adventure travel & photography
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"Explanations make many things clear, But love is only clear in silence" Rumi
"As you start to walk on the way, the way appears" Rumi
I had seen the Sufis in Istanbul many years ago, but what we saw at Lal Temple in Sehwan, Pakistan blew us away. I was leading a small group through southern Pakistan, and the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine was one of the stops we had planned.
We found ourselves in a beautiful mosque with a sizeable marble-clad courtyard. We would be attending the Sufi ritual called Dhamaal (or Dhmaal). The vast hall was divided into two parts by a path in the middle, separating the women from the men. Behind the men, there was another room where more women were seated. A group of men sat next to a few large drums lined up next to the middle path.
The musicians began to drum, and the atmosphere became frantic. The men stood up and began to dance humbly. It was not just a dance but a dance-like trance.
We sat behind the drums, so the scene played out right in front of us. Two other men walked forward and began playing the trumpets, adding new nuances to the music. The melodies coming from the drums and trumpets gradually increased in intensity. The rhythms and sounds became wild, irresistible and energetic, driving the men mad and accelerating the craziness of the trance.
It was as if they were going to go mad at any moment. Everyone in the group of men fell into a trance all at once. The women behind us were already rolling on the floor in wild ecstasy, others screaming and dancing. The female arousal was somehow different from the male, but I couldn't define exactly how.
We were warned not to photograph the women, so I tried to memorise their faces, emotions and movements. It seemed that the two halves of the hall radiated different energies, but both male and frenzied female emotions increasingly saturated the atmosphere! Later, on my way out, I saw a man lying unconscious and exhausted on the floor.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any crazier, a small group of men in red robes appeared among the drums and dancers. They greeted the musicians, gave them their blessings, and then began the whirling dance called Dhamaal, the main event of the evening. Through Dhamaal, one achieves union with God, transformation, complete surrender and merging with the Divine. Dhamaal is the same whirling dance that is called Sema in other countries. In Turkey, for example, the dervishes perform the same whirling movements, but they wear white robes and long skirts.
The dervishes in the Lal temple were dressed in red robes, and their movements were like a dance, not just whirling. The faces of some of them were creepy, especially that of the one dancing directly above me.
The excitement seemed to have crossed the thin red line, the boundary beyond which one feels strange vibrations and a different state of mind and matter. Though I try to write about it, I believe there is no way to describe it. It can only be felt. To fully experience this event, one must be open, understanding, aware and willing to accept new feelings and strange thoughts. We have experienced Ihsan - the perfect worship that lies at the heart of Sufi mysticism.
After leaving the shrine, we stopped at a small street food restaurant. There were large wooden platforms on which we climbed and sat cross-legged. Two boys served us food, but we couldn't do anything with the food in front of us. We had a hard time finding words to talk about what we had just seen and felt.
Of course, the conversation turned to Rumi (Mevlana Jellleddin Rumi), the most famous Sufi poet. Rumi's love storey with the wandering Shams Tabrizi is well known. Rumi's "religion of love" got him into some trouble with official Islam in the 13th century, but he was never persecuted. On the other hand, his lover, Shams Tabrizi, was tormented and hated. People loved Rumi, and they still do today because of his "religion of love". Many poets and artists of that time have been forgotten, but not Rumi. The proof was that we sat on these wooden platforms and talked about him - a man who lived seven centuries ago.
This author has compiled Rumi's verse into a treasure trove that spans the poet's life and includes his most famous and poignant work.
At the Lal Temple in Sehwan, Dhamaal is performed every Thursday night. You can experience Dhmaal also in Lahore.
Digital downloads and prints available
Sehwan can be easily reached by train. Two trains stop each day at Sehwan railway station: the Bolan Mail runs between Karachi and Quetta, and the Khushal Khan Khattak Express runs between Karachi and Peshawar.We had our own transportation and a local guide, and maybe that would be the best way to travel to the city and the shrine itself.
More about Pakistan
Travel to Pakistan
I organise and lead small groups to Pakistan through my licensed travel agency "Thousand Voyages" Ltd. You can find out more about the guided tours here. A list of all scheduled tours can be found here.
Books about Pakistan
Free delivery worldwide (with no minimum spend) from Book Depository (Amazon), a leading international book retailer. Please click on the title of the book to read the full description and to buy it.
Most probably you would need a visa for Pakistan. Pakistan's Ministry of Interior introduced the Single-entry Tourist eVisa for citizens of 175 countries. This eVisa has a validity of 3 months and allows travellers to enter the country for tourist purposes and it enables them to stay in Pakistan for up to 30 days. You can check out the procedure here.
Do not travel without travel insurance! World Nomads, as it is the only company that covers an unlimited budget, provides coverage of a massive bunch of adventure activities and you can purchase it while on the road. Get a free quote using the form.