The Mohanas on the river Indus in Sindh have a novel way of fishing when bad weather prevents their boats putting out. They keep pet birds to do it for them.

The birds, mainly herons, cranes and cormorants, perch on a plank suspended from the gunwale. A length of string attached to one leg allows them to dive, but not to escape with a fish. When they break surface, they are robbed of their catch until the family has enough to eat. At this point the birds may swallow their prey and satisfy their own hunger.

Several hundred Mohana fishing families work the Indus where it flows past Sukkur, an historic town in upper Sindh province of Pakistan.

They live on bulky wooden houseboats, 60 feet long by 12 feet broad. The khasti`s most characteristic feature is a bluff prow to deflect the shock should a boat strike a submerged sandbank when it swivels around and gradually becomes dislodged by the current.

Kashtis are made locally. Craftsmen take special care in carving decorative motifs and inserting small tiles, shells and tiny mirrors in the pattern. Some older vessels may display rose-patterned crockery stacked neatly in the galley – china once used by British civil servants manning the Indus canal posts.

An average Mohana family numbers 6-8. All the relatives moor together in a group with their domestic stock- water buffaloes and chickens – kept beside them on the bank.

Women are responsible for the usual chores. One of their first tasks is to draw fresh water from the middle of the river, away from the banks where people defecate.

Mohana men fish from a smaller boat, paddled with a single oar, towed behind each kashti. Working together, in good weather they may net 30 kilos of fish a day, the Indus river catfish being greatly prized.

Meals are cooked over a small charcoal fire on the open deck with everyone sitting around the dish, digging into the fish and rice with their fingers.

Following this year’s monsoon which has devastated NW Pakistan, the Indus is running at an all-time high. But while Sindhi farmers are packing and leaving the riverbanks, the Mohanas can only sit on their boats as water levels rise.

Images: www.copix.co.uk

About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: www.worldreligions.co.uk. Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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  1. Anonymous says:

    The Mohanas in this post and thousands of other poor farmers in the Indus river valley are now also being affected as floodwaters sweep down the Indus. Please give what you can as Pakistan is facing an unprecedented disaster: http://www.dec.org.uk — a multiple charities appeal which includes the Red Cross.

  2. Exactly–the flood waters from northern Pakistan are draining into the Indus and Sindh, home to millions of poor rural workers, is being inundated. These farming families have nothing beyond their hut and animals with whom they share an almost symbiotic relationship. It will kill them to have to leave them behind. We must pray the giant barrages on the Indus near Sukkur can contain the water because the alternative will be a catastrophe of biblical proportions; it is practically this now.www.islamic-relief.org is out doing huge relief work in Pakistan – you can access their videos on YouTube. Donate what you can spare.

  3. The dams are still holding but the people I have written about in this blog have lost everything – their fishing birds, their boats their entire lives are finished. Give what you can.

  4. ABC TV News Australia reported at 7PM ESTthat the devastation is already exceeding that of the Asian Tsunami

  5. Thanks for dropping in Tom.Yes, not in terms of loss of life, thank God, but in the numbers of people who have lost EVERYTHINGwhich was so little in the first place.I ask everyone to GIVE. Many reliable aid agencies are on the ground including MSF athttp://www.msf.org.uk/pakistan.focus

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sukkur is now one of the worst affected areas in Pakistan.


    Dear Christine B.Osborne, I have seen you photographs of Mohanas communities from Pakistan, very impressive work, can you kindly share more pics of this unique community.

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