The hidden treasures of Thar
For people living in Karachi, travel plans usually involve long breaks from work and school to journey either to another country or up north to Pakistan’s stunning mountains. But what if such a long break is inconvenient and all one has are a couple of days? What if the funds are not enough to buy air tickets for the entire family? In that case, consider a short trip to the ancient sand dunes of Thar. You will not regret it.
Last year, I took my family along to explore Thar and Nagarparkar on a weekend long excursion. I had low expectations, having heard the usual horror stories about Thar. But I was willing to give the desert a chance to open up its hidden treasures to me.
I have never been more satisfied about any travel related decision I have ever taken.
Now, for the details, if you are travelling from Karachi, you can take one of the two routes that will get you to Thar and Nagarparkar. The longer route winds its way through Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, and Naukot. The shorter route goes via Hyderabad to Tando MUhammad Khan, then Badin and finally to Mithi. I took the latter route and reached my destination in seven hours.
If seven hours seems too long a drive, then consider that from Badin to Mithi, the drive is perhaps the most scenic one in all of Sindh. Lined on both sides by ever shifting sand dunes, the vastness of the desert envelops its visitors as soon as they enter. If you are lucky, you will be greeted by the sight of a flying peacock.
At Mithi, we stayed at a guest house. We left our luggage there and went on to Ghati Bhitt, a hilltop from where the whole city of Mithi is visible. This is a famous spot, and it was crowded but not overtly so. For a small sum, we were able to see a horse dance and a snake charmer. We came back down for dinner. The main bazaar is pretty much like any small town market. You can find restaurants, pan shops, desert shops. Almost every Pakistani bank has a branch here, so if you are running short on cash, this is the time to hit the ATMs.
Early the next morning, we made our way over to Nagarparker. From Mithi, this spot is 115 kilometers away. It should not take you more than an hour and a half to complete this leg of the journey. This drive is also quite scenic, dotted with wetlands and salt water lakes. There are quite a few small factories here that extract salt from the water, but they don’t spoil the view.
Our first destination was Budhesar village. Here stands the Budhesar mosque, which is built upon the spot where Sultan Mahmud Ghazni used to pray, while resting here on his way back home. Later, Sultan Mahmud Begada, the ruler of Gujrat, built a mosque here. A short walk away is the Budhesar Jain Mandir, surrounded by the remains of three temples, but the others have fallen into ruin. Many of the walls were taken apart by the locals who used the bricks to build their own homes.
Cross the temple and go towards the Keronjar Hills, where you will find two Hindu temples at the foot of the hills. Do walk up to the top of Keronjar, the view is well worth the hike.
To reach our next destination, we had to go through the Keronjar Hills and then pass a long queue at a check post, but finally, we reached the town of Nagarparker. If you want to avoid the check post, turn right just before the queue and cross through the main bazaar. The roads here were pot holed but the views were gorgeous. Your first stop here should be Marui’s well. Here, legend has it, Marui was drawing water when Prince Umar saw her and kidnapped her to Umerkot.
Another four kilometers in is the Jain temple at Gorri. It’s similar in architectural style to the temple at Budhesar, but far superior in craftsmanship and finish. It is said to have been built during the heydays of the Sodha, in the late fourteenth century. However, there is no government inscription here to inform visitors of its actual history. The temple is cocooned in an enclosure with an open space on the northern side. It is constructed with Jodhpuri stone that feels like marble.
We went back to Mithi and stayed there for the night. The next morning we went through Badin and Thatta to reach Karachi. Our total expense was around 30 thousand rupees. It was, frankly, a small amount to pay for enjoying the beauty of Thar.
The writer is a businessman and a travel enthusiast.