Sometimes it is just before you but you cannot see it.
Margalla Hills add to the beauty of Islamabad, a city which is expanding in a planned manner. There are many nice picnic and trekking spots on the Margalla Hills. Located North of Islamabad, Margalla Hills are also referred to as the foot hills of Himalayas and the mountain range has an area of 12,605 hectares. The highest point i.e., 1,604 meters, lies on its east end. One interpretation of the word ‘Margalla’ is that ‘Mar’ means snake in Persian and ‘Galla’ means herd in Pashto so it refers to a place where there are lot of snakes; another interpretation is that ‘Mar’ actually means ‘to hit’ and ‘Galla’ means ‘neck’ referring to the fact that a lot of bandits and robbers used to take refuge in Margalla Hills in old times – no offence to honorable politicians and worthy bureaucrats…
Some of the spots known to public are:
- Daman-e-Koh (‘Daman’ in Urdu means lap & ‘Koh’ means mountain hence it means ‘in the lap or center of the mountain’ that geographically does not seem to hold true – offers a panoramic view of the city, recently developed by CDA under the supervision of enterprising ex-Chairman Mr. Kamran Lashari, has a modern outlook);
- Pir Sohawa (the etymology of the word ‘Sohawa’ has not yet proven; locally it is believed to be derived from ‘Sou Aawa’ or hundred fences and ‘Pir’ means saint – actually it refers to a place where Bari Imam a revered saint who has a tomb in Islamabad used to meditate and offer prayers – a restaurant named after the nearby Monal village is situated at Pir Sohawa);
- Saidpur (a 400-500 year old village built along the slope of the Margalla Hills – Saidpur is believed to be named after Said Khan, one of the sons of Sultan Sarang, the Gakhar chief of the Potohar region during the regime of Emperor Babar – Sultan Sarang ruled from Attock to Jhelum – There are beautiful waterfalls at Saidpur and CDA has developed the place into a tourist attraction, giving it a look & feel of a quaint village);
- Lohi Dandi (chilla gah or place of meditation & prayers of saint Bari Imam); and
- Shahdarah picnic spot (‘Shah’ is a religious title and ‘Darah’ means pass.)
The tomb of Bari Imam is situated in ‘Nurpur Shahan’ a vicinity which used to be known as ‘Chorepur.’ ‘Nur’ means illumine and ‘pur’ means dwelling place – a place where illuminated people dwell – most possibly refers to so many tombs and burials of saints nearby. ‘Chore’ means thief; legend has that when Bari Imam came to the place it was a dark place, but he converted the thieves into Islam and has since then become a center for spiritual healing and cleansing for the general public…
One day I and a college-mate of mine decided to check out the highest point on Margalla Hills where we could see a mast (think it belongs to PTCL); to see how the city looks from above. On a holiday we took some water & food and started our trekking expedition without a carefully chalked-out plan. We did not know that there were easier ways to reach the desired spot. We planned to take the course from Quaid-e-Azam University to a road spiraling above the apparently highest mountain which looked like a camel-back from the ground.
We assumed that the place is the highest location as during winters we used to see ice settled on the tip of both the peaks. I had once during my school days reached the peak from a difficult route in which rock climbing was involved. It was difficult but relatively a short-cut I came to acknowledge later on. I also knew there was a mast up there, but I had made a resolve to use a better approach this time. My companion trusted me and I acted like an expert who was fully conversant with the route. We were young and believed we would negotiate with any situation without fail.
My partner was bulky and normally he used to request me half way to return but I used to rejuvenate his spirits to complete the purpose i.e., to reach the top. We had by then “scaled” some of the smaller peaks. We started our journey with great enthusiasm.
We crossed a couple of villages and asked people to fine tune our options along the way. It was a picturesque route. We came to know that the road which we thought was going towards the right of the mountain in fact led a little below the destination. So the journey looked easier than before to us – a dividend so earlier in expedition really boosts your moral. Village people advised us ways to avoid the ‘rock-climbing’ course as it was considered to be risky. They also advised us to return back before dusk. We made a point that after a couple of hours pass noon we will start descending back regardless of our progress or proximity to the intended destination.
When we started climbing the mountain we saw a man examining sloughed snake skin lying in a bush on the right side of the road. We noticed the guy was bare footed and there were wounds on his feet. There were hollows on his eyes and his face was paler assumedly as a result of dehydration and malnutrition. Usually there is a bump in the cheeks of people who dwell on mountains. These people have stamina of a super human. Anyway, it is believed that sloughed snake skin is useful to sharpen the eye sight – some people say that it can be used in a specified manner to convert weak eyesight into 6/6. God knows, the idea of putting snakes skin in eyes blinds me. It is also believed that sometimes a patient of leprosy is cured after drinking milk which was previously been drank by a snake – god knows better! It was a reminder to us that we were climbing one of the ‘Margalla’ hills…
My partner hinted to me in English to get more information from the guy. So we offered him a little water and food. The guy informed us that he will accompany us to a point; from where he will head towards the check post. We came to know that beyond that check post the jurisdiction of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (North West Frontier Province, Hazara region) starts. It was news for us as we did not know back then that Hazara would start just behind the Margalla Hills. The guy also cautioned us not to finish our water reserve as it would be difficult to find water later on.
My partner used to drink water lavishly; and I also had a compelling urge for water too. We noticed a couple of safari jeeps crossing us in which foreigners were boarding. In those days Islamabad used to be a pretty safe area. Foreign diplomats used to have no fear interacting with local people. I thought in my mind how lucky were these foreigners who were witnessing such beauty whereas only a handful of students of Quaid-e-Azam University or other people residing in Islamabad got to visit the wonderful places. The pines and green meadows; slopes on the mountains and streams of water portray superiority of reality and its abstract forms over human art work. Fresh air and raw beauty adorns your escapade in numerous manifestations. Forest turning from lush green to grey as the distance grows surely raises your poetic appetite. Suddenly all your problems fade away and you get a long term perspective of life. You cover distance physically and spiritually – leaving later to permanently settle in the corners of your mind. The remoteness becomes part of your nature and you feel nothing is away from you anymore – everything at arm’s length. You remember all the wonderful people who have played a role in your life and you contemplate future in a picture perfect manner – such is the magic of mountain hiking.
We asked the guy who joined us on our way up as to what was his purpose of descent. He informed us that before dawn he picks wood from the forest and reaches Islamabad before sunlight to sell the wood and returns back by noon, rests a little bit and again repeats the task to earn a living. He also informed us that he had to bribe forest officer regularly to make forest inspectors and other authorities close their eyes.
We also saw monkeys along the way. The guy cautioned me and my excited friend to keep our distance from the monkeys as sometimes they become violent. Also sometimes lions and leopards come down from the wilderness of forests on the mountain above, this usually happens after dark. Wild boars are in abundance in the Margalla hills and during good times diplomats used to hunt wild boars as a sport – but unfortunately not anymore. Again no offence to the ‘adorable’ politicians and ‘lovely’ bureaucrats…
We fully consumed the water by the time we reached the place where the guy had to leave us. He informed us that there was no way to the top from that place; however, he informed us that if we crossed the thick thorny bushes we would reach a place where we could find water. We asked him how we would find our way to the water; he advised us to locate the water pipe and follow it. We were quite thirsty when we started our quest for water. We thanked the guy and started locating the water pipe. We went total crazy as the path was extremely rough; in fact we got bruised while there was no clue of the water pipe. We had no way to make sure that the guy did not bluff us. We crazily started rotating around in a circle but felt we would never be able to find the water pipe and at the same time also anticipated danger – a snake or a wild beast perhaps!
We also lost track of time as a considerable while had elapsed without any success. We consoled each other and hoped we would find the pipe. We started praying and started reciting verses of Quran – ‘Nasro-min-Allah-he wa Fathun Qareeb’ (With the help of God the success is not afar.) Right when we were at the verge of physical exhaustion we saw the pipe – just like western action movie; it re-energized our spirits to a great deal and we started following the pipe. Suddenly we reached a serene and calm place. It was ‘Charouni’ meaning a place where cattle graze (‘Chara’ means fodder.)
It looked as a piece of heaven on earth. We were still below the place we wanted to reach but we felt as if we had reached the purpose of our lives. Joy after a period of struggle has no bounds indeed. It felt we were at a place somewhere in Murree hills or North of the country. We could see a village down below and there was only a small hut like residential place seemingly inhabited by a family nearby. The place seemed totally undiscovered by any human being. There was a place from where water was automatically oozing out from the ground. We tasted the water; it was natural spring water without any hint of saltiness, which normally is the case with such type of springs. The water was not hot either; it was just normal and refreshing.
Our guide had informed us that place is attributed to the saint Bari Imam. Legend has that the people of village used to face a lot of hardship due to scarcity of water. One day they requested Bari Sarkar to pray for abundance of water and in response to the request Bari Sarkar thrashed his arrow with his full might on the ground from which instantly water started oozing out – just like that, as if he was dealing with his conscience. There was a cemented ‘Jaa-e-namaz’ (place for prayers) in front of the depthless water well attributed to Bari Sarkar. Honestly speaking, back then our spirits were such high that we would not have fainted had we seen Hazrat Khizr AS (guide to all the Islamic saints) standing in front of us.
I and my companion decided to offer prayers and we both prayed for our better future and self-growth in terms of spirit, soul and knowledge. We felt our prayers were instantly answered by the Lord Almighty. After a while we finished eating our lunch and it was the happiest time of our lives. There was a plenty of time left before dawn. We had no fear. I reminded my friend that we had still to go up, even though we both were least bothered to proceed further, but we decided to go up. We reached the mast; the overview of the other side of the mountain was equally fulfilling.
We reached back in the evening; dead tired; rested a bit and then parted for our homes with a promise to recollect the experience the next day.
Recently I visited Monal and Pir Sohawa with my family via Daman-e-Koh on car. I once tried to travel the tough route on my car but decided to return back when realized that I was already late and the road was really in bad shape. It was when I reached Pir Sohawa that I realized I was close to ‘Charouni.’ I drove towards Monal and reached a place which was extremely close to ‘Charouni’ but people informed me that the Army unit over there is an ‘out-of-bound’ area for civilians. I once thought of requesting the authorities to allow me to pass through but decided against it.
Someday I will try again to reach to you ‘Charouni’ – mark my words!