Book Review – Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia


Empires of the Indus: The Story of a RiverEmpires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia
5 of 5 stars

The Empires of the Indus is a magnificent travelogue covering the trail of Sindhu or Indus river starting from Sindu Delta in Arabian sea and working upstream its way up through Pakistan, Afganistan, India and finally to its source Sense Khabab or Lion’s Mouth at Tibet. Sindhu river, more popularly known by its Greek name Indus is one of most important rivers in the history of human civilisation. It is on the banks of Sindhu river that the first cosmopolitan cities of Mohanjodaro and Harappa were inhabited in antiquity. It is where language first took root in human consciousness and mother of all languages, Sanskrit was codified by Panini some four thousand years back. But above all, it is where for the first time humans consciousness matured enough to enquire about its own self existence, its own relationship with universe and where the concepts of Being, Self, Gods and Almighty were first formed. The Rigveda, the oldest attempt in understanding self consciousness and the most sacred religious scripture of Sanatana Dharma was written on the banks of Indus. Buddha lived beside it during previous incarnations. Sikhism thrived around it, Muslim Sultans waded through it, British invaded it by gunboat, colonised it and then severed this namesake river from India in 1947.

The book is not an ordinary travelogue but also a refresher course in history as it covers the stories of the kings and empires based around Indus. It covers Darius’s march into Indus valley and then Alexander’s attempt to better it through his Macedonian army as described in Arrian. Alexander ever energetic wanted to cross Indus and invade India proper but Indus crossing had made the Macedonian army so wearied that they revolted and the Great one had to beat a hasty retreat. It also tells the story of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni who treaded Indus to repeatedly attack India but mostly failed to get the loot back to Afganistan over the Indus crossings where river currents would wash off most of it. Later Mughals traversed the same path and on crossing Indus they never went back their homeland of Samarkand. Once Mughal power waned, the Sikhs took control of the Indus banks and stopped any more invasions into India through its eastern passes. But British came crawling up from south and finally subdued them and stamped their authority on the Indus. Sindhu river was the soul of India and gave the country its name but was brutally severed from it in the bloody partition in 1947, now its part of Islamic Pakistan who could’t care less about its historic past because of it’s misplaced obsession with bygone Islamic glory.

The book also traces the lives of people still living in the river’s shadow like Kalash people who trace their ancestry to ancient Aryans, people in SWAT or Svatsu who in ancient times delved into Buddhist philosophy but have been reduced by Islamic puritanism into dumb illiterates now, Ladhakhi Dards who carved stone inscriptions on the upper reaches of Indus and Tibetan Droks who still follow their centuries old pastoral lives on the banks of Indus river.

Its an incredible journey made by Alice Albinia to the source of Indus and this magnificient travelougue give us a peek into the ancient past when rivers were the lifeline of human civilisation, when these waterways were revered as deities and when these fast flowing rivulets inspired people to write colossal works like RigVeda, Upanishads and Guru Granth Sahib.

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