The northern part of Pakistan is beautiful. The flat, dusty plain of the Punjab rises first to bare hills, then to high mountains,
where valleys lie flat between steep, wooded slopes, and the sun gleams on
distant, snow-clad peaks. Alexander the Great came here. King Ashoka made Mansehra one of his seats of
government. A thousand years later, Taimur Lang left soldiers at Mansehra, to
guard the road between Kabul and Kashmir. A hundred
years after him, the Mughal emperor Akbar took the same road to Kashmir.
After the British annexed the Punjab
(including the Northern Areas) in 1848, they began the great task of
documenting it. They wrote gazetteers,
describing every detail of the people, vegetation and geography of the area. When photography arrived, they took
photographs. I first saw Omar Khan’s “From Kashmir to Kabul” two years ago, while researching my
new novel, “Companions of Paradise.” The
book was just what I needed to see—a catalogue of black and white images taken
only a few years after ‘Companions’ ends. They perfectly capture a place and
time, making it easy for me to picture the British army on the move in 1842,
and the people of Kabul
who fought them.
Photographers John Burke and William Baker lead us from the
Punjab to Kabul,
showing us people and cities and scenery as they were nearly 150 years ago.
It is in the northern areas that the South Asian Earthquake of 2005 took place, destroying whole
mountain villages, wiping out schools and hospitals, and killing tens of
thousands of people.
We must rebuild these villages and towns, and restore the
livelihood of the proud people who have lived in this region for so many
thousands of years.
Thalassa Ali is the author of “A Singular
Hostage,” “A Beggar at the Gate,” and the forthcoming “Companions of Paradise.”
These books are set in 19th Century Lahore and