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Hiking on Trail-2, Margalla Hills, Islamabad

(Start Coordinates: 33°44'04.61"N 73° 03'16.68"E) Elev: 1,976 feet) (End Coordinates: 33°44'17.04"N 73° 03'25.45"E) Elev: 2,352 feet) Total Return Distance: 0.90 kms

(Shaikh Muhammad Ali)

3D Google Map of the entire Hike: Maximum Trek Elevation 2,352 Feet

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
– John Steinbeck

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Opening Statement: The first time that I went to the Kaghan valley, in the northern areas of Pakistan was in 1984. I was a young man of 20 and would travel all the way to Islamabad from Karachi. Lodge into a guest house here and would make friends with the locals. Dump my suitcase with them and would take my bag pack, a current map, a lonely planet guide, a novel of interest with some cash in my back pocket and catch a public transport up North. I learnt to survive on a shoe string budget. Travelling, up in the northern areas always intrigued me and I would never beg friends in Karachi to come along since they had their little hang-ups in life and thus I went my way without ever complaining. I became more of a loner but learnt quickly in life that the hiking, trekking and mountaineering types were all like me. Crazy in the head and ‘Markhor’ in the spirit who could only be found in the highest of the high Karakorum ranges fighting it out with the snow leopard and the snow eagle for survival! In this solitude, I found myself and somewhere along the line, found God too. I first stayed at the Pine Park Hotel in Balakot in 1984 and made friends with the manager there. His name was Matiullah Jan and he gave me enough protocol that I would keep visiting him in later years. On my first trip, I tried going to Naran but in those days the heavy machinery that is used nowadays to remove the snow, silt and ice was rarely available and due to a landslide; could not make it to Naran. I had to return while settling for Balakot only. The next time around, I went to Balakot in 1986. Tried again to visit Naran but due to a landslide could not make it and ended up going to Shogran instead which is another heaven on earth. From Shogran, Matiullah’s jeep driver took me to the Siri and Paya mountains. On the way, we met with a glacier which almost fell down on us. The jeep had to be parked there and I had to walk for some three kilometers to go up the mountain and appreciate the bounties of God. Again in 1994, I arranged a late honeymoon trip for my younger of the two sisters and her husband for Balakot. They both enjoyed the hospitality of Matiullah Jan who arranged package tours for them to visit Naran, Lalazar Plateau, Lake Saiful-Malook, Babusar Pass and finally to Gilgit and back. Come 1997, took my Mom to Balakot and ended up staying at the Pine Park Hotel again and experienced the hospitality of Matiullah Jan. He arranged a jeep tour of the Lake Saif-ul-Malook and Lalazar Plateau for us which my Mom
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thoroughly enjoyed. I came back and got engaged in July the same year and subsequently tied the knot in December 1997 and that was that. This last Sunday i.e. 10th June 2012, my sister and brother-in-law (Dr. Syed Hamid Ali) flew up from Karachi along with their three children and I was again privileged to book them to Naran via PTDC coach on the next morning. Their children wanted to see the mountain resorts where their parents had a ball some 18 years ago. There was no question of mobile phone service in Naran way back in 1994 and now I call my sister’s family practically on a daily basis and take an update as to what they have been up to. Usually, you have to pass through two glaciers between Balakot and Naran but due to heavy snow this season, they crossed five glaciers on the way. So far they have been to Lalazar Plateau, Lake Saif-ulMalook and Lulusar Lake. On Tuesday i.e. 12th June 2012; they tried going to the Babusar Top but failed due to a heavy glacier on the way. On 13th June, they visited the Lake Saif-ul-Mulook and on the 14th they left for Shogran. Early on the morning of 15th June 2012, they visited the Siri & Paya Mountains and came back to Islamabad, exhilarated. My family also wanted to visit the Kaghan valley this year and wanted to join Hamid’s family but since Dada (My dad) is here and cannot travel such distances due to his age; thus we dropped the idea. Suddenly, on the 13th of the month, Dada issued a decree that he wants to return to Karachi along with Hamid’s family when they would fly out on the 24th June 2012; we thus stand a chance to visit Kaghan and Naran in the first week of July 2012, albeit Dada’s decision has left an atmosphere of gloom all around the house. My children are going bonkers since the time they have heard the news that we may be able to visit Lake Saif-ul-Malook this year. We have been planning to do this for the last three years but life has been taking other turns. Let’s see if our plans could see the light of day. Now, let me lead you again to the Margalla Hills. After doing most of the strenuous treks in the Margallas, I decided to hike on the simplest of the trails in the foothills of the Himalayas i.e. the Margalla Hills. Of course, the family was invited and on the last Sunday of April 2012 i.e. on the 29th; we took this journey.

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I got up at 5:15 a.m. and said my Qaza Fajr prayers. Adil followed at 5:30 a.m. and then we both woke up Sabeen (my better half) and Mohsin and Ayesha were all up by 6:00 a.m. While Sabeen made the ceremonial breakfast, we listened to Tilawat being telecast live from Saudi Arabia and then a repeat telecast of ‘Ham Sub Umeed Sey Hain’. This is one hilarious program produced by the GEO television network which gives you enough to have a good laugh in today’s world of gloom and doom. We left the house at 7:40 a.m. which was rather late as per our hiking standards. By 8:10 a.m., I dropped Adil, Ayesha & their Mom at the starting point of Trail # 2 on the Daman-e-Koh road while Mohsin and I went to park the car at the ‘Jungle’ resort parking lot and came back and joined them at 8:23 a.m. By 8:35 a.m., we took the first picture and started the trek.

(The trekking family at the start of Trail # 2, Margalla Hills) This is what I wrote earlier in one of my articles about this particular Trek:
Trail 2 / Zoo trail – Trail 2 begins a little way up on the Pir Sohawa road (just past the Jungle Shack drinks bar – GPS 33.73.46° N, 73.05.45° E) or you can start from the right of the entrance of the Islamabad Zoo. This is a good choice if you are looking for a 1 - 2 hour walk – the trail leads up to the Daman-e Koh viewpoint – if you want to continue walking a trail up to Cactus Ridge leads from next to the Police checkpoint near the entrance to Daman-e Koh. From Cactus Ridge, you get a good view of where Air Blue flight 202 crashed on 24 June 2010.
th

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The walk up the hill was serene and with Ayesha around; our pace was slow. In the next eleven minutes we reached a marker which was in the middle of nowhere and we failed to understand its significance.

(The famous four are posing at the first marker) Right past this marker, we started hearing the chirping of the birds and the peacocks and we soon realized that we were walking in the vicinity of the Islamabad zoo. Very soon we reached another marker which was a point that leads either towards the Zoo or if you would turn left would lead you up the hill. So far the height of the track was low but by 8:54 a.m. we had ascended enough to capture this picture of the Shah Faisal Mosque.

(Shah Faisal mosque in its full glory in the morning sun) In the next 10 minutes, I was able to catch a glimpse of the 7th Avenue. Thanks to Mr. Kamran Lashari, Ex-Chairman CDA who was instrumental in building such
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beautiful avenues for us Islooites. The reason why I can comfortably call myself an Islooite is not that I was born in Islamabad but on 5th July 2012 it would be a decade that I have lived in this amazing city and after spending this much time here, I can claim that I belong here. As the saying goes; Islamabad is about 5 kms away from Pakistan, although it is coming much closer now. Laughter!

(A beautiful view of the 7th Avenue) While we were enjoying the easy walk up the hill, it just dawned upon us that the trek had already ended and we had already reached Daman-e- Koh at 9:35 a.m. i.e. only in a time frame of 53 minutes. Had Ayesha had not been with us, my older brats would have scaled this one in less than 40 minutes.

(The Shaikh family relaxing after hiking on the simplest of treks)

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The culmination point of this Trail is at the back of the CDA offices at the Damane-Koh. This is also close to the washrooms where the Electric powered bus drops you at the ‘Viewpoint’ as it is generally known. A stark reality laughed on our faces when it was proven that our mother tongue is not English when we watched this board at the ladies restroom.

(Who said our mother tongue was English anyways!) After the kids went to the restrooms to freshen up, we searched for a shady place close to the trees and out came the snacks at 9:42 a.m. Kebab Sandwiches, chips and juices were the menu of the morn.

(The early bird gets the worm) After our 2nd breakfast, we walked around the hill resort. Daman-e-Koh @ 9:40 a.m. was as quiet as you could imagine with only the birds chirping, the crows

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cawing and the CDA sweepers shouting at the top of their voices. There was no other soul except a few security guards who were rather surprised to see their early guests i.e. us. We walked around for a while enjoying the silence and the calm of the place.

(Mohsin is becoming a good photographer too) While being here at Daman-e-Koh, I wanted to check the starting point of the ‘Cactus Ridge’ (Not the one in Okinawa, Japan but the one at Daman-e-Koh) Trek which I had not known so far. I just had a notion that it was somewhere close to the entry point of the resort around the small police station. Adil, Mohsin and I walked up to the entrance and were able to locate the starting point of the ‘Cactus Ridge’ without any difficultly due to the marker that has been placed there lately by CDA. Thank you Mr. Kamran Lashari! ‘Aap ki jitni bhi tareef ki jaey who kam hai’ (The more we praise you, the lesser it gets)!

(Gog & Magog at the entry point of ‘Cactus Ridge’)
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Although Adil and Mohsin wanted to continue on this trek which only encompassed 1.4 kms but looking at the hill, I realized that it could be a little steep for Ayesha and since they had already accomplished one, I would not have wanted to have dragged Ayesha & Mamma to another. But I promised my brats that we would come here in the next two weeks and scale this one too. So we returned back to the ladies and after taking this picture, sipped our halfdone juices and decided to return.

(Mr. & Mrs. Shaikh enjoying their 14th honeymoon) Ayesha was up to her regular antics and frolicked around trying to catch butterflies. When she realized that they were beyond her, she rested by a tree and asked ‘Baba can you please capture this pose for me’? And I jumped into action for my little darling.

(Another door to heaven, after my mother)
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We decide to return at 10:25 a.m. and reached base camp around 11:15 a.m. i.e. within a span of some 50 minutes. After stopping by an ATM (Jadoo Ki machine – A magical machine), we headed straight to the Sunday bazar at ‘Peshawar More’ and among other things; Mohsin got a trekker bag – all for himself. Well, with 4-5 hikes under his belt since the age of 5; he had earned this gift. We finally reached home around 2:15 p.m. and after enjoying a warm bubble bath with a touch of Eucalyptus leaves, offering our late Zuhr prayers, enjoying a light lunch; went straight to bed to catch some good zzzzzzzzzzs! Post Script: I would like to leave my readers here with a note that among the many things I know little about, one is family planning. I am neither an expert nor a professional on the subject but one of the blokes who watch in bewilderment and increasing panic as to how we as a nation are multiplying like rabbits. Even a certified blind fella can see the teeming millions that roll out from every nook and cranny of the least expected fleapits, thousands upon thousands, purposelessly drifting aimlessly, here and there. For God sake! We need to give ourselves a break. There are other things in life then to produce these monkeys and in spite of spending millions on the ‘Sabz Sitara’ Program, family planning is pigeonholed as a total and complete failure. If we do not wake up to this stark reality staring us in the face, maybe tomorrow would be too late. Go get a life. Stop and address this nonsense before we as a nation are no more and these hapless monkeys would be savaging on whatever that we are left with in Pakistan. Well, can the current government arrest this situation? This would remain a million dollar question. Afterthoughts, probably no! It has to deal first with the Suomotu actions of the likes of Arsalan Iftikhar, the Riaz Malik saga, the Luqman faux pas and the sexy Mehar Bokhari imbroglio. Sexy? Did I hear someone say the PM’s seat is empty?...........................Adios!

‘The Wandering Dervish’

Shaikh Muhammed Ali

E-mail: dushkashaikh@gmail.com Cell: +00-92-321-5072996 th June 2012, 8:48 p.m. (PST) 20
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