TRAVEL: CICADAS, CLOUDS AND CAMPSITES

The connifers of Thandiani | Photos by Mohammad Faraz

Tourism in northern Pakistan has seen an exponential increase in the past few years, which is due to a combination of better road access to the northern areas as well as greater awareness of the natural beauty on offer.

Spearheaded by an increasing number of intrepid trekkers and motorbikers, the news (and photos) on road conditions, hotels, campsites, flora and fauna, are all quickly spread via social media. You can now make informed decisions on travel destinations from the comfort of your home. As local guesthouses and ride hailing services proliferate, tour operators and travel agency offices are soon going to be a rare sight. Traveller information groups abound, some boasting upwards of 200,000 members. It’s one very small global village!

Our country has no shortage of tourist areas, and while most people opt for the more well-known destinations, many smaller and more accessible spots just hide in plain sight.

One such hidden gem is the hilltop point of Thandiani, just 25 kilometres from Abbotabad. One of the many similar spots discovered by the British in the 1850s, this forested place was once a popular summer retreat for the expat community of Peshawar and Rawalpindi. As at other summer retreats, the British sought to recreate a mini England, complete with church or chapel, wood and stone bungalows (the word itself an adaptation of the Urdu ‘bangla’), library, club and post office.

A few kilometres from Abbottabad, Thandiani is a nature-lover and photographer’s delight

Recently, along with fellow members of the Volkswagen Club, I attempted the drive from Islamabad to Thandiani.

A riot of tall pink foxgloves growing naturally
A riot of tall pink foxgloves growing naturally

I should add that my ‘Go To’ book for all matters related to travel and tourism is Isobel Shaw’s Pakistan Handbook. Now long out of print, last refreshed in the early 1990s, it has yet to be improved for insights into places of interest, travel advice, and intricate cultural and bureaucratic challenges, both for the local as well as (now very infrequent!) tourists from abroad.

Thandiani, on a dead end road, offers very little accommodation for the overnight visitor, and seeing a gap, the Tourism Corporation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) has set up around a dozen two- and four-bed camping pods on their land. We began by checking out details on their website, and then made a phone booking. Cash was transferred online to their bank account. A handwritten receipt was then sent on WhatsApp to us.

Part of Islamabad’s Volkswagen Club made the trip up to Thandiani
Part of Islamabad’s Volkswagen Club made the trip up to Thandiani

Our little group comprised a car and a van from the Club, and one (scandalous!) imported Japanese hybrid vehicle. Creating a WhatsApp group made it easy to coordinate and delegate duties amongst the travellers.

We set off via the M2 Motorway, in direction of Peshawar. A few kilometres up the road, an exit directed us on to the newly inaugurated section of the Hazara Motorway. Our vintage machines bowled along at an indicated steady 60 miles per hour; and 40 minutes later, exited near the town of Havelian, where we re-joined the N-35 — commonly known as the Karakorum Highway — a lifeline linking this area all the way to the Chinese border. Traffic is heavy, and we battled slow and frequently stalled trucks and diesel-smoke-spewing buses and other vehicles every inch of the way.

The well-maintained church built in 1850
The well-maintained church built in 1850

Twenty minutes to travel two kilometres, but we are on our way, with the main road leading to Thandiani, Nathia Gali and the other ‘Galis’ on our right. Another turn, left this time, and we are now on a narrow hilly road heading up, at times quite steep inclines, in first gear. The local transport of choice is the ubiquitous Suzuki Bolan, perhaps in thousands, but they all fall behind as we rapidly make our way up the slopes. Village houses cling to the surrounding hills like swallows’ nests; the road surface is passable for a saloon car, but watch out for those sudden sections where rain and loose earth has eaten away half the track. Proceed with caution as there are no guard rails or cement/stonewalls along the edge.

Pine trees of various types dot the landscape, their trunks and heights increasing as we approach the top. Finally, at the last hairpin bend, the small faded sign directs us towards a rough track leading to the campsite. The track rapidly degenerates into a rough bumpy boulder-strewn and cratered section. Our VWs tackle it with ease, but the hybrid import is floored; the passengers dismount, and the driver gingerly inches down the incline. Opt for a small four-wheel drive, or failing that, park outside the local cafes, and walk the last few hundred metres.

Two-person pod with solar panel at the campsite
Two-person pod with solar panel at the campsite

As you switch the engine off, you can hear the hum of what sounds like a thousand cicadas. It’s a wall of noise, and a reminder of how seldom, if at all, we hear them in our urban cityscapes. Over that come the croaks of the mountain raven, a larger jet black version of the common crow. Extremely intelligent, and occasionally kept as pets, they observe us with unusually shiny and alert eyes. The site manager, checks our papers, and we are shown our lodgings. The small pods remind us of the horse drawn caravans used by gypsies in the West.

Inside, the two narrow beds and curved roof provide for a cosy feel. Everything is clean and spotless, with white sheets and clean blankets. The exterior sports a cheerful blue and white striped pattern, the interior in pinewood-coloured faux wood panelling. The outdoor bathroom — a squat bulkier version of a telephone booth of yore — contains a WC, small sink, and shower. Water, scarce in the area, is not on tap, but in buckets. We weren’t troubled by the lack of piped water, and the bucket was refilled whenever we asked for it. Lighting is via LED strip lights and bulbs, all powered by rooftop solar panels.

The campsite itself is just big enough to provide each pod with sufficient private space, though the one central bonfire spot is shared. Daytime temperatures were in the mid-20s, the mercury dropping to 14oC at night.

Thandiani is a nature-lover and photographers’ delight, with miles of coniferous forests, large tall, old trees, multitudes of alpine flowers of every shape and hue, and walking tracks aplenty.

As mentioned earlier, the place has a few uninhabited buildings dating back to the 1850s, including the remarkably well-built and well-preserved church, where freshly painted red roofing and some new window glass point to recent repair. The church, built in 1850, is maintained and run by the Diocese of Peshawar. When was Sunday service last held here, and by whom? Thandiani still has its little secrets. Sadly, I didn’t spend enough time rooting for information among its old structures — one a residence for the priest perhaps; another a (pre-penicillin) sanatorium?

The days and nights here are cool and still, with the army of trees motionless and blue-green in the sunlight. It is idyllic to lay on a rug, read a few pages of a book, snooze awhile, and then resume.

Here at 8,832 feet, lying on the grass, surrounded by flowers, butterflies and clouds so low you think you can almost reach out and touch them, time stands still, and one lives in the moment. Our campfire provides us a constant source of hot water for tea and coffee. The next meal never too far away, it’s hardly surprising we didn’t walk as much as we should have. A few intrepid amongst the group awoke at 4am to watch the sunrise and view from the nearby hilltop. Again, I fall back on Isobel Shaw’s narrative: “It is a tiny, unspoiled hill station perched at 8,832 feet, on the flat top of a conical hill, with views in all directions. … You feel on top of the world.”

By the way, do carry away all the trash you create. Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. Leave the place as you would like to find it.

Thandiani! I’ll be back. With a pair of binoculars and more time to hear your secrets!

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September 6: A day to remember the sacrifices of Pakistan’s martyrs

Top leadership sends out messages of unity; armed forces commemorate the day with a show of power.

Pakistan, on September 6, commemorated the sacrifices made by its armed forces during the 1965 war. Various events were held all over the country to mark the occasion. Personnel from all military and paramilitary forces took part in these events.

Prime Minister Imran Khan in his message said Pakistan believes in peaceful coexistence and wants to promote mutual cooperation with other countries, including its neighbours, on the basis of equality.

He said the people of Pakistan have the ability to brave all challenges while following Quaid-i-Azam’s principles of Unity, Faith, and Discipline.

President Mamnoon Hussain and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also sent out messages of unity the occasion.

Para-troopers demonstrate their skills during a programme to mark Defence Day at Karnal Sher Khan (Shaheed) Stadium in Peshawar. — APP
Para-troopers demonstrate their skills during a programme to mark Defence Day at Karnal Sher Khan (Shaheed) Stadium in Peshawar. — APP
A disable person dancing at the 3rd Baloch Regiment Monument at Batapur. — APP
A disable person dancing at the 3rd Baloch Regiment Monument at Batapur. — APP
Gp. Cpt. Muzammil Jibran sapling a plant during Tree Plantation Campaign at Multan airport.  — APP
Gp. Cpt. Muzammil Jibran sapling a plant during Tree Plantation Campaign at Multan airport. — APP
Visitors viewing the displayed arms and ammunition at Karnal Sher Khan Stadium in Peshawar. — APP
Visitors viewing the displayed arms and ammunition at Karnal Sher Khan Stadium in Peshawar. — APP
Army personnel demonstrate their skills during a programme to mark the Defence Day. — APP
Army personnel demonstrate their skills during a programme to mark the Defence Day. — APP
Army para-troopers demonstrating their skills at Karnal Sher Khan (Shaheed) Stadium. — APP
Army para-troopers demonstrating their skills at Karnal Sher Khan (Shaheed) Stadium. — APP
A group photo of Lt Col Muhammad Adnan Ul Haq at the 3rd Baloch Regiment Monument at Batapur in connection with Defence Day of Pakistan. — APP
A group photo of Lt Col Muhammad Adnan Ul Haq at the 3rd Baloch Regiment Monument at Batapur in connection with Defence Day of Pakistan. — APP
Pakistan Army personnel in an exercise during a Defence Day show. — APP
Pakistan Army personnel in an exercise during a Defence Day show. — APP
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan offers Fateha along with Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa after laying flower wreath on the grave of martyrs. — APP
Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan offers Fateha along with Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa after laying flower wreath on the grave of martyrs. — APP
Army personnel demonstrating their skills during a programme to mark the Defence Day. — APP
Army personnel demonstrating their skills during a programme to mark the Defence Day. — APP
Pakistan Army personnel displaying their skills during a Defence Day show. — APP
Pakistan Army personnel displaying their skills during a Defence Day show. — APP
Pakistan Air Force cadets march next Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's mausoleum. — AFP
Pakistan Air Force cadets march next Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum. — AFP

Prayers and greetings all around as Pakistan celebrates Eidul Azha

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Pakistan kicked off Eidul Azha celebrations with special prayers on Wednesday morning. Soon after greetings were exchanged, men went out in search of butchers to help them carry out their sacrifice.

Muslims across the world celebrate the annual festival of Eidul Azha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the Haj pilgrimage to Makkah, and commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s readiness to sacrifice his son to show obedience to God.

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A woman offers Eidul Azha prayers at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

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A policeman stands guard as people offer Eid prayers in Karachi.

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Women hug each other after Eid prayers.

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A policeman stands guard during Eid prayers at the Badshahi Mosque.

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A family takes a selfie after Eid prayers.

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A man sprays perfume during Eid prayers outside a mosque in Rawalpindi.

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People offer Eid prayers.

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Men take control of a cow before it is slaughtered.

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People offer Eid prayers outside a mosque in Rawalpindi.

10 things that are proving to be most harmful in modern life

With modern technology ruling our daily lives there are some things that we have incorporated into our lives thinking that they are the healthier choice.

While some might be beneficial for you there some of the activities we do and the things we eat or take each day can actually be bad for us.

Taking Antibiotics

There is no doubt that antibiotics are great at treating relevant illnesses and making you better. The problem has come with the widespread use of antibiotics for illnesses where they are not needed, such as colds. This is creating bacteria that are resistant to them which is a problem when they cause serious health issues that we then have no way of treating.

 Using Liquid Handwash

Also known as hand sanitizer, this is on the face of it quite handy as it helps to keep your hands clean. The problem with it though is the chemicals that may contain which traditional bars of soap do not.

Taking Prescription Painkillers

One of the biggest industries in the medical world is the pharmaceutical one. This generates billions a year for the drugs companies and also gives doctors financial rewards for prescribing them. In many cases though, patients would be much better off with a long-term alternative therapy that is not addictive and does not cause any harmful side-effects to their bodies. Many prescription painkillers can affect your brain with long-term use and even bring on dementia.

Drinking Bottled Water

Even if you ignore the health effects of drinking bottled water, it simply makes no sense! Most of us pay for the water that comes to the taps in our home anyway, so why not drink this? Bottled water is also bad for your health, not least for the plastic bottles it comes in. Who knows what chemicals from the plastic bottle are leeching into the water inside which you then drink

 Carrying On Working When ill

In times gone by, people understood that the best cure for being ill was rest. They would take as long as they needed off work and only return when fully better. Sadly, this has changed in recent times! Workers now are under pressure to take painkillers and carry on which is crazy. This not only makes it impossible to shake off the cold but also passes the germs around the office for everyone else to catch.

Taking Anti-Allergy Tablets

Research in recent years has found that one leading brand could make dementia in old-age more likely with long-term use. This is obviously very worrying for a lot of people who take these tablets to combat pet allergies or hay fever. The best bet here really is to only take when you absolutely need them, and you will be fine.

 Eating Lots Of Fish

One current piece of advice is to eat lots of fish to get the vitamins and minerals contained in them. But eating too much of certain fish like Tuna can actually be bad for you. The reasons are that certain fish contain levels of poisonous mercury which can be harmful to humans in large quantities. Although eating some fish is fine, just be careful of having too much of the ones that have mercury in.

Eating Processed Gluten-Free Food

Another recent health-food craze is gluten-free food. Many people who are not gluten intolerant choose to buy specially processed food that is marked as gluten-free, believing it to be healthier. Unfortunately, this is not always true! After all, a cookie is still full of sugar even if the gluten has been taken out! In addition, you do not know what has been artificially added to this factory produced gluten-free products in place of the gluten.

Margarine

Margarine contains harmful trans fats which are bad for the human body. Butter, on the other hand, does not. While excess butter is naturally bad for you, having a little of this is much better than switching to margarine.

Swimming In A Pool

Swimming is the best exercise you can do. While it is true that swimming is great for an all over workout, you do not want to be doing a lot of heavy exercise in a pool. The problem is that your body temperature is not maintained at a constant level in a pool while too much swimming can strain your heart. While some swimming is ok, don’t go overboard!

6 Reasons why you should quit biting your nails Now!

Nail biting is a bad habit that’s become so common that it’s earned itself the clinical name of “onychophagia”.

In fact, researchers from the University of Calgary have found that as much as 45 percent of adolescents are nail-biters, while almost 33 percent of children in the seven to 10 age group do it as well.

As prevalent as it is among the population, indulging in it can lead to more serious health problems. More than just unsightly nails, you could damage other parts of the body.

Teeth problems

 

Nail biting can lead to tooth problems — Chronic nail biting can crack, wear down, or even chip your teeth. Deformed and destroyed teeth are the least of your worries; nail-biting puts you at greater risk of bruxism or the unintentional grinding of teeth that can cause facial pain, recessed gums, and even headaches. That’s not even discussing the possibility of triggering gingivitis or painful gum inflammation, which you can get if you continue to bite your nails.

Infections

Nail biting can cause infections — When you bite your nails, you could accidentally tear off a big piece that exposes the skin underneath. Because our mouths are full of bacteria, you risk exposing that delicate skin to bacteria or pathogens when you lean in for a bite. Paronychia is one of the most common fingernail infections and can last for weeks at a time. Swelling, pain, pus-filled lumps, and redness are a few of the conditions caused by this infection. (Related: Your nails and your overall health.)

Inflammation

Nail biting can cause inflammation — Your mouth isn’t just full of bacteria, it’s also full of saliva that breaks down food molecules and aids in digestion. Constantly exposing your fingers to saliva — itself a solvent — can lead to skin damage and inflammation.

Warts

Nail biting can give you facial warts — Everyday, we touch all kinds of objects and surfaces, from doorknobs to toilets to light switches. During that time, dirt and other contagious materials can get stuck under our nails. Touching your mouth or your face with those contaminated nails can cause warts to grow on your face or your neck. You can even develop warts on your fingers, points out Shape.com.

Ingrown nails

Nail biting can lead to ingrown nails or nail deformities — The “matrix” is the regenerative layer of cells at the base of nails. Adam Friedman, an Associate Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University, explains that biting or biting-related infections can cause damage to the matrix. This, in turn, can produce chronic ingrown nails or even nail deformities like pyogenic granulomas. These small, round growths tend to ooze and bleed.

Illness

Nail biting can lead to illness — We’ve already established that our hands come into contact with all kinds of things on a daily basis. If the germs and pathogens from those objects lingered on your hands and have somehow entered your mouth, then you could be setting yourself up for a bad case of illness. Which one? According to Friedman, there’s no limit. You risk catching a common cold, stomach virus, and even hepatitis A. If you wear nail polish, you could also end up swallowing toxins and chemicals that have no place being inside your body.

Conclusion

Nail biting may be comforting at first, but keep at it and you could do more serious damage to yourself. So don’t nibble on your nails. You might just bite off more than you can chew.

Here’s 5 reasons why eating chocolate is actually healthy for you!

It’s clear that humans like chocolate. But what if we were wrong about it being bad for us? What if chocolate could actually be good for you?

There’s nothing that quite compares to the velvety, melt-in-your-mouth surreal experience that chocolate provides.

An average human being eats almost 10 pounds of chocolate each year.

And with the use of chocolate dating back as far as 1900 BC, it certainly seems like chocolate won’t be going out of fashion anytime soon.

Find out what the experts have to say and discover the hidden benefits that are locked within this ultimate satisfactory treat!

Good Chocolate Is Packed With Antioxidants

You might have already heard that chocolate is high in antioxidants.  But what does this actually mean for you?

Antioxidants are a group of natural food chemicals such as flavanols, polyphenols, and catechins that fight free radicals in our body. Free radicals cause oxidation and inflammation, which contribute toward aging processes, chronic disease, and even cancer. Therefore, antioxidants can have a therapeutic action by disarming free-radicals and their associated health issues.

Good-quality dark chocolate is the best, highest-antioxidant forms of chocolate to eat. Dairy milk and white chocolate (which are higher in fat) contain far fewer antioxidants by comparison.

Cocoa Contains Some Surprising Nutrients!

Cocoa contains a surprisingly high number of nutrients and minerals, including:

Soluble fiber

Copper

Magnesium

Manganese

Zinc

Selenium

Phosphorus

Potassium

And even iron!

Furthermore, unprocessed cocoa contains almost 400 polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) and is reputed to have more phenolics than green tea. Not a bad nutritional profile for a ‘cheat food’, right?

Chocolate Might Improve Your Brain Health

Many of the healthful components in cocoa are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Flavonoids and resveratrol are neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory, meaning that they may play a role in reducing inflammation within the Central Nervous System.

Chocolate May Be Good For Blood Pressure

Now, this is news to get your blood pumping. It appears that chocolate may help to keep our blood pressure down!

Some experts explain that the flavanols in chocolate interact with the endothelium that lines our arteries, causing cells to produce nitric oxide.

Although ‘nitric oxide’ might sound like a scary word, it’s actually very good news for our cardiovascular health. This natural gas helps the arteries to relax, which then relieves the resistance to blood flow and helps to lower our overall blood pressure.

As part of an overall diet and lifestyle strategy, it seems that a little bit of dark chocolate may have a place in maintaining good heart health.

Eating Chocolate Makes You Feel Good

You may have heard that chocolate can be a ‘mood-enhancer’ and ‘romance-inducer’. This is because chocolate is a source of ‘phenylethylamine’. This wonderful chemical stimulates all those feel-good endorphins that make the world suddenly seem like an even bigger, brighter, better place. It also mimics the sensation of falling in love, and might even boost serotonin production. That’s something to smile about!