Located at the foot of the
Margalla hill range, Pakistan's capital city Islamabad is ideally suited for
hikes. Many of its citizens and visitors alike regularly avail the hiking
opportunities. The Asia Study Group, which is one of Islamabad's largest
recreational organizations, and which I am an active member of, organizes
hikes from September to April every year when the outside air temperature is
bearable before the great summer heatwave sets in after May. Usually, the
hikes are day events and can last from a few hours to the better part of the
day. There are exceptions, however, and longer hikes can stretch over two or
three days and involve camping in the hills.
The hikes are announced in the
Group's monthly newsletter along with a brief description of the event and
the physical effort level required for it. The standard procedure is usually
to gather at a certain meeting point in Islamabad and then drive off in a
convoy of vehicles to a parking spot near the hiking trail. Members who do
not have vehicles, or who are unwilling to bring them because they feel
they're not sturdy enough for the bumpy, potholed dirt tracks, are welcome to hitch a ride
with other members. The Group has hike organizers who come along and ensure
that all hikers are looked after and don't get lost somewhere on the trail.
On average, the Asia Study Group organizes two hikes a
month and not all of them are in the Margalla hills. Some hikes start way
behind the Margallas at much higher elevations. The views from the trails en
route to Islamabad can be breathtaking and every visitor to this city who is
in good physical shape should consider participating in at least one such
hike. The Asia Study Group has amassed considerable expertise with its hikes
and has even published a book on hiking trails.
One interesting fact I learned
about on this hike was that the area of the Margallas was originally under
water many thousands or millions of years ago but rose up after the South
Asian land mass collided with the Euroasian continent. Evidence of this
comes from marine fossils and from the whitish (salt) streaks which can be
found on many some stones and boulders throughout the Margallas.
Hikes are high on my priority
list - and second only to the highly interesting day bus trips to places of
historic interest (of which there are plently in our region) which the Asia
Study Group also frequently organizes. I must have walked a dozen different
trails in these hills and beyond, and am looking forward to many more hikes
this season, especially the famous one from Khanpur to Islamabad.
The photos below were taken on
April 2nd, 2006, on the Asia Study Group's hike from Chishti village, which
is located close to the Quaid-i-Azam University on the eastern fringe of
Islamabad, to the Phurilla guest house located high up in the hills at an
elevation of about about 1320 metres. It is the most interesting hike I've
been on to date and I hope you like the photos I took. Just click on any
photo to see its large version.
Our hike started from a Chishti
village which is located near the Quaid-i-Azam University,
Islamabad's largest and oldest institution of higher learning. The
parking spot and the trail were very rocky and getting there was an
adventure of sorts itself. I hitched a ride with a Frenchman who had
a sturdy jeep. He is on the photo on the right (man with white skull
cap walking on the left).
This hike was quite unique from
other hikes I've undertaken in the Margalla hills in the sense that
I encountered quite a large number of hamlets and villagers wandering in
the area. This simple mud hut with thatched roof set amidst the trees in
the photo on the left was the first dwelling I walked past. I liked
its light brown hue and the cow standing in front of it, and the
contrast of colours, so I thought I may as well go ahead and snap a
photo of it.
Continuing up the rocky hiking
trail. It was torturous at places and a bit dangerous too as
you can slip on the loose, sharp stones and strain your ankle. One
thing which can't be overlooked is the greenery of the hills which
are overgrown with bushes, shrubs and trees. Much of this greenery
is man-made with major tree planting campaigns having been launched
over the years.
Mahhhhhh! There were quite a few
animals which we encountered on the hiking trail. Here we meet up with a
herd of goats (some of which were very curious) and their shepherd.
Goats eat up anything green which they can get their mouths close
too and I'm told they do it 24 hours a day.
As the hike was quite strenous at
places, our group put in a number of brief rest stops en route to
the guesthouse. In the photos on the right, my associate Dr. Ghazala
is taking a drink and exploring a pool.
Some nice views on the hiking
trail and plenty of pretty green and rocky spots to photograph. What
a pity that the day was rather hazy and a wee bit too warm as well.
Had it rained the night before or in the early morning hours, we
would have had a crystal clear extending to the horizon.
At this rocky clearing we rested
for a while in this pleasant and shady place with its small pool. I
couldn't stop thinking about how hungry mountain leopards would like to
rest and here too!
Pushing on now, my fellow hikers
and I came across some more hamlets and isolated huts. What a view
these people have! But is this view worth the absence of the
infrastructure and shopping facilities we spoiled city dwellers have
gotten accustomed to?
Continuing up the hiking trail.
Very green with some great views here.
Passing one of the hamlets, and
nosy as I am, I
peered over the wall of a someone's yard and saw these two guys
giving this child a haircut (photo on the left). In the photo on the
right, a villager poses for a photograph. I should add that the
people we encountered on our hike were all seemingly quite amicable
and did not give us the impression that our presence near their
settlements is undesired. Then again, by now I suppose they must be
quite used to seing crowds of hikers suddenly materializing out of
Photos of a village dwelling. Note
in the photo on the right the terraced farming which is being. You
will find this farming technique quite common if you happen to visit
hilly areas in Pakistan.
Some of my fellow hikers pose for
my camera. The persons who take part in hikes organized by the Asia
Study Group are an interesting lot to get acquainted with. Most of
them are professionals who have traveled a lot in their lives and really quite knowledgeable on many
issues. See the graves on the photo on the extreme right.
Here we see a young women with
plastic cannisters fetching water. Two small children are
accompanying her. Also, there is a thirsty mule drinking water. Mules are a common sight in
the hills of Pakistan and are
commonly used to transport building materials and all other types of stuff. Often you see these poor animals in
Pakistani cities as well pulling large and overloaded carts behind
them and being spurred on madly by their owners.
trail in the two photos on the left. Walking over it was a real
challenge at several places. The stones are often sharp and loose and there is the
possibility of stumbling.
We're almost there at the phurilla
guest house (photos on the left). Then we finally reached it exhausted but
in a cheerful mood. The guest house itself is a small,
unassuming brick structure where there are rooms to rest and which
commands a great view over the surrounding vally and hills. I think
it belongs to the government.
Once at the guest house we spent
quite a while lounging on its well maintained lawn under the shade
of nice trees.
That's me being photographed. In
the photo on the right I walked to the edge of the lawn, of which
there were two levels, and positioned myself in such a manner on the
low-lying wall that
as much of the surrounding terain would be as visible as possible.
We asked for some tea at the
guest house and we got it but after what seemed liked an eternal
wait. In these photos, you can see the tea being prepared by the
guesthouse caretaker using a very traditional method.
After having our tea and idling
around a few more moments, we decided to walk around the corner and
visit the hill summit point which afforded a magnificent view of the
surrounding valley and hills. Although just a short distance from
the guest house, the trail was difficult but our reward was well
worth the hassle. See this series of photos I took from the summit.
That's me again in these two
photos. I waited till the others had vacated the summit point and
then I moved in to get myself photographed on it. It was a dizzying
experience as it is quite narrow and the slope on either side quite
steep. I'm not fond of heights. But the view was really splendid. If
only the day wasn't so hazy, I could have have taken a really great
photo which would be crystal clear right to the horizon. Oh well, better luck next time.
After standing at the summit we
returned to the guest house where we hung around for a short while
before proceeding back to Chishti village to our vehicles.
Now we're on the return leg of our
hike. Coming up can be as tiring as going down and because the trail
is steep in places this is exactly what occurred.
Continuing down the hiking trail
and taking in some splendid views in the process :=) However, the
hike down took a lot longer because we went a different route as two
of our fellow hikers were feeling "indisposed" and couldn't make it
down the steep trail we ascended in the morning. I didn't take a cap
with me and got my face sun burnt by the time I was back in
As i said we encountered alot of
animals on our hike including goats, cows, mules, poultry, a camel
and also an aggressive shephard dog.
Continuing down the trail which
never seemed to end and got us wandering a bit apprehensively on a
few occasions just where we would end up.
There were a lot of bushes and
shrubs the entire trail. It was pleasing but it also got us thinking
about what beast from hell may suddenly dart out at us ;=) Anyway,
slowly the plain approached and we could see the vehicles again.
What a relief! On the way back to Islamabad, I saw a rockclimber and
snapped my final photo of the hike.
Since November 12th,
2006, you are visitor number
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