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My 3 rd trip to the Danoi Rest House off Panjpir Rockies in the Punjab

(Shaikh Muhammad Ali)

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson Hiking in the
for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson Hiking in the

Overview:

Travel is the best thing that could ever happen to anyone. With the advent of October 2012 and summer long gone; I and my hiker buddies decided to revisit the Danoi rest house and subsequently the Panjpir Rockies close to the Kotli Sattian village at a distance of some 1.5 hour’s drive from Islamabad.

I decided the hiking trip to fall on 20 th October, 2012; of course a Saturday. We usually go hiking on Saturdays so that we can slog it out on the mountains, return home early or late and take a good rest on the next Sunday so that we could face the ‘Back to work – Manic Monday’ syndromes; rejuvenated.

Reminds me of the famous song by Bob Dylan, ‘Tell me why I don’t like Mondays’. Amazing lyrics. I wake up as usual early i.e. at 5:00 a.m. Wake my wifey up by 5:10 and then the kids followed suit. We all said our usual Fajr prayers by 5:30 a.m. and while the kids and myself heard a beautiful recitation of the Quran on the Idiot box, my better half prepared a sumptuous breakfast and the snack for our hiking trip. Yes, the habit of hiking forces you to wake up early and since you do get up early therefore there is no excuse left for you not to say your Fajr prayer. And thank you God that through hiking, you have introduced me to the Fajr prayer.

We leave home by 6:18 a.m. and reach the decided rendezvous i.e. the HEC parking lot whereby we were all expected to gather and proceed on our hiking escapade through a hired Coaster (A small vehicle bigger than a Hiace van and smaller than a full-fledged bus which could seat about 25 passengers). We were here by 6:32 a.m. and slowly and gradually the other hikers started pouring in.

Iqbal Hussain (HEC House Manager), Salman (Manager Ufone), Ahtesham Ali Raja (HEC Coordinator, NBEAC), Dr. Zia (Doctor @ RMC) and Waqar Hashmi (Manager @ Fauji Foundation) could not make it although we waited for them till 7:00 a.m. We thus left the parking lot @ 7:00 a.m. sharp and while taking the Lehtrar road, reach Danoi around 8:30 a.m.

@ 7:00 a.m. sharp and while taking the Lehtrar road, reach Danoi around 8:30 a.m. Hiking
@ 7:00 a.m. sharp and while taking the Lehtrar road, reach Danoi around 8:30 a.m. Hiking
(Dr. Abdul Shakoor, an ophthalmologist from Khushab takes the center stage) (I, being the team

(Dr. Abdul Shakoor, an ophthalmologist from Khushab takes the center stage)

an ophthalmologist from Khushab takes the center stage) (I, being the team lead; sitting up front

(I, being the team lead; sitting up front with Mohsin)

takes the center stage) (I, being the team lead; sitting up front with Mohsin ) Hiking
takes the center stage) (I, being the team lead; sitting up front with Mohsin ) Hiking
(The Captain of our coaster, whose name I continue to forget) As usual, Tanveer, the

(The Captain of our coaster, whose name I continue to forget)

As usual, Tanveer, the caretaker of the Danoi guest house was not informed by the Sawan camp office of the Punjab Forest Department; through whom I had got the booking done and thus I had to call the Assistant of the District Forest Officer (DFO) i.e. Tabassum to straighten out the matter. Thank God for the Cell phone signals (which usually are nowhere to be found at such moments in life) were strong enough for me to carry out this conversation otherwise the 18+ people who I had brought along would have roasted, toasted, fried and chewed me in no time

We settled down by 8:45 a.m. and took this group picture before we started the hike.

a.m. and took this group picture before we started the hike. (The hikers getting ready) Hiking

(The hikers getting ready)

and took this group picture before we started the hike. (The hikers getting ready) Hiking in
and took this group picture before we started the hike. (The hikers getting ready) Hiking in

It was planned that Sabeen (My wife), Khawaja Sahib’s wife. Dr. Fahim Hashmi’s wife along with Ayesha would stay at the guest house while we could scale the Panjpir Rockies since this particular hike was a little strenuous for the ladies.

this particular hike was a little strenuous for the ladies. (The Shaikh family posing in the

(The Shaikh family posing in the front garden)

Just we were about ready by 9:15 a.m. to start our hike, God greeted us with rain and thunder. The hike being long, the weather turning its guns towards us; there was no way we could have initiated the hike.

us; there was no way we could have initiated the hike. (Khawaja sahib and Kashif Khan

(Khawaja sahib and Kashif Khan exercising, just to keep the adrenaline running)

This is what my friend and an avid hiker Omair Hassan says about Danoi and Panjpir on his travel blog:

and an avid hiker Omair Hassan says about Danoi and Panjpir on his travel blog: Hiking
and an avid hiker Omair Hassan says about Danoi and Panjpir on his travel blog: Hiking

Just a handful of people in Islamabad know about this exciting hiking opportunity very near to them. Panjpir is the highest point of the Danoi Ridge in Kotli Sattian/Kahuta. It is called Panjpir because of a shrine it has at the top. Locals believe this was a place where five saints came and got settled. It is at an altitude of approximately 1800 meters. In winters the top gets a few ft. of snow each year1 .

Danoi hike starts from the Lehtrar rest house on the Lehtrar Road. This road links Islamabad to Bagh via Kotli Sattian. Total distance between Islamabad and Lehtrar town is around 40 Kilometers. Rest house is behind the petrol pump just a little ahead of the main bazaar. The hike starts behind this rest house and is actually an abandoned jeep road. In a couple of hours, this path reaches Danoi rest house while passing through a beautiful pine forest. Danoi rest house is at an approximate altitude of 1300 meters2 .

If you have lesser time, another option is to skip the first part and start the hike right from Danoi rest house itself where a metalled road joins from Lehtrar. To reach rest house on a vehicle, follow the Lehtrar road for a further few kilometers towards Kotli Sattian till a place called as Thun Mor from where a road turns right towards Baba Saeen Matka Sharif shrine in Kamra. There is also a sign board indicating this shrine. Total traveling distance from Islamabad to Danoi rest house is around 60 kilometers. If you are coming on your own vehicle, you can park it here. Tell the rest house guards to take care of it, and they will do it well. The rest house was built in 1928 and is right in the middle of the beautiful pine forest. You can also spend the night here through an advanced booking from the forest department office near Sawan station, Rawalpindi but they are generally reluctant to entertain people without reference3 .

Back to the main story:

We were able to somehow convince Tanveer (The care taker) to prepare us a hot cup of tea while the rain continued to lash the surroundings and our dreams both.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

1 http://dashtnavard.wordpress.com/?s=Danoi+rest+house 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. Hiking in the Panjpir Rockies Page 6
1 http://dashtnavard.wordpress.com/?s=Danoi+rest+house 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. Hiking in the Panjpir Rockies Page 6
(Tea when served hot can add color to life) Since we did not have much

(Tea when served hot can add color to life)

Since we did not have much to do, thus we waited for the rain to stop.

not have much to do, thus we waited for the rain to stop. (The plaque at

(The plaque at the Danoi rest house)

We ended up having discussions on varied subjects while the ladies had their own chat sessions in one of the rooms. Out came the snacks, the dry fruit, the biscuits, the juices and we all prayed God to have mercy on our souls and allow us to come nearer to him through scaling the mountainous peaks.

our souls and allow us to come nearer to him through scaling the mountainous peaks. Hiking
our souls and allow us to come nearer to him through scaling the mountainous peaks. Hiking
(Discussion, discussion and more discussion) The rain finally stopped around 11:45 a.m. and without wasting

(Discussion, discussion and more discussion)

The rain finally stopped around 11:45 a.m. and without wasting any further time, we packed our bag packs and got ready for the ascent.

time, we packed our bag packs and got ready for the ascent. (The hiking team is

(The hiking team is ready for the ascent)

We were a total of 14 hikers. Two groups were formed and off we went to Panjpir. The faster group included Khawaja Sahib (Consultant @ Interactive group), Sajjad Baloch (Reporter at Capital TV), Kashif Khan (Asst. Professor @ Iqra University), Dr. Shahzada Alamgir (Sr. Manager, PTCL Academy), Dr. Fahim Hashmi (Professor @ NUST), Ahsan Mumtaz (ERP Specialist @ PTCL), Shahid Hussain (Lecturer @ AIOU), Farrukh Azeem (German Press Agency) and Adil Shaikh (My older of the two sons).

Farrukh Azeem (German Press Agency) and Adil Shaikh (My older of the two sons). Hiking in
Farrukh Azeem (German Press Agency) and Adil Shaikh (My older of the two sons). Hiking in

The slower group consisted of Mohsin Shaikh (My younger son), Dr. Abdul Shakoor (Ophthalmologist @ Khushab District hospital), Atif Khan (CEO, BB Support services), Rizwan Khan (Project Director, HEC) and myself.

services), Rizwan Khan (Project Director, HEC) and myself. (Mohsin and I trailing the pack while enjoying

(Mohsin and I trailing the pack while enjoying the scenery)

Within an hour of trailblazing, we had already lost the forward group since they all had a tendency to walk faster while I had to accompany the slower members of the group.

while I had to accompany the slower members of the group. (Mohsin and I thoroughly enjoying

(Mohsin and I thoroughly enjoying the scenes around us)

This was bound to happen and we are used to walking in two or three groups. The scenery started to change within an hours’ time of our walking.

groups. The scenery started to change within an hours’ time of our walking. Hiking in the
groups. The scenery started to change within an hours’ time of our walking. Hiking in the
(I am posing in front of a huge boulder) The strangest thing about this particular

(I am posing in front of a huge boulder)

The strangest thing about this particular hike is that within an hour and a quarter of a hike from the rest house, you start to encounter huge boulders and the mind boggles as to where these must have come from and when.

By 1:30 p.m. we were at an altitude of around 1,500 meters and the weather turned extremely cold while the clouds surrounded us. The temperature dropped to below zero and the five of us could feel the chill in our spines.

zero and the five of us could feel the chill in our spines. (Rizwan took this

(Rizwan took this picture for us)

The air became clear and the quiet of the mountains became too loud to be ignored. It just dawned upon me that how many countries have perennially snow-capped mountains, sprawling deserts, miles of green fields, unspoilt

snow-capped mountains, sprawling deserts, miles of green fields, unspoilt Hiking in the Panjpir Rockies Page 10
snow-capped mountains, sprawling deserts, miles of green fields, unspoilt Hiking in the Panjpir Rockies Page 10

beaches, historical buildings and monuments, jaw-dropping excavation sites and friendly people, not to speak of a wide variety of mouthwatering cuisine?

God was talking to me already. I could feel him all around us and my heart and mind left my body and I started to fly. This is why I come to the mountains. The peace, the serenity, the silence of it all. The out of body experience.

By 2:15 p.m. we had thoroughly lost our way but we were still ascending. Sometimes being lost itself is fun when you don’t know where you are going but somehow the path that you tread is where God wants you to be.

the path that you tread is where God wants you to be. (We are contemplation our

(We are contemplation our next move at the village which discovered us)

We had come across a village and we met an old man and asked him as to where we were and how far was the Panjpir peak. He had a strange aura, the look in his eyes was like lightening and he looked at me and smiled and confessed that we would still have to walk another two hours if we wanted to reach that particular peak. I was a distance of about a minute from the rest of my group and thus had a solitary minute with this man. He asked the dreaded question as to why I wanted to scale that peak. Why I wanted to know as to who were the five Saints (Panj-Pir) and why did I want to meet them?

to know as to who were the five Saints (Panj-Pir) and why did I want to
to know as to who were the five Saints (Panj-Pir) and why did I want to
(Resting on one of the boulders) I tried and searched for the questions within me

(Resting on one of the boulders)

I tried and searched for the questions within me and sooner than later had all the answers. We ourselves were the Panj-Pir. Atif, Rizwan, Dr. Abdul Shakoor, Mohsin and myself. We did not have to look elsewhere. The legend has it that the five brothers i.e. Pandava from the Hindu mythology were these five pirs. They could have been the Panjatan-e-Pak i.e. Hazrat Muhammad, Hazrat Ali, Bibi Fatima, Hassan and Hussain.

Since there was no way that we could have further walked for two hours and then returned before dusk, we thus decided to stay put at this village. We did our ablution here and said our Zuhr prayers at the small mosque of the village.

said our Zuhr prayers at the small mosque of the village. (We parked our bags and

(We parked our bags and decided to have our picnic here)

mosque of the village. (We parked our bags and decided to have our picnic here) Hiking
mosque of the village. (We parked our bags and decided to have our picnic here) Hiking

Our host, a young Haseeb Satti from the village brought us homemade tea and made us comfortable with his stories about the village.

and made us comfortable with his stories about the village. (Posing at the village Sattian peak

(Posing at the village Sattian peak with the Kashmir Mountains at our back)

We spent a good quarter to two hours here and enjoyed the crisp wind and the serene views around us. Suddenly, all went silent; then a group of eagles shriek above me. The wind whispered something in my ear. I smile and shake my head. I take in as much of the breeze and the view as I can.

If this place was magical, the name no less so! Everywhere you turn, there is beautiful scenery waiting to captivate your senses. Thankfully, the villagers here are generally helpful and point travelers like us in the right direction.

helpful and point travelers like us in the right direction. (Mohsin posing with our host Haseeb)

(Mohsin posing with our host Haseeb)

travelers like us in the right direction. (Mohsin posing with our host Haseeb) Hiking in the
travelers like us in the right direction. (Mohsin posing with our host Haseeb) Hiking in the

We said our sweet goodbyes to Haseeb, packed our backpacks, said our Asr prayers and left for Danoi at 4:10 p.m. sharp and reached base camp right around Maghreb prayers i.e. 5:50 p.m. While on the way back we were over taken by Dr. Alamgir and Farrukh Azeem who swiftly were descending on faster slopes and reached the base camp a good ten minutes before us.

and reached the base camp a good ten minutes before us. (Rizwan throwing me his backpack)

(Rizwan throwing me his backpack)

We hurriedly offered our Maghreb prayers and started worrying about the last group of six hikers who had reached the Panjpir peak all the way. We were initially able to keep in touch with them on cell phones but later lost touch. Since Adil (my older son) was also with this group; his mother started worrying since the evening was becoming darker.

I picked Tanveer and we went on top of one of the close by hills to figure out as to where they could have been. This was the first time that one of the hiking party got lost and the evening was turning darker. All of us at the rest house were tired, we had not eaten and were worried about the safety of our other comrades.

I always make it a point that we carry three sets of ropes, torches, extra water,

whistles for my two boys and myself. It was a solace that at least the group that was lost comprised of six people with Khawaja Sahib and Dr. Fahim Hashmi leading the gang. They somehow managed to get down from another hill and went astray. Lucky them that they found some people in an encampment who guided them back on the path but it took them another hour to ascend a hill

and then come down in our direction.

it took them another hour to ascend a hill and then come down in our direction.
it took them another hour to ascend a hill and then come down in our direction.

Tanveer had left me on one of the hills and went further in their pursuit. He was finally able to track them and bring them back; safely to the guest house. They finally reached the base camp by 7:45 p.m. Without further waiting to have the lunch that we were supposed to have together after the hike, we rushed home quietly at 8:00 p.m. An eerie silence engulfed our coaster and we reached the parking lot of HEC by 9:45 p.m. extremely tired and exhausted.

We reached home by 10:15 p.m. and feasted on the dry food that we had prepared for the hiking picnic. After dinner we enjoyed a hot cup of Qahwa and after saying our Ishaprayers, we slept like logs.

This was a wonderful experience of getting lost in the woods, going through the trauma of losing our friends and then the joy of finally meeting them again and not losing our cool during the entire process.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…………It is learning how to dance in the rain!

Shaikh Muhammed Ali ‘The Wandering Dervish’ E-mail: dushkashaikh@gmail.com Cell: +00-92-321-5072996 Sunday, 14 th April 2013, 06:12 p.m. (PST)

Cell: +00-92-321-5072996 Sunday, 14 t h April 2013, 06:12 p.m. (PST) Hiking in the Panjpir Rockies
Cell: +00-92-321-5072996 Sunday, 14 t h April 2013, 06:12 p.m. (PST) Hiking in the Panjpir Rockies

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