(Shaikh Muhammad Ali)
“I don’t believe in uncertainties. I am here & I am certain ” – Shaikh Muhammed Ali
I am always intrigued / tempted to visit mountains, maybe because I am a Capricorn; the mountain goat who believes in rising to the top by taking slow and steady yet cautious steps to reach to the summit.
Visiting mountains is one of the reason for me to leave the hustling, bustling, full of life city of Karachi and come up and live in Islamabad (which is usually called the ‘Dead City’ by the Karachiites); if not the only reason.
Two of us colleagues @ HEC i.e. Hassan Nasir Zaidi (Project Coordinator – Digital Library) and myself (Project Director – HRD) have been planning to hit the mountains lately but something or the other came up and we had to shelf the project. Come the Friday of 18th June 2010 and we decided in almost two hours that we must go on a wild bachelor rampage (without our wives and children) to a walking stint in the Margalla hills. Normally, I always travel with my family but we went without our families on this trip since the climb was steep and they could not have handled this particular expedition.
Later Awais Ahmed (DG-A&C), Wasim Hashmi (Project Director – FFHP) and Anees Sadozai (DG – Services) also joined the band wagon and we decided to meet after Fajr prayers at 5:30 a.m. sharp in the parking lot of the Islamabad zoo which happened to be a central location for all five of us on Saturday the 19th June 2010. After meeting and parking there, we all joined Hassan in his Jeep Cherokee and headed for the parking lot of Loh-e-Dandi close to Noorpur Shahan village.
After reaching there, we got our snacks, bag packs, secured our water supply, Shisha and peripherals for making tea in the mountains; and walked towards the ‘Aabshar’ (read Waterfall) which Hassan had visited about four (4) years ago.
We walked for about 45 minutes and took our first break although the sun was out but it was still behind the mountains around nine a.m.
We continued walking while appreciating the beauty of the valley and nature.
The people in the valley were still sleeping while we were quietly traversing the uphill task. We would sometimes catch a few early birds who were getting ready for their morning chores on this sleepy Saturday.
The first time I visited the Margalla hills was in 1978 when I was 14 years of age and came to Islamabad with my father and sister but never really got a chance to visit the mountains. I wonder if even Daman-e-Koh ever existed during those times since I did not hear the name then.
A little introduction:
The Margalla Hills—the foothills of the Himalayas—are a series of small-elevation hills located north of Islamabad, Pakistan. Margalla Range has an area of 12,605 hectares. The hill range nestles between an elevation of 685 meters at the western end and 1,604 meters on its east.
Two different legends describe the origin of the word ‘Margalla’. According to the first legend, these hills have always been known as an abode of snakes. Mar means ‘snake’ in Persian, Pashto and galla means ‘herd’, therefore Margalla means a place with a lot of snakes.
According to the second legend, the word ‘Margalla’ was derived from Mar Galla, meaning ‘to strangulate. Mar means ‘hit’ and Galla means ‘neck’. It is believed that there were lots of bandits and robbers who used these hills as a sanctuary and would strangle travelers in order to rob them. 
Paleontology and Archeology:
The hills’ rock formations are 40 million years old, and fossils of marine life abound, indicating that the Margalla Hills were at one time under the sea.
According to the research carried out by scientists and archaeologists of the project “Post-Earthquake Explorations of Human Remains in Margalla Hills”, the formation of the Margalla Hills dates to the Miocene epoch. The dominant limestone of the Margalla is mixed with sandstone and occasional minor beds of shale. The archaeologists of the project have also found two human footprints over one million years old here, preserved in sandstone. 
Hiking and trekking:
The Margallas are excellent for hiking and cater to both the regular serious hikers and the less serious occasional enthusiasts.
For foreigners, it is advisable to go for hiking in a group, because a few incidents of mugging have been reported in the last few years. The safest and most frequented hike path is from the ZOO Park to Daman-e-Koh. The best season for hiking is from February to April, when there is less rain and the weather is extremely pleasant.
Asian Study Group (a community service organization) conducts hikes from October to April. Details about hiking trails and further information can be found in the latest edition of the book called Hiking in and around Islamabad, available at select book shops in F-7 Markaz and Kohsar Market, published by Asian Study Group for the Islamabad community.
Back to the main story:
We later reached a place where Hassan informed us that there used to be a pond of water and people especially college students would have a barbecue beside it and would jump into the water and have fun and frolic around it.
Right next to the pond of water is a small cave where people would create fires and would take refuge when it would rain. Since it had not been raining lately thus the water in the pond had evaporated and until and unless monsoon arrives it seems that this valley will have a dry summer. After spending a little time here and feasting on some chips and water, we moved further up on the mountain. The sun was slowly and gradually catching up with us and we wanted to climb as soon as possible to our destination.
We finally found the specific spot that we were looking for but since it has not been raining for some years now as it used to, the Waterfall had dried up and the charm of the place had died.
Nevertheless, we found a suitable place and Hassan and Anees started preparing for the tea while Awais, Wasim and I found places to rest.
After enjoying a few smokes on the Shisha and a wonderful cup of tea prepared with cardamom and saffron by Hassan (our official cook, LOL); we decided to call it a day and descended down the hill.
We are indeed going to cherish this short escapade away from the madding crowd up in the Margalla Mountains for a long time to come and especially enjoyed the bond that has flourished between us the ‘famous five’ of HEC.
It took us about an hour or so to descend and finally reach the parking lot of Loh-e-Dandi where the CDA is also building a guest house which would hopefully be ready by next summer or so.
Shaikh Muhammed Ali
‘The Wandering Dervish’
Sunday, 4th July 2010, 09:15 p.m.