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.

Babusar Pass Beauty of Pakistan

Babusar Pass or Babusar Top(el. 4173 m./13,691 ft.) is a mountain pass at the north of the 150 km. (93 miles) long Kaghan Valley connecting it via the Thak Nala with Chilas on the Karakoram Highway (KKH). It is the highest point in the Kaghan Valley that can be easily accessed by cars.

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The Kaghan Valley is at its best during summer (months ranging from May to September). In May the maximum temperature is 11 C (52 F) and the minimum temperature is 3 C (37 F). From the middle of July up to the end of September the road beyond Naran is open right up to Babusar Pass. However, movement is restricted during the monsoon and winter seasons. The Kaghan area can be reached by road via the towns of Balakot, Abbottabad and Mansehra.

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The mountain ranges which enter Mansehra district from Kashmir are the offshoots of the great Himalayan system. In Kaghan valley the mountain system is the highest of the area including the Babusar top. This range flanks the right bank of the Kunhar, contains a peak (Malika-e-Parbat) of over 17,000 feet (19), the highest in the district. On the mountains the grasslands are also found where Gujars and other nomads migrate during summer for grazing their sheep, goats and other animals. On the northern side there are mountains which are the extension of the same mountain system as that of Kaghan mountains. This range diverges from the eastern side at Musa-ka-Musalla a peak (13,378 feet) (20), which skirt the northern end of the Bhogarmang and Konsh valleys, and sends down a spur to divide the two. Here also, like Kaghan, thick forests are found especially on the higher slopes. Due to extensive exploitation only in unapproachable areas the thick forests are found.

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22 Images That Capture The Beauty Of Balochistan

Balochistan is thought of to be dry and barren with only sand and rocks to adorn it. How wrong you are!!! Balochistan is abundant in beauty; from breathtaking waterfalls to deep valleys and fruit trees. It is a land that has beauty oozing out of every corner. Even the rocks and sand are unmatchable in their beauty.

Here’s a taste of the hidden beauty of Balochistan.

1. Weaving along the breathtaking Makran coastal highway

Makran Coastal Highway
Encyclopk

2. Lighting up the night sky – Quetta at night

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Insider

3. Ormara under the clouds

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VTourist

4. Hammerhead of Ormara at sunset

Hammerhead of Ormara at night
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5. Where the sea is kissing the desert

Where the sea kisses the desert
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6. Night lights of Gwadar city

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7. Beauty of Hingol National Park

Hingol National Park
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8. Picturesque Bolan pass

Bolan pass
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9. Hindu’s sacred river – Hingol

Hingol river
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10. Hanna Lake, the best place for a picnic

Hanna Lake
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11. Sleeping beauty of Quetta

Sleeping beauty of Quetta
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12. Ziarat in the winter

Ziarat in the winter
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13. The sublime Charoo Falls

charoo falls
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14. Rugged beauty of Zhob Valley

Zhob Valley
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15. Breathtaking Buzy Pass

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Sky Scraper City

16. Stunning Phir Ghaib Falls

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17. The glorious Astola Beach

Astola Beach
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18. Colorful mountains of Balochistan

Colorful mountains of Balochistan
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19. Mesmerizing beauty of the desert

beauty of sand
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20. Stunning Nok Kundi

Nok Khundi
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21. Hidden paradise Chotok Khuzdar

Chotok Khuzdar
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22. The Marvelous Quetta Highway

Quetta Highway
Dawn

This is only a small taste of the beauty of Balochistan, don’t you think it’s about time you find out what else Balochistan has hidden?

Eidul Fitr celebrations across the country -Beautiful Pictures

 

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Muslims in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and other Muslim countries celebrated Eidul Fitr on Saturday, marking the end to the fasting month of Ramazan. Here is a glimpse of Eidul Fitr celebrations across Pakistan.

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A policeman stands guard as worshippers pray to mark Eidul Fitr at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

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A woman holds her child as she prays to mark Eidul Fitr at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

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Women pray to mark Eidul Fitr at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

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Muslims offer Eidul Fitr prayers at an Eidgah ground in Karachi

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Muslims offer Eidul Fitr prayers at the at the Jamia Mosque in Rawalpindi

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A girl sits as Eidul Fitr prayers are offered at the at the Jamia Mosque in Rawalpindi.

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Muslims exchange Eid greetings after offering Eidul Fitr prayers at the at the Jamia Mosque in Rawalpindi.

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People exchange Eid greetings after offering Eidul Fitr prayers at an Eidgah ground in Karachi.

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Women exchange Eid greetings after offering Eidul Fitr prayers at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore

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A policeman stands guard as worshippers leave after offering Eidul Fitr prayers in KarachiPAKISTAN-RELIGION-ISLAM-EID

A man distributes ‘Eidi’ notes to poor people after offering Eidul Fitr prayers at the at the Jamia Mosque in Rawalpindi

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Muslims leave after offering Eid al-Fitr prayers at the at the Jamia Mosque in Rawalpindi.

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Muslims offer Eidul Fitr prayers at an Eidgah ground in Karachi.

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A woman prays after offering Eidul Fitr prayers to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramazan, at the historical Badshahi mosque in Lahore

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A woman prays to mark Eidul Fitr at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore

Iftar for the people, by the people

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MUSLIMS all over the world celebrate the holy month of Ramadan every year; they try to be patient throughout the 30 days (sometimes 29, depending on the moon sighting) and be civil to each other as per the teachings of Islam. In particular, during this month we see people going out of their way to feed the less fortunate and those caught on the roads come Iftar time. And that’s where Karachi wins head over heels against other cities.

You may be late in reaching home for Iftar during the holy month but Karachiites never shy away from their responsibility of ensuring that you break your fast on time. Even when the law and order situation was testy a few years back, you could find youngsters on the main road carrying bundles of snacks and juices, distributing them without asking about sect or religion. Now if you are standing on the main roads of the city, you will find kids handing out refreshments — be it even a date, a samosa and a juice packet — which is a huge thing when you need something to Open your fast.

That passion has now been taken to the next level, especially at a time when poverty has increased manifold. Now you can opem your fast without even paying for it, any day during the holy month. One of the leading non-governmental organisations in Karachi is feeding more than 600 people at Iftar time in the metropolis on a daily basis and their effort has now been recognized internationally thanks to the social media and TV channels. At Sehri time, they feed 250 people at an average which is a huge number considering none of them is asked to pay a rupee for the food.

If you go to the Numaish area where this lavish free buffet is served, you will find that no matter which religion you belong to — Hindu, Muslim, or Christian — no one asks you about your identity. This is the kind of harmony the founding fathers of Pakistan dreamt of and thankfully, the holy month of Ramadan offers them just that. At a time when the rich have their eyes on the many buffet deals in the market, the poor now have an outlet where they can go and break their fast without worrying about any kind of payment. They can get the stuff packed as well for later consumption and one hopes that the system continues for the next 11 months as it makes your belief in humanity, stronger.

This is just one of the many places that offer a reprieve for those who can’t afford to break their fast or even have a decent meal. People with the means make sure that the needy are served rightly in this holy month and that’s why you see dastarkhwans at regular distances all over the city. There are a few individuals who prefer paying the many NGOs to serve those in need while many small-scale restaurants ensure that food is distributed to those who can’t afford it, especially during these 30 days. When you think of others, when you help in breaking people’s fast instead of worrying about your own and when you outshine other cities through your collective efforts, that’s when things look to be heading in the right direction.