There is an association of water with spirituality just as there is with material progress. In both comparisons, the water stands out as a bridge between the known and the unknown worlds. For so long, the spiritual gurus have been teaching us that lesson and the economists tend to agree with it on their terms. We, the Muslims, are told that we will enter paradise only after drinking from the fountain of Kauthar. It is a fountain that is probably located near the gates of heaven. Similarly, the socio-political scientists share what is no longer a secret that the future wars would be fought over water resources. All this was reminiscent in my mind when I stood on top of a concrete structure while gazing at a large fresh water body ahead of me in otherwise a dry and barren valley. The place I visited recently is known as South Western Kohistan region of Pakistan’s Sindh province and the name of that spot as the Darawat Dam.
The moment we entered into this region, we realized how important water as commodity could be for the humanity. This area is a barren plain and rugged rocky terrain located on the foothills of Keerthar Mountain range, spreading across Baluchistan and Sindh. The water body is called Baran River that is a monsoon fed river and region becomes fertile only when there are plenty of rains here. The potential of this otherwise a barren land is so much that it becomes fertile within a few hours of rainfall. There are hardly any agricultural activities going on in this area but with the construction of Dam in 2014s onwards, surely there is bound to be some progress. This could well be the beginning of a new chapter in terms of prosperity and progress provided that the site is given its due share.
Located at the heart of Kohistan region of western Sindh in the vicinity of Thano Bula Khan Tehsil, Jamshoro district at Sindh, this dam is currently the largest of its parent province. It was constructed back in 2010 and became fully functional in the year 2014. Currently, it is operational and run by WAPDA while owned by Government of Pakistan. It required about PKR. 9.4 Billion for the completion of this concrete made gravity dam which is as high as 151 ft while it has a length of up to 1004 ft.
It is currently operational and has a total capacity of about 120,000 acre ft while its active capacity is about 89,000 acre ft. That makes its irrigation potential on average about 25,000 acres of land. Comparing it with other dams in Pakistan, it is more than double the size of Rawal Dam, Islamabad, the later having storage capacity of 47,508 ft compared to this with 89,000 acre ft. As far as Sindh province is concerned, this dam is its largest one. The next in line is Chotiari Dam which is comparatively only a fraction of about 608 acre feet in capacity.
Darawat Dam is situated at approximately 135 km from Karachi while its distance is about 66 km from Hyderabad. There is a turn nearby Nooriabad at Khi-Hyd Motorway which deviates from the main highway and takes us to an old and broken Road for further 40 km towards the hills where the dam is built. When I checked the Google map, it was showing about one and half hours of travel period from Hyderabad to the site whereas from Karachi it was about two and half hours drive. But this map was misleading. The actual time span could take an extra hour or so than the mentioned time.
It turned out to be that the map showed as if there was a proper road journey from motorway till the location of dam. Contrary, this was a mistake to assume as the track had not been re-built since eternity. There was no road for the next 30-35 km towards the hills but it was only made to appear so.
And whatever the road had been there, it was broken from various parts and most of the times laid out extremely unevenly. The rainy season made it further rough. We had found a large ditch between one patch of the road in the middle. The ditch was filled with plenty of water and sand, resulting in causing serious hindrance for our two wheel drive to pass through. My friend who was not a driver had told me to try and enter into the water from sideways, but I knew that once we entered the wet mudy water, the car would have stuck and there was no one to help us out in the nearly abandoned place. I stopped there and began to think. All our hopes to see the dam had nearly gone until I saw a local villager passing from a distant right side and who was going back to the highway.
I quickly turned back my car and followed that motorcyclist. After some distance, at last we intercepted him and asked about ways to reach the dam. He told about an alternative road that would bypass the ditch portion and would put us back to the main road leading towards the dam. But he also cautioned us against going at that time since there was rain prediction in some hours. In that case the alternative Katcha (uncemented) road too just like the ditch could make serious problems for us to cross back through that wet sand and trackless water ground.
Nevertheless, we still made our decision to visit the dam as my friend had made my mind that in case there will be rain and we’ll be stuck in this patch, we must not worry as we’ll find nearby village and maybe spend a night there or in our car. The reason was that people in this part were friendly looking and there seemed to be no issue of robbery or anything. There was a sizable Hindu population in that part of Kohistan near Thanu Bula Khan. They did not seem much threatening and looked fairly safe.
So, we took a gamble. We continued through alternative side while bypassing the ditch. Thereafter, we had reached our destination in next 40 or so minutes. Throughout the time, I had been thinking if it would begin to rain, I’ll immediately turn back from whichever point I would reach, let it be only one kilometer left for reaching the dam. I would still have turned back.
Later when we reached the dam and had spent some healthy thirty minutes there, we heard the sounds of thunder. As we were returning from the site, about fifteen minutes later it started raining. By that time about half an hour more to drive was remaining in successfully passing through that rough patch in our journey.
My friend said to me, “If they had invested so much on the Dam, why couldn’t they afford to connect it with the main motorway road? This place had the potential to be a nice picnic place for sure. Since he was a married man so I asked him, “Would you like to bring your family here for a picnic next time?” He said, “No! Not in this weather and not until they build a proper road link from highway all the way to Dam.
With construction of a proper road and related infrastructure, this place would be very accessible for the people of Karachi as well as Hyderabad. Otherwise, it’s unnecessarily a long journey for so few kilometers towards the end. The fun of witnessing the glory of rain fed Baran Nai, the river on which the dam is built, is of course during monsoon season. But it is possible to enjoy the site only if they build a proper road link.
The valley becomes fertile once a year during rains. In that case, this place is today a worthy outing site only for young enthusiasts who are in need of some adventure where they would not mind if situation gets worse, because it can get worse during rains. If not the most resourceful at the moment, it is still one of the peaceful with regards to security.
Back to our journey, we were thankful that it didn’t rain too much before we were done visiting the dam. That long water filled ditch which we had witnessed earlier and had bypassed its portion suggested that it had rained a few days before. And it started raining that day after we were done visiting the dam and were returning back to Hyderabad. Just when we drove about 15, 20 minutes from the Dam, the sky started opening its doors for heavy showers. By that time we were determined that we’d make it safely to the motorway as it would take some time for the water to build up.
There is a bit more to share about the return journey but briefly let us try to understand the landscape first. The dam spans across the Baran River which in local language is called as Nai Baran. The word comes from a small village namely Baran which is located at the edge of this river along the Balochistan-SIndh border. The stream then travels towards South East of Sindh through small hillock formations of the Kohistan region at the foothills of Keerthar Range. The Baran region can itself be considered as a small valley. The evidence suggests that back in past, this sandy plain and barren rocky terrain was once a fertile looking and beautiful valley. The traces of ancient past could be witnessed during monsoon season. Then for a brief period of time, this again becomes fertile and shows the glimpses of glorious past. So, the landscape will look barren as well as dry one day and after rain it would appear lush and green the next day.
During the rains, out of nowhere, this place becomes a green savannah where animals would be running all around in much jubilation and excitement. The birds, especially smaller ones, can also be seen as flying over the rain filled water streams which fall into the dam and do so willingly. The animal species here include Deer, Sindh Ibex, Cattle, Sheep, Hare, and Fox etc., The nature has taken care of all the species for so long. It is a fact that we as humans have mostly worked opposite to the interests of Mother Nature although only sometimes we have extended our helping hands to it. The construction of Darawat Dam is one of those few instances where we have made such exceptions.
Many settlements are located and scattered around the dam site. The village namely Jhangri is the closest from dam site. This one has a population of at least ten thousand in number. Otherwise, Thano Bula Khan tehsil (taluka) is the nearest of large towns. The later is well populated and it is one of the major centers at Kohistan region, in fact probably the largest. Nooriabad is another village that is nearby which comes between Karachi and Hyderabad Motorway. It is most known place since it comes along the highway. Its a part of Taluka Thano Bula Khan.
The feeling of being here can be best described while sharing some of the details about this Kohistan region, the location of the dam. The word Kohistan means the land of mountains. Interestingly, several places in Pakistan’s hilly areas are also named after the same word. So there is Kohistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan as well as in neighboring Afghanistan. This is because in local languages the word Koh means Mountain. Hence, this site is in the SIndh’s Kohistan, the point on the foothills of greater Keerthar Mountain range.
Here, the cultivation is possible through numerous streams called Nains which are actually the perennial river streams. Apart from these streams, the Darawat Dam project has many manmade channels under its program. Some we had seen during our journey, but there must be many more as well. These channels will significantly improve the agriculture and thereby add to the means of income for the locals.
Interestingly, on my way towards the Dam, I saw many fields and plains with green grass on them due to recent rains but no agricultural land was alloted to anyone. They were flat plains in the vicinity of mountains. Imagine they being utilized in agriculture sector, how productive the land will then become? After the rain, the land patches looked like grassy cricket grounds to me. What I fear is that influential small group of wealthy people will take over these uninhabited and uncultivated lands while poor inhabitants would not get a chance to boost their livelihood. The government must set some rules to sell the now uncultivated but potentially vital land after recently built dam. The local poor nomadic shepherds and their village population should take benefit from it, an idea that might only be a wishful thinking of mine but it would be great if it happens.
As far as population is concerned, many communities live here within the 80-120 sq km radius from the Dam site. These can benefit immensely from the dam. The main centre is Thano Bula Khan but many villages add up as well. Various people of different tribes, ethnicities, and even religion live here. These include both Muslims and Hindus. Among different castes some are Shoras, Khaskhelis, Gabols, Burfats, and Birhamanis. The Baloch tribes such as Gabols have sizable presence. This is so beacause Kohistan has been historically closer to Balochistan and it has direct influences of mentioned culture.
One of the striking features of this Kohistani region includes its historical graveyards. As I previously shared, this region was once a lush fertile valley opening up to the plains of lower Sindh. So, there must have been interest in this area for people to settle down. Also, since this was on route from Sindh to Balochistan, so the antiquity of this place is undoubted. This can be seen in the form of eloquent graves present in the nearby graveyards. Some names of sites include the Sakhi Jam Necropolis which is about seven kilometers away from Thano Bula Khan and Taung Necropolis which is about seventy nine kilometers away from the same city. When compared to the distance from Dam, these locations are about 20, 30 km nearer.
These graves are decorated with many figures of animals and birds. The structures are similar in shape to Chaukundi graves of Karachi. These ones are embroidered with stones and highly decorated with artwork. The design looks like an extension of Makli-Thatta tradition. It also suggests that once this region was certainly a stopover of wealthy and affluent ones who had occasionally been traveling from Sindh to Balochistan via this route.
The region also holds within her belly an ancient Buddhist site called Akh Pati. Its location is near Taung village. It also testifies that from 1st to 7th century A.D., this was one of the centers of Budddhism, the then dominant or significant religion here. Still, much effort is required to preserve the historical sites of surrounding Kohistan areas that might give more clues into the ancient and medieval society existent by then.
As per some surveys, it is believed that Sindh province contains approximately three thousand sites of archeological significance out of which nearly twelve hundred are either unprotected or completely neglected. This shows that we are sitting on a time bomb of history but the record keeping of past is so minimum that with the advancement of modern tools of research, it will take some time to explore more of the buried secrets.
It is hoped that with the fully operational Darawat Dam alongside its canals flowing, this region will once again become a fertile looking mini valley just as it used to be a thousand years ago. The prosperity as well as social mobility would bring back the attention of archeologists and researchers towards many undiscovered sites of both historical importance and tourism related spots.
At present, however, even the road that leads from the main highway towards the dam is not yet properly built, what to speak about exploring the nearby attractive spots. I really wanted to explore more but the upcoming rain potentially restricted our time spent in the area.
The state of deprivation and lack of development here can be understood through a social situation. Consider you are walking in a developed western country and seeing majority of people around who are too walking in the streets of New York or London. The first thing you’ll notice is that they will all look to belong from the same times. Yes, some will be wearing expensive clothes and holding newer versions of smart phones and laptops, but still the era and times would feel the same.
On the other hand, when you visit Karachi’s defense area and you visit this Kohistan and Thano Bula Khan site, you’ll notice that people would seem like living in two completely different times. The first ones would be in modern times while the second a thousand year back. The gap further gives rise to unequal opportunities for progress. I hope with the construction of this Dam, may be they will be brought back from the past and into the present while stepping into the future.
After all the sightseeing and useless thinking when I could not have done for them anything except writing this post in hope that it will be of some value to them, I started heading back to Hyderabad. So back to the journey, till we had made only 15 minutes drive from the dam, the heaven opened up its gates and it all began to rain all over our car. We still needed to make 35 minutes or so to the highway. The ground started to become moist; the sand started threatening our car with dire consequences. Regardless, we were determined to get out and reach back to our home.
We had found a local Suzuki Carry joining us from nearby village and it was going to the main highway. My friend asked me to follow that vehicle. I did that but as soon as we moved further, their vehicle moved leftwards. I said to my friend, “They are not going to their village and not with us to the highway.” Then we continued forward until we reached to the opposite side of the same ditch filled with water that we had seen from opposite side of the road while going towards the dam. We had realized that the Carry was actually going the right way and towards the main highway, so we quickly turned back and followed it to the trackless plain. Thank God! On a rainy day from bumpy road, sandy plains, and trackless terrain, we had traveled about 25 minutes and still emerged out on the highway with our two wheel drive pretty safely in the end.
On our way back, we realized that just like there was immense potential for the locals to progress, there was similar potential for tourism to flourish in this region. In a country like Pakistan where so many natural and manmade wonders have found their space in the land since thousands of years, it is only pity how there is no infrastructure or facility for the citizens to visit them what to speak of foreign tourists. This should not have been that way.
We find so many countries in the developed world that have invested so much to develop their tourism industry, why can’t we do that here? Recently, the government has been trying to promote tourism through advertisements. That is the way forward, but at the same time practical steps beyond media need to be taken on ground. Unfortunately, there is no such pressure from local population to speak for it since they are not even coping up with finding regular meals for their families. Most of the population is under lower middle class and it is not given access to proper educational facilities. The very few hold the flag of their voices and even though they surely do, I don’t remember their names. The media accessibility in this area is also insignificant. The way our modern society in the country has closed the doors to these unprivileged communities do work in the favor of their masters. Who says the age of slavery is gone when poor people have been deliberately put under poverty line despite the room for development?
As tourists we who reside nearby urban centers to the site such as Karachi and Hyderabad must make our minds to visit this site at least once. This is our national treasure and these people are our own. It is expected that with more and more tourists heading to this neglected Kohistan valley, there will be progress both physically and on human level.
By traveling here, we can communicate with locals who are unaware of their own potential privileges that a mega million project such as Dam is being built here. They can surely take advantage from it. The more frequently we would travel within our least progressive lands, the more we would be narrowing down the gap between our people and their lifestyles. Therefore, we MUST travel and we should definitely check out the Darawat Dam near Thano Bula Khan at Jamshoro District especially when we happen to live in cities such as Karachi and Hyderabad. Yes, there is road and lack of accessibility issue but it’s not much a problem for those seeking adventure while having nicest intentions. They should definitely visit this beautiful site and it’s potentially as well as economically significant dam.
The uniqueness of this site can be realized from the fact that without rainfall this region is extremely dry, barren, and rugged terrain. There is nothing there to visit. But as soon as the clouds cover the surrounding and it begins to rain, the dead land literally takes only hours to become a grassy and fertile plain between the hills. Then at such a land, a dam has been constructed that stores the water from a rain fed seasonal river, the Baran Nai. The significance of such a site must be as huge as Nile for the Egyptians.
Perhaps there is spiritual magnitude of the site that we don't often see through our physical eyes. Only when some element that is so vital for survival becomes that scarce and then we suddenly see its abundance in front of our very eyes, this is not just a pleasant experience but highly spiritual one too. Water, the element of both material and immaterial importance, can open up the farthest hidden doors locked deep inside our minds. Then it will all begin to clear within, all the understanding of supreme reality would manifest itself in its truest form. That is the reason surely the Darawat dam will attract all kinds of admirers, both of this world and the other.