus Dreams

انڈس کے خواب

I will follow the Indus to find my country and to find myself.

2015, on the bus:
He flashed a knife and asked, “where are you from?”

I’m Pakistani. Maybe you’ve never thought about Pakistan, and why should you? Can you find it on a map? Can you conjure an image? When you hear that I am Pakistani, does that frighten you?

2021, on a walk:
“I haven’t seen a hat like that since Afghanistan.”

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Despite what you may have seen, it's a complicated place. Are we Islamic if we don’t attend mosque? Am I Muslim, or am I only Muslim to you?

Did you know that before 1947, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan were one country under British rule? Partition is the name of the event that divided us along religious lines. Pakistan does not have a caste system. It is a point of pride. The white in our flag represents our minority population. My papa tells me that the untouchables converted to Islam and Christianity to find a better life. Is that why the best job prospect for the husband of our cleaner, a Christian woman named Nazira, is cleaning the sewers?

Why is a favorite topic among Pakistan’s “the problem of Pakistan?” Are we a problem? Can we be solved?
What about our women? Why did I grow up surrounded by outspoken and independent women who handed over their inheritance to brothers who squandered it? Why did Pakistan elect the first female Prime Minister in the Muslim world, and then assassinate her 20-years later?

What about my clan name, Sheikh, which means king in Arabic? The reality is that before converting to Islam and gaining the new honorarium, my Hindu ancestors grew up on the banks of the Jhelum river, a tributary of the Indus.

ہم دیکھیں گے
“We shall see”

In Pakistan, buildings are torn down, languages fade, borders are contested, and lives are lost. Maybe it is like this in your country too. I find myself searching for a constant and I return to the river. The Indus. Come to the river with me and let’s see.

میں اپنے ملک کو تلاش کرنے اور اپنے آپ کو تلاش کرنے کے لیے سندھ کا پیچھا کروں گا۔

2015، بس پر:
اس نے چاقو چلاتے ہوئے پوچھا، تم کہاں کے ہو؟

میں پاکستانی ہوں۔ شاید آپ نے کبھی پاکستان کے بارے میں نہیں سوچا ہوگا، اور آپ کیوں سوچیں؟ کیا آپ اسے نقشے پر ڈھونڈ سکتے ہیں؟ کیا آپ تصویر بنا سکتے ہیں؟ جب آپ سنتے ہیں کہ میں پاکستانی ہوں تو کیا آپ کو خوف آتا ہے؟

2021، سیر پر:
’’میں نے افغانستان کے بعد سے ایسی ٹوپی نہیں دیکھی۔‘‘

اسلامی جمہوریہ پاکستان۔

اس کے باوجود جو آپ نے دیکھا ہو گا، یہ ایک پیچیدہ جگہ ہے۔ اگر ہم مسجد میں نہیں آتے تو کیا ہم اسلامی ہیں؟ کیا میں مسلمان ہوں، یا میں صرف آپ کے لیے مسلمان ہوں؟

کیا آپ جانتے ہیں کہ 1947 سے پہلے ہندوستان، بنگلہ دیش اور پاکستان ایک ہی ملک برطانوی حکومت کے تحت تھے؟ تقسیم اس واقعہ کا نام ہے جس نے ہمیں مذہبی خطوط پر تقسیم کیا۔ پاکستان میں ذات پات کا نظام نہیں ہے۔ یہ فخر کا مقام ہے۔ ہمارے جھنڈے میں سفید رنگ ہماری اقلیتی آبادی کی نمائندگی کرتا ہے۔ میرے پاپا مجھے بتاتے ہیں کہ اچھوتوں نے بہتر زندگی کی تلاش کے لیے اسلام اور عیسائیت اختیار کی۔ کیا یہی وجہ ہے کہ ہمارے کلینر کے شوہر، نذیرہ نامی ایک مسیحی خاتون کے لیے نوکری کا بہترین امکان، گٹر کی صفائی کر رہی ہے؟

پاکستان کا "مسئلہ پاکستان" میں ایک پسندیدہ موضوع کیوں ہے؟ کیا ہم ایک مسئلہ ہیں؟ کیا ہم حل ہو سکتے ہیں؟
ہماری عورتوں کا کیا ہوگا؟ میں کیوں کھلی ہوئی اور آزاد عورتوں سے گھری ہوئی ہوں جنہوں نے اپنی میراث ان بھائیوں کے حوالے کر دی جنہوں نے اسے ضائع کیا؟ پاکستان نے مسلم دنیا کی پہلی خاتون وزیر اعظم کو کیوں منتخب کیا اور پھر 20 سال بعد ان کا قتل کیوں کیا؟

میرے قبیلے کے نام شیخ کے بارے میں کیا خیال ہے جس کا عربی میں مطلب بادشاہ ہے؟ حقیقت یہ ہے کہ اسلام قبول کرنے اور نیا اعزاز حاصل کرنے سے پہلے، میرے ہندو آباؤ اجداد دریائے جہلم کے کنارے پلے بڑھے تھے، جو کہ دریائے سندھ کی معاون ہے۔

ہم دیکھیں گے۔
"ہم دیکھیں گے"

پاکستان میں عمارتیں منہدم ہو جاتی ہیں، زبانیں مٹ جاتی ہیں، سرحدیں لڑی جاتی ہیں اور جانیں جاتی ہیں۔ شاید آپ کے ملک میں بھی ایسا ہو۔ میں اپنے آپ کو ایک مستقل کی تلاش میں پاتا ہوں اور میں دریا کی طرف لوٹ جاتا ہوں۔ سندھ۔ میرے ساتھ دریا پر آؤ اور دیکھتے ہیں۔

Image Gallery • تصویری گیلری

The images featured in this gallery are part of an on-going series.

Images will be added or removed on an as needed basis

اس گیلری میں نمایاں کردہ تصاویر ایک جاری سیریز کا حصہ ہیں۔

ضرورت کے مطابق تصاویر کو شامل یا ہٹا دیا جائے گا۔

Colorful painting on the back of a Pakistani Bedford truck
Raja Amanullah’s Truck
Backside of a Cargo Truck
colorful lanterns hanging from a tree
Painted Lanterns
Lanterns painted like Pakistani Trucks hang from a tree in a café
Satpara Lake on a Sunny day
The Bluest Blue
The glaciers melting at Deosai supply Satpara lake with its water. The construction of a dam downstream has enlarged the size of the lake. I have never seen such crystalline waters in my life.
Butcher takes a chicken out of the cage to sell
The Butcher
A local butcher takes out a chicken for a customer. It was a surreal experience. In America, I am used to seeing chicken neatly packaged in plastic and styrofoam, bathed in preservatives and wiped free of blood. Here, though, I saw the butcher take the chicken out of the cage, and slit its throat. I saw it being skinned, and cleaned, prepared for the customer. As I talked to the old man, he told me that in order for meat to be halal, it has to meet three conditions: 1) the animal being butchered must be a certain age 2) it should have lived a comfortable and happy life 3) and when the time comes to kill, it must happen with the sharpest blade and in a manner that gives the least amount of pain to the animal. As brutal and uncomfortable as the whole process was to see, in some ways, it also seemed more humane.
Young trees growing in the waters of the Indus in Shok Valley
The Gift of Green
Realizing the impacts that deforestation has had on the river and the mountains, the locals have set up numerous programs throughout the valley where they have replanted trees along the Indus. In less than five years, you can already see the difference the program has made. Slowly, the browns of the eroding mountains are becoming anchored in a blanket of green, bringing back the wildlife that once thrived in the valley.
View of the river and mountains from a bridge
Big Waters
Looking at the Indus River going downstream from the glaciers Deosai, Pakistan
A foggy picture showing houses on a hill
Muree Brewery
Pakistan, being a dry country, has only one official brewery—"The Murree Brewery Company" They were originally headquartered in a beautiful gothic building in the mountains of Muree. The building was burnt during the partition riots of 1947/48. The Ruins of the building still exist in Murree and are a testimony to the grandeur of the Brewery Building as it once stood. This image is taken from the ruins, looking at at the houses that sprang around it.
Photograph showing the side of a mined mountain.
Mountain, Mined
I grew up in Chattar Valley, in the foothills of the Himalayas. A few hours trek from my home led me to this illegal mining site which locals tell me was closed sometime during the 90s. All the machinery that was installed to blow the mountain up for rocks is still there, rusting to dust. The scars these machines caused are still evident: the mountain is missing half its face. Gigantic boulders, leftover from the mining days, obstruct the flow of the Korang River at the base of the mountain. Another tributary to the Indus, weakened.
Fish swimming in the water
Spirit in the Sky
Sillhoutte of a girl and a boy walking into the sunset.
On our way home
Despite the darkness, I am filled with hope.
A dusty road with the mountains in the background
The Road to Deosai
The silhouette of a man seen in the snow
Tangled Up
Murree, 2020
A Pakistani cab-driver waits for a ride outside KFC.
Waiting for a ride outside KFC
A school-boy going home across desert Sand-dunes in the Katpana desert
End of School
Life is tough in the remote Himalayan desert. Children have to walk long distances to get to school, along treacherous mountain passes and steep valleys. This picture was taken shortly after a massive sandstorm that had left our vehicles stranded in the sand. Interestingly, despite the challenges caused by the rugged terrain to obtaining an education, the Himalayan region has one of the highest literacy rate in the country, both amongst boys and girls.
A deodar tree enveloped in a thick fog
Foggy Memories
It got foggy on my way back from the ruins of Muree Brewery. Why is it that I am always traveling to and from ruins in Pakistan?
Sunshiney Day
After our car broke down in the middle of a sandstorm in the middle of the Sarfaranga desert, we decided to stop by for tea at a local diner beside the Indus. It was a bright sunshiny day.
McFood, 2019
McFood food stall, opposite of the McDonalds. McDonalds closed earlier this year, McFood is still there (2020).
Black and white photo of a well
Littered Waters
A littered well, originally built around the time that Alexander the Great passed through.
A little girl wearing a red dress
Uprooted Lives
This little girl had the sweetest smile, and kept following me around because the camera made her curious. I asked if I could take her picture, and she became very happy but bashful. She has two elder sisters, both serving as strong role models for her. Their father has to work long hours and has to go to great lengths to ensure that they get the best education. But they are very poor. They were allowed to stay in this skeletal property while it was under construction. Recently, however, I learned that they were told to leave the house. I look at this picture, and am filled with pain. How easy it is for the privilege to uproot lives, without consequence.
A view of a small village near the banks of the Indus on a sunny afternoon
Painted Mountains
A view of a small village near the banks of the Indus on a sunny afternoon
The Indus river on a sunny day in Deosai National Park
Where the Indus is blue
The Indus flows through the plains of Deosai, water so clear that it scintillates everything in its reflection
Fisherman cleaning a yellow Kayak
Fisherman at Karakorum
Fisherman cleaning their boats. 2020
The Indus gives life to the desert as it passes through Katpana. Shot in infrared.
A view of the river running through Katpana desert shot in infrared.
Retreating Waters
According to the locals, Indus used to be a lot wider, feeding the green marshes and trees that pepper the landscape. Over the years, the Indus has been slowly changing course, and the desert has been taking over. Infrared film was first developed by the military so that they could easily see camouflaged soldiers as they hid in the vegetation. This picture was taken during a sandstorm in the middle at the Sand dunes at Katpana. One could barely see the vegetation, so I used infrared filter to bring out the colors to be able to see the green—in pink.
A black and white picture of branches of a tree dried from the heat
Desiccated tree at Taxila
The heat was brutal. I saw a tree rising high amongst the ruins of the ancient city. It was leafless, as if the sun had burnt the life off of it. It reminded me of Faiz's poem: "This is the way that autumn came to the trees: it stripped them down to the skin, left their ebony bodies naked. It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves, scattered them over the ground. Anyone could trample them out of shape undisturbed by a single moan of protest. The birds that herald dreams were exiled from their song, each voice torn out of its throat. They dropped into the dust even before the hunter strung his bow. Oh, God of May have mercy. Bless these withered bodies with the passion of your resurrection; make their dead veins flow with blood again. Give some tree the gift of green again. Let one bird sing." Amen.
Electric Fees
I walked down the stairs to the basement in the bazaar, where things were much darker. In the distant, I heard an electric hum radiating from tiny red dots sprinkled in the blackness like burning constellations. I walked towards them. When I got close enough, I powered on my flash, and took a picture that sums up exactly how I feel about my country. On the hand, I find it frustrating beyond belief. Why couldn’t the electrician install the meters in a neat and tidy grid? why did they have to install them in such an awkward spot? And why on earth could the wires not be hidden, or at least concealed in a pipe? The Wires...oh how the wires drive me crazy. But on the other hand, these meters have been ticking for over 25 years, without any problems, powering the shops above. And there is something charming about the chaos, revealing stories and character that make for an interesting story. notice the wire that somebody’s hands carefully wrapped in masking tape, or perhaps the “2nd floor” scribbled with a sharpie on the cracked plywood. Look deeper still and you’ll notice names inscribed on the meters in Urdu, names like “Asif butt,” that time is slowly fading into the plastic. Notice the intermingling of languages: Urdu, then English, then back to Urdu again. History chaotically layered upon history, ticking away.
Tall Karakorum peaks photographed against the side of a mountain road
Looking Back
The Karakorum range as seen from the road to Deosai
Desert Storm
The mountains linger like ghostly shadows during a sandstorm in Katpana.
People crammed in a commuter white van peer through the window
People crammed into a bus, on their way home after a long winters day. I used to occasionally take this van home from school. Standing on the other side, taking a picture, that moment feels like another life.
Green hills with dramatic lighting in Deosai National park
It was incredible. Tall mountains rising higher and higher. Rugged, brown, imposing. As soon as you turned the corner through, the world turned green. At over 14000ft, Deosai is the second highest plateau in the world. It looked like something out of a fairytale, a place where clouds are born.
A shephard in a desert cutting branches from a tree to feed his flock
The Shephard
A farmer cuts down a tree in the deser to feed his flock
A man going home during a sandstorm in Katpana desert
Going Home
Katpana, 2021
A truck driver poses for a photo inside his decorated truck
Truck Driver
A thick dirty beard, bloodshot eyes, he hasn't bathed for days as he is making his way across the country, driving cargo from Sindh to the Himalayas. He is Pathan, and Pathans are often unfairly stereotyped across the country as rugged, masculine and not too bright. Step inside his colorfully painted truck, and you will find a sensitive man who was filled his world with flowers and rainbow colors as he makes his way across one the most dangerous roads in the world.
Clouds expanding from behind a mountaintop
Clouds expanding in Shok valley.
A black and white photograph of a Stupa at the ancient city of Sirkap, Pakistan
A stupa at the ancient city of Sirkap in Taxila. The city is still being excavated, the archaeologists peeling away layers of time. So far, they have gone past the buddhist time period, and dug all the way back in time to the grecian layer. The Harrapans, the Aryans, the Greeks, the Kushans, the Mauryans, the Mongols, the British...So many empires and people have walked through these cities, bringing their culture and changing the demographics of the people in these lands. East vs. West, Muslim vs Hindu...all these narratives and silos imposed as fictions upon us seem to crumble as I walk along the decaying roads and alleys at Sirkap, seeing each layer of forgotten empires embedded in dust and stone. What is it to be Pakstani or a muslim, when my DNA belongs to people I am told are now the enemies?
A cloudy day as the sun sets over the Karakoram mountains
The sun setting over the Karakoram range.
Clouds speckle a dramatic mountainous landscape
From the roof of the world
Deosai, 2021
A Pathan grandfather with his grandchild
Grandfather and Child
Photograph of a Pathan grandfather with his grandchild. The soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 70s, the American arming of the Afghan Taliban to fight soviets, the American war in Afghanistan in the 2000s, and the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has created one of the largest refugee crisis in the world. Many of these refugees fled to Pakistan. Officially, the country today is hosting 1,435,445 registered Afghan refugees, making it the third largest host country of refugees in the world. Unofficially the numbers are much higher. In the picture, you can see an Afghan man who came as a refugee in the 80s with his newly born grand-daughter.
A vendor selling coffee to tourists in Murree.
Murree, 2019

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