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Simurgh: (sɪˈmərɡ) | a) Lit. thirty birds b) a mythological bird in the Persian tradition, symbolizing the divine


In the last few years, Mehreen Farooq and Waleed Ziad have had the honor of traveling together through over 90 cities, towns, and villages across Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. Waleed, a historian at Yale, is preoccupied with Sufi networks between central and southern Asia, while Mehreen, a political scientist and senior fellow at WORDE, focuses on civil society and peacebuilding.

In the course of their research from Sindh to the Khyber Pass and on into Central Asia, Mehreen and Waleed are occasionally armed with a D-SRL (or with their i-phones, in regions where discretion is advisable).  Some would describe these as the "most dangerous places in the world." We prefer to see them as hidden treasures.

Taking a step back... Our journeyOur journey

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with 30 birds.

In the 12th century, the celebrated Sufi poet, Farid ud-din Attar, brought to us the timeless story of "The Conference of the Birds." The story opens with the birds of the world embarking upon a perilous quest to find their lord, represented as the Simurgh, the king of the birds. Each bird symbolizes distinct human characteristics – the heron, the despairing man; the owl, the treasure-seeker. The hud-hud (hoopoe), representing the Sufi shaykh or teacher, guides them through seven valleys, each symbolizing stations of spiritual attainment. Many give up along the way. Finally, after achieving the station of annihilation in the Divine, they arrive at the resting place of the Sirmurgh. Only thirty birds make it this far – to find a pond where they see their own reflections. These thirty birds (si murgh, in Persian, literally meaning 30 birds) have found themselves.

The photographs of our travel honor those on the path of the 30 birds. Prior to the wars and crises that have defined this region in the modern period, the lands from the Indus to the Oxus to Anatolia formed an integrated zone of exchange for saints, scholars, artists, and pilgrims. The presence of turquoise tiles in lands as far removed as Bahawalpur, Bukhara and Bursa attest to this shared heritage.




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“If you will but aspire; You will attain to all that you desire.
Before an atom of such need the Sun; Seems dim and mirky by comparison.
It is life's strength, the wings by which we fly; Beyond the further reaches of the sky.”

- Hz. Farid ud-din Attar, The Conference of the Birds