The Battle of Salher – 1672

This is sample chapter from my latest book ” Battles of the Maratha Empire” . The full book covers many more such pivotal battles – Pratapgad, Palkhed, Panipat, Rakshasbhuvan , Laswari and more.

To know more / purchase visit Amazon India


Mughals were thought to be invincible in an open field battle. But February 1672 changed that decisively !

The years between 1670 and 1672 are perhaps a turning point in India’s history. Chhatrapati Shivaji began a grand counter offensive against the Mughals that saw more than a dozen forts retaken through tact and daring , followed it by lightning raids into Baglan , Khandesh, Surat and topped it with a total rout of the Mughal army totalling upwards of 40,000 on the open fields near Salher ! A naval attack on Jinjee was also carried out and another threatened on Bharuch. All within twenty four months !

The theatre of war : 

salher 1

Events of these two years, which culminated with the Battle at Salher happened roughly in the area between Nashik and Satara, with the coast forming the third side. As the map will show, it is a hilly area, with many a hill fort. The regions near Nashik are also known as Baglan and Khandesh. As per the Treaty of Purandar (1665) , Chhatrapati Shivaji had to cede twenty three  forts to the Mughals, of which the forts of Sinhagad, Purandar, Lohagad, Karnala and Mahuli were fortified with strong powerful garrisons. At the time of the treaty, the Nashik region was already firmly in Mughal hands, having got it from the erstwhile Nizamshahi in 1636 itself. In this region were the high lofty forts such as Salher , Mulher etc . Salher was the highest mountain with a fort on top of it. As we can see in the map, the forts of Sinhagad and Purandar were shouting distance from Rajgad and Torna, presenting a constant threat to Shivaji Maharaj at Rajgad. Important forts such as Mahuli and Lohagad which overlooked crucial passes and trade routes were also with Aurangzeb. With everything north of Kalyan with the Mughals, Shivaji Maharaj had been well and truly hemmed in by the Treaty of Purandar. It was a treaty he had signed to save whatever he could. Taken a step backwards to be able to pounce ahead when the opportunity came. The Treaty of Purandar was followed by his famous visit to Agra, where Chhatrapati Shivaji where he found himself confined by a thousand Mughal soldiers ! Who would think that less than than four years later, the Mughals would lose all they had in the Sahyadris !

Some of the Mughal forts in Western Maharashtra at beginning of 1670

Salher 2

From top to bottom – Mulher , Salher , Ahiwantgad , Aundha , Patta , Mahuli , Lohagad , Sinhagad , Purandar , Rohida . Orange is Rajgad.

The build up to 1670 :

Chhatrapati Shivaji famously escaped from Agra in August 1667 and returned to the Deccan. He spent the next couple of years rebuilding the army. In the meanwhile, in 1669, Aurangzeb passed a firman calling for the destruction of Hindu temples and demolished the Kashi Vishweswar temple in the same year. Furthermore, still smarting over the slip given by Shivaji in the monsoon of 1667, he sent orders to his son in the Deccan to capture Shivaji. But the order was not carried out, because the said prince did not want to risk war as also due to some astute diplomacy by Shivaji Maharaj ! In short, it was clear as daylight to Chhatrapati Shivaji, that if he let things continue as they were, he would soon find a large Mughal army waiting to capture him and produce him before the Padishah sitting in Agra.

The campaign for the forts –

Chhatrapati Shivaji was one of the few Indian kings who showed the foresight and daring to attack and reclaim what was rightfully his, having been taken away by force. The two years from February 1670 to February 1672, saw the Marathas fighting the Mughals in a host of different environments – from hill forts near Pune to ravines and passes. From the waters of the coast to the plains near Salher ! Moropant Pingle captured numerous small forts, with in sufficient garrisons but still the Mughals held Lohagad , Sinhagad , Purandar , Karnala , Mahuli with powerful killedars and strong armies. Further more, these forts overlooked crucial passes and were very close to Rajgad, the then Maratha capital.

Salher 3

Perhaps the bugle for what would turn into a grand symphony of events  was sounded one cold winter night in February 1670, when Tanaji Malusare successfully scaled the fort of Sinhagad and slaughtered the Mughal garrison inside. A renowned Rajput general named Uday Bhan was killed, and Shivaji’s standard once again fluttered atop the ramparts of Sinhagad.

It is famously said that Jijamata, perturbed over the Mughal presence on Sinhagad, had asked Shivaji to grant him that fort after winning a game of dice. Tanaji Malusare had left his son’s wedding mid way to carry out his Chhatrapati orders as soon as he was asked to do so. The price had been heavy, but the capture was a resounding success.

A month later, in the month of March 1670, the fort of Purandar was recaptured. A daring night time raid  This was the fort which had stood months of siege against Diler Khan and Mirza Raje Jai Singh and the Marathas had lost one of their bravest sardars – Murarbaji Deshpande in the process. As the saffron standard unfurled once again on the fort, it was an emotive moment for the Marathas and justice had been done to Murarbaji Deshpande.

A few months later, in the month of August 1670, the fort of Mahuli fell to Shivaji’s Peshwa – Moropant Pingle. Thus in the span of only six months the strong forts of Sinhagad , Purandar and Mahuli had been retaken. Compare this to the six year long Mughal siege of just one fort – Ramsej (1680s) . Merely having a fort in one’s hands did not make it impregnable.

During the same time, the forts of Lohagad and Rohida were also re captured thus freeing the important pass known as the Bhor ghat from Mughal influence. Chhatrapati Shivaji could now easily move between forts around Pune and the Konkan. The Mughal garrison at Kalyan was attacked and driven out in 1670 / 1671

Opening the sea front and Mughals pay with the sack of Surat :

Even as they were scoring one victory after another in the hills of the Sahyadris, Shivaji’s navy attacked the fort of Janjira, off the coast of Murud in the Konkan. The spirited Maratha navy bombarded the fort till finally its Abyssinian ruler appealed to the Mughal emperor for help, and declared himself his vassal ! Aurangzeb bestowed the title of Yakut Khan on the Siddi of Janjira and ordered the governor of Surat to attack Shivaji from the coast.

The Maratha Navy, thus faced with an attack from the rear, had to withdraw – but as Aurangzeb and the governor of Surat would realise in a very short while – they had merely put their hands into a hive of honeybees. This lifting of Janjira’s siege was perhaps the only setback received in the two years.

As soon as the monsoons ended , at the end of September 1670, Shivaji personally led an attack on Surat itself.. The ransacking of Surat – the richest city under the Mughals continued for a full three days from third to the fifth of October ! The revenge for various insults, and for helping the Siddi of Janjira – was complete. This trait of Shivaji – of invading enemy territory to settle scores is extremely rare to find.

Salher 4

Route taken by Shivaji to raid Surat

As was obvious, the Mughals were not going to sit idle. Almost immediately, an army of eight to ten thousand under Daud Khan and Mahabat Khan set off from today’s Aurangabad to attack Shivaji Maharaj. They moved via Barhanpur and crossed Chandwad, hoping to intercept Shivaji from the west

The Marathas were quickly descending south via the ghats and passes, and quickly made its way past Salher , looted Mulher and crossed the Kanchan Manchan range . But Chhatrapati Shivaji got information of the impending Mughal attack and quickly divided his army into four or five parts. As with many other situations, his extremely efficient intelligence department had made the job of fighting the Mughals much easier !

Prataprao Gujar was to guard the rear of the Maratha army , couple more divisions were to disperse into the ghats and jungles and defend the flanks. Chhatrapati Shivaji himself accompanied that part of the army which was holding much of the loot from Surat.

Between the villages of Vani and Dindori , the Marathas and Mughals clashed. (See map above)

Chhatrapati Shivaji turned around to face Daud Khan. He put on his armour  and adorned his head with a metal helmet of the battlefield instead of the jire top of the durbar. Mounting his horse, he attacked the Mughals sword in hand. Like at the time of Pratapgad , Lal Mahal and Surat Chhatrapati Shivaji once again displayed a quality which had made him such a great leader – that of leading from the front. Maratha and Mughal clashed in the narrow pass, where the Marathas ferociously attacked the armies of Daud Khan. At the end of the day – three thousand Mughal soldiers lay dead. The Battle of Vani Dindori was immortalised in many portraits and paintings of Shivaji fighting sword in hand, clad in metal armour. Another stunning victory had been scored against the Mughal empire.

The Battle of Salher

My readers must be wondering, when am I going to start talking about the topic mentioned in the title ? But I believe that it is necessary to explain the situation at the start of 1670 to better appreciate the achievement in 1672. From a situation wherein the Mughal controlled fort of Sinhagad could be seen with bare eyes from nearby Maratha fort of Rajgad , Shivaji had pushed them back hundreds of miles and sacked Surat. The yoke of Mughal rule in swarajya had been thrown off. Now was the time to invade and drive home the advantage, for attack after all is the best defense.

In 1671, Chhatrapati Shivaji placed twenty thousand soldiers under the command of his Peshwa – Moropant Pingle and his Sarnobat – Prataprao Gujar. Prataprao proceeded all the way to Khandesh where he attacked and captured the town of Karanjia. Moropant Pingle, with about fifteen thousand under his command – swiftly captured the Mughal forts of Aundha , Patta , Trimbak and attacked Salher and Mulher. Within months, these two forts also fell to Shivaji’s Peshwa and the rout of the Mughals was complete in the Baglan region. This was in January 1671.

The news was alarming for Aurangzeb to put it mildly. For while Sinhagad and Purandar had been his for barely a few years, Mughals had been in charge of Baglan for over thirty !  Almost immediately, he recalled the Rajput king of Jodhpur – Jaswant Singh – from Aurangabad and appointed Mahabhat Khan in his place. He also sent his most renowned warrior – Diler Khan to assist Mahabhat Khan.

Diler Khan was arguably the best general Aurangzeb had. He was present in the siege of Purandar of 1665 , he was present with Mir Jumla on the latter’s invasion of Assam few years earlier. He was at hand to put down rebellions by the Frontier tribes. And in each, victories had been scored. In December 1671 Diler Khan rapidly descended towards Pune and savagely attacked it, slaughtering all residents above the age of nine.

The attack by Diler Khan and Mahabhat Khan was huge – bringing into play more than thirty thousand soldiers in total. Ahivantgad and Kanerigad were soon attacked, and the latter captured.

Meanwhile, from Gujarat, the subhedar of that province – Bahadur Khan swooped down on Salher and laid siege to the fort. The fort was situated at a most opportune place and if it fell, most of Shivaji’s success in the Baglan region would be quickly undone.

Diler Khan proceeded north from Pune to aid Bahadur Khan and the siege of Salher was complete.

It was a grim situation. If Salher fell, the boost in the sagging morale of the Mughal troops would be immense. They would automatically hold a crucial route leading north. Perhaps the Mughal armies would then descend on Shivaji and obliterate his gains of the past two years. The Mughal siege of Salher could not be allowed to win.

Moropant Pingle started from the Konkan and swiftly galloped north to the besieged fort. Prataprao Gujar also quickly marched from another direction. Together they totalled over twenty thousand, facing an army twice their size.

Battle of Salher took place on a plain between Salher and Mulher

Salher 5

Prataprao Gujar attacked the Mughals first , but feigned retreat when attacked in turn by Ikhlas Khan, sent by Bahadur Khan to check Prataprao Gujar. Moropant Pingle had reached the precints of Mulher, and readily joined Prataprao Gujar’s army. Ikhlas Khan was in for a rude shock as the retreating army of Prataprao Gujar turned and faced him. They were now on a flat plain near Salher, one army twice the size of the other. Another version says that Ikhlas Khan knew that Salher was being attacked from the east and the west , and proceeded to place himself in between the Sarnobat and Peshwa. This plan having failed, the Marathas united into one grand army numbering into the many thousands.

But about the total rout of the Mughal army there are no doubts.

The Sabhasad Bakhar a contemporary source, describes this battle in detail. In a battle that lasted over twelve hours in which more than ten thousand soldiers died on either side. The number of soldiers involved easily topped sixty – seventy thousand. A cloud of dust a few square miles wide covered the whole battlefield, whipped up by the pounding of horses hooves. More than six thousand horses , elephants, camels and a lot of wealth was captured. Twenty two commanders of various ranks were captured , and a few such as Amar Rao Chandawat killed in the battle. Blood flowed like rivers on the battlefield. On the side of the Marathas – it was a massive victory, though the death of Suryarao Kakde, one of Shivaji’s childhood friends dampened the mood in the Maratha camp.

Bahadur Khan, totally unnerved by the sound thrashing his armies had received merely a few miles from Salher, lifted the siege. Maratha armies then chased him all the way to Aurangabad.

Thus in February 1672, almost exactly two years after the capture of Sinhagad, the Mughal rout in the Deccan was complete. It had come at a great cost – the loss of Tanaji Malusare and Suryaji Kakde being the greatest for Shivaji, for he had lost two of his dearest childhood friends.

But in return, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s stature grew in every durbar of the country, and he came to be recognised as the pre eminent power in the Deccan. Those two years saw him face and defeat the Mughals in every conceivable scenario.

Read about more such battles – Pratapgad, Palkhed,  Rakshasbhuvan,  Laswari etc in my upcoming book – “Battles of Maratha Empire”

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Purchase Aneesh Gokhale’s book ” Brahmaputra – The Story of Lachit Barphukan”  at  –>  Amazon India

  • Salher photo courtesy Bhushan Kotakar / Wikimedia commons

Katraj Aquaduct – Pune’s 18th century water supply

Pune of the 18th century was the focus of the Maratha empire. The city added ever new areas and the population boomed. Little wonder then, that the Peshwas were faced with a common municipal problem – water supply !

This article by me describes the Katraj aquaduct system set up by the Peshwas of Pune.

Do read the short article , initially published in DNA newspaper.

The Katraj Aquaduct

From NCERT Jokebook : British became all India power in 1765

In this article, originally published in IndiaFacts website, I take a look at the laughable nonsense in a NCERT textbook passing off as “facts” . Photos of relevant pages have been added and a fact based refutal follows.

This article details how the British could gain supremacy only after fighting many battles against the Marathas over a period of fifty years and not just couple of battles against the Mughals (who by 1765 were in any case non entities)

Read the full article : NCERT Jokebook : British became supreme power in 1765

Marathas v/s British , Haji Malang (Shri Malanggad) 1780 .

A long drawn battle took place between the British East India Company and the Marathas under Nana Phadnavis in the monsoon of 1780 for the control of Malanggad , also known as Haji Malang – famous for an old dargah of that name which is situated on the hill . It is a prominent landmark near Kalyan , where an ’urs ‘ for the dargah takes place annually .

Reasons for conflict :

As of 1780 , the primary concern of the British was to secure and fortify the Island of Mumbai , their base in this part of India . Hence , apart from forts in South Mumbai and what are today its suburbs – Sion , Mahim etc , they also wanted to secure the routes leading into the city . Bor Ghat and Kasur Ghat to name a couple . The whole aim was to cut off all routes to Mumbai from Pune , where Nana Phadnavis resided with considerable forces at his disposal . But by blocking the ghats and capturing the heights , the British wanted to neutralise any future Maratha plans of retaking Mumbai . The town of Kalyan was situated at a most opportune location . Having been a town right from Chhatrapati Shivaji’s times , it had major routes from both Pune – Khopoli as well as the north ( Kasara Ghat ) passing through it . The fort of Malanggad was situated right next to Kalyan , and commanded an excellent view of the region . The British aimed to capture this fort and then turn their attention to Vasai . With the routes leading to Mumbai from Pune blockaded and watched over , and little help expected from Gujarat , the capture of Vasai would make the ‘ring ‘ around Mumbai complete .

British moves :

Capt. Campbell captured Parsik hill the 12th of April , 1780 . The next day , that is on 13th April 1780 , the town and fort of Panvel was taken by Capt Lendrum . This being an important Maratha outpost , the British wanted to nip any help which may reach Kalyan by the Panvel- Taloja – Kalyan road in the bud itself . The fort of Belapur also fell to the British on the same day . From here , Capt Lendrum moved to Taloja and forced the Maratha chowkie established at the place to retreat to Kalyan . Kalyan was beseiged towards the end of April by Capt Campbell . Continuous bombarding for over five hours finally caused the fort to crumble . The arrival of another senior officer , Capt Hartley , aided in the British capture of Kalyan . With Panvel and Kalyan taken and the roads secured , the British turned their attention to Malanggad .


Belapur – Taloja – Malanggad

The Malanggad Fort :

This fort , situated near Kalyan consists of two machis and a balekilla . The hill stands rather isolated , and one can see for miles upon miles for end from its summit . I have myself trekked to it’s summit and have spotted the Mumbai – Pune Expressway from there . Without any binoculars . On the other side , the whole of the Ambernath and Ulhasnagar area can be seen . On the third side are Tavli and other such hills which were never full fledged forts . Infact , the summits of these nearby hills are nearly impossible to reach . Thus , the strategic value as well as natural defenses of the fort become readily evident .

Old British painting ( 1800 ) showing Malanggad

Old British painting ( 1800 ) showing Malanggad

The Marathas and British :

When Kalyan fell , Malanggad was under the control of one Pandurang Sambhaji Ketkar . The British did not immediately move towards the fort in the hot months of May and June , but instead decided on August to attack . Since the time of Shivaji , the monsoons had been taken as a time when warfare came to a stalemate in the hills and forests of the Sahyadris . What with the torrential rain making moving on the slushy ground extremely difficult and the dense fog making it impossible to sight anything . So , even in 1780 , not expecting much action , some of the garrison from Malanggad had been granted leave . On the 4th of August 1780 , Abbington attacked the fort and although Pandurang Ketkar fought bravely , managed to capture Pir Machi . This is the Machi on which the dargah is situated . Ketkar retreated to the other machi – Sone machi and decided to make a stand over there . Since the machi was not stocked with enough grain for all three hundred , upto 175 soldiers left the fort and made their way to Gangadhar Karlekar , the mamlatdar of Kalyan . Pandurang Ketkar continued to fight Abbington with his hundred odd troops and a few months of food supply .

Pune reacts :

Nana Phadnavis , realising the gravity of the situation , decided to send Gangadhar Karlekar , Kashipant and Anandrao Dhulap to aid Pandurang Ketkar .They reached Neral , near today’s hill station of Matheran . From here unfortunately , the next fortnight was spent in indecision , with the result that it was as late as 28th of August that they finally managed to reach a village called Kharawai near the fort . Abbington now tried to capture Sone machi and the bale killa by one spectacular attack on it , but failed in doing so . Pandurang Ketkar and his gardi musketeers were equal to the task . Not only did they manage to beat back the British assault , but even forced their cannons to retreat from Pir machi .The British grip on the lower ranges of the fort weakened , and Gangadhar Karlekar was able to send some much needed supplies and provisions to Ketkar . Nana Phadnavis , sensing that Gangadhar Karlekar was making little headway , now sent Balaji Phatak and Ragho Godbole to lift the siege . The two reached Shiravali in the first week of September and were joined by the others – i.e Karlekar , Dhulap and Kashipant . Turn by turn , the contingents of Anandrao Dhulap , Karlekar and Godbole attacked the British on Pir Machi , while Phatak supported them from their camp below and Pandurang Ketkar from the machi above . The Marathas managed to bring their cannon to Pir Machi and bombard the British positions . Considerable damage was caused to Abbington , but in the absence of a concentrated Maratha attack , they managed to hold fort . Finally , the 18th of September was chosen as the day when a combined attack would be mounted on the British . And in all probability , this would have meant the end of the British siege , but nature had other plans in mind .

A reprieve for the British &  a British counter attack :

On the 18th , it rained cats and dogs at Malanggad , making any warfare impossible . The entire region was shrouded in dense fog which made even the fort itself appear just like a ghostly blur . The planned attack had to be put off for obvious reasons . Abbington had not been sitting idle on Malanggad . He sent messages to Major Westphal at Kalyan , asking for help . Westphal responded by sending troops from Bhivandi around the 17th , which cut off the supply routes of the Marathas . Colonel Hartley started from Mumbai proper and taking the Belapur – Taloja route , reached Shiravali , the Maratha camp . Here , a fight ensued between the Marathas and Hartley and the former were driven back to the village of Vavanje . At Vavanje , the Marathas faced a two pronged attack from both Hartley and Jameson , causing them to first retreat to Panvel and then to Khopoli . Meanwhile at Malanggad : Pandurang Sambhaji Ketkar was once again left alone to fend off his attackers . The British had been weakened but not evicted . A Col Carpenter was now sent to aid the British assault on Sone machi and the bale killa . Pandurang Ketkar and his two Gardi musketeers Aziz Khan Jamadar and Abu Sheikh Jamadar held off wave after wave of British attacks in the early days of October . Even concentrated attacks were repulsed with clever use of muskets and swords . The Gardis ofcourse were expert in using the musket . All this , when their supposed reinforcement was fighting a battle in far away Khopoli . But the point being that Pandurang Ketkar held the fort .Failure to do so would have meant a direct threat to Pune in 1780 itself .

The siege lifts :

Nana Phadnavis now decided to step in himself . Free from troubles elsewhere , he moved to Khandala with Yashwantrao Panse , Bhavani Shivram and Haripant Phadke . Their plan was to take the Rajmachi route and reach Kalyan . He immediately instructed Panse and Shivram to proceed to Malanggad . Another officer was sent in the direction of Vasai . Col Hartley , with his troops fighting in various places at the same time , was had pressed to find an answer to this 10,000 strong army led by Phadnavis himself . Plus , even after two months of fighting , the citadel of Malanggad was still in Maratha hands . Hence , around November 1780 , the British lifted the siege of Malanggad .

Conclusion :

1. The British troop movements were better planned .

2. The Marathas managed their supply lines poorly .

3. The bravery displayed by Pandurang Ketkar and his Gardi musketeers is what kept the fort from falling . It fell eventually in 1897 . 4. The Ketkar family , which attributes the 1780 success to the dargah , continues to be its caretaker .


Ref : The First Anglo Maratha War – M.R . Kantak

Battles of Honourable East India Company .

© Aneesh Gokhale .

* Maps created via Google

Aneesh Gokhale is the author of two books on Maratha & Assamese history. His books can be purchased on Amazon India

Chapter 3 – Jirga , Kandahar


Sample pages from  ” Sahyadris to Hindukush “

Chapter 3 — Jirga , Kandahar


The dry brown-red cedar leaf crunched under the horse’s hoof, splintering into a hundred pieces with a distinct crackle. Rehmat Khan Barakzai, astride the sturdy Arabian horse, wrapped his keffiyah closer to his face, to protect himself from the chilly autumn winds that had begun to blow across the Afghan city of Kandahar. He looked across the barren landscape, a drab mixture of  grey , light brown and yellow. Here and there, the spruce and deodar trees sprang out of the ground, bereft of leaves, which lay scattered at the  base of their trunks. He scanned the area with the vision of a hawk, his eyes honed in the Pashtun highlands, watching the Afghans, clad in their usual long flowing clothes,go about their daily business. A bearded man carting away some fruit, a man on horseback rushing away to somewhere, few others strolling towards a mosque.Rehmat Khan was annoyed that the person he was waiting for hadn’t yet showed up. He put a hand to his forehead and peered into the distance. Rehmat Khan spotted a lone horseman, slowly making his way towards him. The outline of the pancake shaped kapol which covered his head  could be clearly made out. Finally!, thought Rehmat Khan Barakzai,  even as he raised his right hand and waved it,  signalling to the new comer.
“Taso sanga yay?” asked Barakzai, cheerfully in a loud voice as Mohamadzai came within earshot. “Pakhair” replied  Mohamadzai , his  white teeth glistening in a broad smile. He was well into his fifties, with a rapidly graying  beard and cheeks which had grown infirm with age. There was still a firm determination in his eyes though, a sign of the numerous trials by fire he had to  undergo as Khan of his tribe.
Barakzai gave a sharp jab to this horse with his right heel, and turned towards the dusty road leading to the tomb of Sher-e-Surkh. The old fort at Kandahar towered above them, lording over the Pashtun heartland. The two warlords had been invited to a jirga by the Pir Sabir Shah. Slowly they made their way their horses moving in a rhythmic trot over the barren track. It was customary for the Pashtuns to conduct such jirgas from time to time. These councils, would then decide issues of social and political importance to the Pashtuns. The untimely death of Nadir Shah, the Persian ,had prompted this latest jirga. Sensing that the Afghan lands would fall into disarray one again, Pir Sabir Shah had organized this jirga at the holy place. The Mohamadzai, Popalzai, Barakzai, Jadran, and other Pashtun chieftains had been specially invited.
Before long, the two of them had arrived at the simple sandstone monument that was the tomb of Sher-e-Surkh. Rehmat Khan Barakzai looked at the group of camel hide tents which came in view as they climbed a hillock. Coarse cream coloured fabric, blending into the surrounding plains. Barakzai and Mohamadzai trotted closer to the camp,where the Pir himself was ready to welcome them.

You can purchase and read the full book on Flipkart