Abbotabad: Jinnah Gardens in Early Spring
A TALE ON THE TRAIL TO THE ABBOTABAD PEAK
by Nayyar Hashmey
Located at a distance of 116 km from Rawalpindi and 217 km from Peshawar, Abbotabad is a popular summer resort in the midst of spacious valleys surrounded by green hills on all sides. The city is noted for its verdant parks, gardens, a beautiful golf course and pine covered hills. Besides, it boasts some prestigious educational institutions of the country and serves as an important gateway to almost all-beautiful places in Pakistan.
The formidable Karakorams and the enchanting Himalayas are approached from Abbottabad. It is a junction from where one goes to places like Hunza, Gilgit, Skardu and Kohistan of the Karakoram Range. One can easily reach Swat, Swati Kohistan, Dir and Chitral of the Hindukush Range along with Naran, Saif-ul-Muluk, Shogran and Babusar Pass of the Himalayan Range. Neelum, Lipa and Jhelum Valley of beautiful Azad Kashmir are also connected through Abbottabad.
While other hill stations are deserted during winter, Abbotabad is blessed with visitors due to its bracing winter season. The place has a beautiful park, the Jinnah Garden, maintained by the local Cantonment Board. The splendid stretch of turf in the city promises plenty of room for sports like polo, football, hockey and golf. The Cantonment area of is still very British. The European bungalows, the club, the church and cemetery are still there.
This is how the city looks nowadays but long time back, when I was doing my HSSC course; it had a different, even more beautiful and natural look than it has today. I was invited then by my elder brother to spend summer vacations in Abbotabad. (My brother in those days, was posted there as a tax officer of the Govt. of Pakistan).
Abbotabad as every one knows, was then and still is the second most important hill station in Pakistan. It was in those days, a clean, fragrant and beautiful town. There was absolutely no stink of diesel fumes, population was small and a rain shower even though a slight one, would dry clean the whole town, giving the small, beautiful Abbotabad a totally new look.
Nestled in the hills of Nawan Shehr locality of Abbotabad, Ilyasi Mosque is Abbotabad’s landmark constrcuted over a natural spring.
The city had on its brinks green blue hills dotted with poplar forests. Crisscrossing the hills were small streams and rivulets. Up on the hills and their slopes were fruit orchards laden with apples, pomegranates and wild berries of every kind. The place we were living was also on the edge of the city and was called Malikpura. (It exists even today but is a much congested and overcrowded locality now).
Now we had a Gujjar lady who used to bring milk and poultry for us. We called her ‘Masi’. This milk lady or our Masi had a son who sometimes accompanied his mother. One day this son (I would call him a Masizad because I have forgotten his name) told me that up on the peak of the mountain and beyond, down hill there is a cave where Raja Rasaloo, the one time king of the area used to keep his gold and other treasures there. Now the fascination of a place which used to be laden with gold in time unknown coupled with the fact that I had never seen a cave yet, my fascination turned double fold and a strong urge arose to reach the summit of the mountain, descend the other side and sneak into the cave of a Raja who used to rule the valley in ancient days. My younger brother asked this ‘Masizad’ how high is the mountain and how much time will it take to reach there. Came the terse reply “Oh, not much, it’s just a two hours ascent and there you go”.
My bother and I were so impressed with an idea to scale a peak even though a not very high but then peak is a peak. Our enthusiasm also grew much as a few years back, late Edmund Hillary of New Zealand for the first time had conquered the world’s highest peak on Himalayas, the Mount Everest. If not the highest, yet we would be scaling a peak and that would be great adventure and fun.
A mix of hues, the greens and the blues created by mother nature’s brush on the mountain of Abbotbad. Photo by Usman Qureshi
Now having listened to the very tempting and luring adventure, we decided to go for the expedition next morning. With the feeling of a would be conqueror, from verandah of my house, I just looked at the great mountain in the west, which carries the city like a mother does its child in the lap, I visualized a wonderful, pleasant and comfortable journey upwards. And let it be known dear reader, neither myself nor my younger brother had the least idea of trekking, climbing or mountaineering, yet irrespective of the hazards on the way, we decided to scale the peak of mountain.
Next day, we left at about 7.30 in the morning. While trekking upwards, we felt very pleasant. There was lush green vegetation everywhere; small rivulets came on our way. We happily waded through.. Water was cold and flow was rapid, yet we easily crossed over.
In the beginning our stamina was high so we did not feel the stress and exhaustion of moving upwards. However, at 8.30 am we asked our Masizad, how far it was to the top, to which he calmly replied, “Bhai, just near the top we are”. With these words, we again plucked our spirits and started moving upwards, although both me and my brother were gasping all the time and did not feel like going up any more. But with his words we started going and again gasping, moving upwards, gasping, moving with short breaks for rest and again moving. We asked the Masizad how far was it now to the top and he with his usual calm says” Bhai ab thora sa fasila reh gya hae” (brother, its just few steps now). With these morale boosting words, we again collected our spirits and started moving through but this time it was real hard task because not only was the height a big challenge to our stamina but also the lush green vegetation had turned into thorny bushes. To this malady came another misery in waiting. The grass on the mountain had every now and then shrubs which had a slimy juice in the leaves.
There were many leaves of this type lying on the ground like a creeper. This made us many a time to slip and fall down but we managed it some how. It was almost 9.30 now but the top was nowhere in the sight. We were almost nearing exhaustion both in spirits and physique. Again the morale boosting dosage from our Masizad “Bhai ab tau aap top per pohnch gayay ho”. (Brothers, you have reached the top almost). These words acted like a tonic but as the poet says “abhi ishq ke imtihan aur bhi haen” we had yet many tests, feats and miracle to perform. That was the price we had to pay for our love, adventure, and persistence to reach the top. Again we collected ourselves and started trekking upwards. We were very much exhausted and now the sun had brightened too much, we could not open our eyes and were terribly thirsty. Fortunately our masizad had with him water in the chhagal. Those of you, who do not know what a chhagal is, well! Chhagal is a canvas container for carrying water. Mostly soldiers used this in their exercises and actual battles. I do not know whether our army jawans still use it but in those days, it was a part of an armor by a soldier, a traveller or a climber in remote areas – whether desert or the mountain. As is the case and this we starkly observed near the top of Abbotabad mountain, that in such places, thirst is another reason to loose one’s life. But fortunately, we had water so we quenched the thirst to our heart.
After having refreshed ourselves, we started ascending once more. While taking water, we had taken a 15 minutes break and thus had revamped our energies. Our ascent began once again but now we were not so tired as before. Fluid intake had done an elixir’s job. And then we had also the excitement to reach the top. We trekked and we trekked almost for an hour or so and vow! we were on the top. It was an immense joy for me and my brother. We were on the top of a local mountain and yet our excitement was not less than a mountaineer who had reached Mount Everest.
Mountain top was a very fresh and plain ground, lush green shrubbery and pine trees. There was wild fragrance in the air and it was a paradise like atmosphere. All our fatigue had gone in a nu
Having stayed on top for a while, we started descending now and in about an hour’s time, we reached the cave of famed Raja Rasaloo. The cave was not a big one, it was quite muddy inside but in we went. It was as cool as an air-conditioned room. We selected a dry place, plain enough to squat easily. The feel of being inside a Raja’s cave’ even though there was absolutely nothing romantic about the cave, nor anything special, no wealth of the Raja, no gold and nothing else except a hollowed space in the mountain, yet it was a great feel, great fascination and fun for us. At that moment our Masizad asked us whether we had some hunger and both me and my younger brother said we were indeed. To this, he opened his “poatlee” and vow; he had parathas and potatoes made into bhujia done in mountain style by our good masi. There was a special type of achaar made of wild apples, berries and a special fruit which had the look of small black pepper seeds. It was a wonderful recipe, the most sumptuous treat I had ever had in my life especially after such a hectic hike to the mountain and then to the cave of a mythical Raja who used to hide his wealth in the cave. Well dinner with such a relishing food and off we go. We came out of the cave, started ascending once again. The journey back home was quite smooth as we had acquainted ourselves with the whole trek now and were now much experienced hikers.
Later I trekked to many places, the Saiful Malook lake in Kaghan, Parachinar in Kurram Valley, the Alps in Upper Austria and Salzburg, the Czech & Slovak highlands in Eastern Europe and it was a normal way of life with me but the one to mountain in Abbotabad was a tough, yet a very good learning experience to embark on mountain treks, no matter low or the high mountains.