07
January

Hiking Trails of Margalla Hills

Written By: Maj Syed Sameer Azhar Gardezi

“It’s not the mountains but ourselves that we conquer”

(Sir Ed Hillary, mountaineer)

 

Residents of Islamabad are lucky to be located very close to beautiful Margalla Hills. These hills not only are a source of pleasant weather of the capital city but are also famous for the trails used by hiking lovers.

 

The word Margalla is formed from (Mar – snake and galla – home) i.e home of snakes. The name is attributed to presence of a small sized local rattle snake (Khar Kharya) in this area. Margalla is a 40 km long hill range that covers an area of approximately 12,605 hectares. Highest peak of the range is Tilla Charouni with an elevation of 1604 metres. Margalla Hills stretch from Shahdara Valley in the east to Shah Allah Ditta village in the west covering area between shrines of ‘Bari Imam’ in the east and ‘Golra Sharif’ in the west. Margalla Hills almost stand like a wall between two lakes of ‘Khanpur’ in the far north and ‘Rawal’ in near south.

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There are about thirty well identified trails in Margalla Hills and most of them are used by the locals. Administration of the capital city has worked on six hiking trails and has developed them. All of these trails offer unique hiking opportunities and can be easily managed as half-day weekend hikes. Here is a brief review of each of them based on personal experience.

 

TRAIL-1 (VILLAGE KALINGER/SINYARI)

It starts behind Sectors E-8 and E-9 and consists of three interlinked sub-trails. Easiest way to the trail head is by reaching village Kalinger from the junction of Agha Shahi Avenue and National Defence University. Hiking can be commenced from a small mazar complex in village Kalinger. Initially the trail moves along a water stream that leads into the mountains. Unlike other officially recognized trails, this is not marked well and it takes considerable effort to explore the path. A rigorous hike of almost two hours takes you to the shoulder of the ridge until the descent starts. Trail is used rarely by hikers, however, locals are found frequently on the way and are quite friendly. Occasional presence of cattles blocking the way as well as presence of small snakes locally called khar-kharya saanp should not be ruled out. This trail being mainly used by locals is free of any litter.

 

Last hour of downhill climb involves crossing a seasonal stream at few places and offers beautiful vistas. After about four hours of hiking, trail ends at a small graveyard in village Sinyari near a famous clump of Banyan trees. From here the metal road leads to the exit point on the main Margalla Road, opposite F-9 Park.

 

Owing to the relative isolation, lack of drinkable water and a rigorous long hike, it is not recommended for kids and families. A group of four or five people, properly rationed can undertake this exciting half-day hiking trip.

 

TRAIL-2 (DAMN-E-KOH / ZOO)

Among all the six officially recognized trails, Trail-2 leading up to Damn-e-Koh is the shortest. It has two distinct trail heads. First is located at a narrow dirt track astride Marghazar Zoo. Alternately, a well-marked trail head is present at the start of Pir Sohawa Road, short of Trail-4 parking area.

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No matter which starting point is chosen, trails subsequently merge mid-way and lead to the finish point at Damn-e-Koh. The trail is short but steep and it takes almost 45 minutes to reach the top. It can be a good choice if one is looking for a short Sunday hike with family. The track doesn’t finish at Damn-e-Koh and also has an extension towards Cactus Ridge. 1.4 km long trail starts just across the road, opposite Damn-e-Koh main parking and leads to Cactus Ridge. The top of Cactus Ridge offers breathtaking panoramas of Islamabad including the site where Air Blue Flight 202 crashed in July 2010.

 

TRAIL-3 (SECTOR F-6)

This is the most popular hiking trail of Margalla Hills which is well marked and properly maintained. Trail head is located opposite Sector F-6 on Margalla Road and a dedicated parking area is available at that point. Due to proximity of various embassies, the trail is frequently visited by foreigners. Initial ascent of trail is steep and it takes almost an hour of moderate hike to reach the ‘Viewpoint.’ Viewpoint offers great sights of Islamabad and almost all major buildings, monuments, avenues are identifiable with naked eye from here. For majority of the hikers with families, View Point marks as the culmination point of Trail-3. However, for the more enthusiastic ones, it is just one third of the journey.

 

Beyond Viewpoint, the trail passes through lush green trees constantly going uphill. Area around mid of Trail-3 is relatively plain. With no water source near or along the trail, it is suggested to carry water bottles. All along Trail 3, benches lie at appropriate places for rest, a luxury which is nonexistent on any of the other trails.

 

From the mid-way, it takes almost an hour of rigorous hike to reach finish point near popular recreational spot of Monal Restaurant on Pir Sohawa Road. Due to its ease of access, proper marking, suitable resting places, appropriate cleaning measures and better maintenance, Trail-3 is a popular choice for hikers of all ages.

 

TRAIL-4 (DHOK JEEVAN)

This trail starts from an appropriately marked parking area at the start of Pir Sohawa Road. It is looping around the local mountain village called ‘Dhok Jeevan’ with the same start and finish point. Trail-4 is linked laterally with Trail-6 through a well marked path. Depending upon the preference, hiking on Trail-4 can also be finished at the start point of Trail-6 located in the rear of Faisal Mosque.

 

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Trail-4 is quite challenging and strenuous. Initially it moves along the Pir Sohawa Road and then takes a westward turn further into the Margalla Hills. In the start, water stream moves along the trail but remaining part of trail is surrounded by jungle with no significant water source nearby. At the top, trail offers beautiful scenes of the city including rare glimpse of Faisal Mosque. There are no significant rest areas, milestones and trail is not well maintained. Although it is in common use by locals, it receives lesser number of hikers mainly due to its difficulty and isolation. The trail is not suggested to be used by kids and families, however, for group of four to five adults looking for a strenuous weekend workout, this trail can be quite rewarding.

 

TRAIL-5 (DERA JANGLAN)

Trail-5 or the Dera Janglan Trail is also quite popular. Earlier it was not open for the general public due to security concerns but can now be used. The start point is located few hundred metres ahead of Trail-3 opposite to Sector F-5 on Margalla Road and it leads up to Pir Sohawa Road. This trail has about three sub-trails and is also linked with the adjacent Trail-3. At the start point, presence of a seasonal water stream makes it a popular picnic spot for families. Initially water stream goes along the trail making it more enjoyable and in the mid, a fresh water spring provides a good resting spot for the serious hikers. Second half of Trail-5 is steeper which requires strenuous hiking. At the top, it offers beautiful vistas of the Islamabad city and finishes near a security check post on main Pir Sohawa Road. About 500 m walk on the main road towards west leads to Monal Restaurant. Trail is rigorous and is recommended for families upto ‘Ficus Spring’ only.

 

TRAIL-6 (CHAK JABBI)

Trail-6 or the Chak Jabbi Trail is one of the latest trails that has officially been recognized and made available to general public after necessary works. Trail head is located at the rear of Faisal Mosque near car parking. It is about 4km long and leads up to Village Jabbi. This trail gradually gains height and passes through thick jungle. After about half an hour from the start point, it takes you to a beautiful water spring with date and palm trees around it. The upper half of trail consists of steep climb and reaches to the small village of Jabbi. Trail is surrounded by thick trees and water spring is also accessible during the hike at different places. It also links up with the adjacent Trail-4 and leads up to the parking at Pir Sohwa Road. Trail has been appropriately marked, is well maintained and can be done with family in about 3 hours time from start to finish.

 

Dos and Don’ts of Hiking
• Do carry drinking water/juices while proceeding for hiking.
• Do carry out a map survey of the area prior to hiking.
• Do not harm the wild life or trees.
• Do not smoke while on the trail.
• Dress according to the local norms but keep yourself lightly dressed.
• Do not spread litter.
• Do not un-necessarily halt in the mid of trail. A steady but consistent pace is the key.
• Prefer not to hike alone.

*****

 
06
January

Take Care of Your Skin Problems

Written By: Fariha Zeeshan Chishti

As temperature drops, heaters clank on, the wind whips up and the battle for healthy skin begins. Dry air takes away the thin layer of oil that traps moisture in the skin. As soon as you turn the heaters on indoors, the skin starts to dry out. It doesn't matter if you heat your home using oil, wood, or electricity, the skin still gets dry. Is your skin feeling dull and lifeless? The dry winter season can do that to you. When the weather gets cold and dry in the winter, for many people, the cold clear days of winter bring more than just a rosy glow to the cheeks. They also bring uncomfortable dryness to the skin of the face, hands and feet. For some people, the problem is worse than just a general tight, dry feeling: Their skin becomes so dry that it results in flaking, cracking, even eczema (in which the skin becomes inflamed). That is when it becomes especially important to keep your skin moisturized.

Winter Skin Care Tips

• Bathing and Moisturizing. Let’s start with bath, the feeling that taking bath destroys or deteriorates the skin in winter considering water as a destructing agent is not true; it is the soap made of lye that destroys the skin. Luke warm water with moisture soap is the best way to keep skin hydrated. After bath,0 massage with wheat germ oil, or olive oil, are some traditional ways with which you can keep your skin looking good throughout the winter. Avoid very hot water.

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• Give Your Hands a Hand. The skin on your hands is thinner than on most parts of the body and has fewer oil glands. That means it's harder to keep your hands moist, especially in cold, dry weather. This can lead to itchiness and cracking. Wear gloves when you go outside; if you need to wear wool to keep your hands warm, slip on a thin cotton glove first, to avoid any irritation the wool might cause.


• Grease up Your Feet. During the winter, your feet need more than a light moisturizer. Try finding lotions that contain petroleum jelly or glycerine instead. And use exfoliants to get the dead skin off periodically; that helps any moisturizers you use to sink in faster and deeper.


• Pace the Peels. If your facial skin is uncomfortably dry, avoid using harsh peels, masks, and alcohol-based toners or astringents, all of which can strip vital oil from your skin. Instead, find a cleansing milk or mild foaming cleanser, a toner with no alcohol, and masks that are "deeply hydrating," rather than clay-based, which tends to draw moisture out of the face. And use them a little less often.


We all know that moisturizing products go a long way in fighting dry skin, but with the help of nourishing, antioxidant-packed fruits, vegetables and “healthy” fats, you can moisturize and replenish your skin and provide bodies with health-promoting nutrients.
As the old saying goes, you are what you eat, and eating foods that keep your skin supple and smooth is easy and delicious.

 

8 Foods that Promote Skin Health

• Avocados. They are a great source of vitamins C, E, and monounsaturated fats, which help your skin to lock in moisture and replenish nutrients in skin. It also promotes collagen production, and helps keep your skin supple and firm. You can enjoy avocado as a whole fruit or in salad form.


• Fish. Salmon, herring, sardines and rainbow trout are all amazing for your skin. Fish contains omega-3 fats, which strengthen skin cells, help protect skin from sun damage, can protect against cancer, and help reduce inflammation. Certain fish also contain selenium, which preserves elastin in the skin, helping your skin stay supple, smooth, and tight.


Avoid deep-fried fish (the fats in oil are terrible for your skin), and opt for grilled, baked, poached, or roasted fish.


• Carrots. They contain the carotenoids beta carotene and lycopene – both of which help fighting dry skin and protect it from harmful sun rays and environmental damage. Also carrots contain vitamins A and C, which help repair body tissues and produce collagen, respectively. A glass of carrot juice in the morning can replenish and brighten up your skin.


• Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It is full of vitamin E and good fats, and will moisturize skin both from the inside (eaten) and out (topical application).


• Spinach. Spinach and other dark, leafy greens are packed with iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, B, and E, which protect skin and improve your immune system. Phytochemicals and folate help hydrate skin and keep it healthy. You can steam spinach leaves as a side veggie, or enjoy it in salad or soup form.


• Nuts and Seeds. Nuts and seeds are the ultimate power food. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B and E, monounsaturated fats and minerals, and a host of antioxidants. They hydrate your skin, promote its elasticity, help regenerate cells, and protect against pollutants and free radicals. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds all contain variations of these healthy pro-skin ingredients, and can be enjoyed plain as a snack (in moderation, as they are calorie-dense), sprinkled on yogurt or cereal, baked into muffins, or as a crunchy topping for savory dishes, like roasted fish or chicken.


• Grapefruit. Grapefruit contains lycopene, a carotenoid that help to keep your skin smooth. In a study published in 2008 in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and bio pharmaceutics, researchers found that out of the 20 individuals studied, those who had higher skin concentrations of lycopene had smoother skin. Also grapefruit contains a good amount of vitamin C, which helps turn back the clock by preventing wrinkles.


• Eggs. Eggs are high in protein, which helps cell regeneration, and contain sulfur and lutein, which promotes skin hydration and elasticity. Eggs also work to hydrate the skin through topical application, so try an egg mask by whipping egg whites until frothy and then apply it to the face and neck. Rinse with warm water.


• Water. The most important thing you need to do to keep your skin glowing, during the winter, is to drink a lot of water. Our body is made up of about 60% water therefore water is required to keep the body hydrated. Also water helps to get rid of waste and toxins, which are the main cause of dull skin. A well hydrated skin looks great even without any kind of makeup.


In addition, you must avoid foods that can make your skin look drab and lifeless. That includes anything highly processed and foods loaded with sugar, salt, preservatives and artificial colouring. So, eat the right foods and keep the winter skin problems at bay.

The writer is a reputed clinical dietitian at The Aga Khan University Hospital. She has done her M.Sc in Nutrition and her specialty includes General Nutrition, Gastroenterology, General Medicine, and Endocrinology. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
11
January

اُمیدوں اور امنگوں سے بھرا نیا سال

تحریر: سارہ صلاح الدین

ہر سال کیلنڈر کے بارہ ماہ گزر جانے کے بعد آخری چند منٹ اور چند سیکنڈ نہایت تجسس بھرے انتظار کے وہ لمحات ہوتے ہیں کہ رات بارہ بج جانے پر وقت کی راہوں پہ چل کرآنے والے نئے سال کا شاندار استقبال اور آغاز کیا جاتا ہے۔

 

ہر قوم ایک نیا عزم لے کرنئے سال کا استقبال کرتی ہے۔ دنیا بھر میں کہیں آتش بازیاں آسمان چمکاتی ہیں تو کہیں گانا بجانا اور نیوایئررائمز ماحول سجاتی ہیں۔ اسی طرح پاکستان میں بہت سے افراد نئے سال سے متعلقہ امیدوں سے بھرے دامن کے ساتھ ان کو پورا کرنے میں کوشاں ہو جاتے ہیں۔ ایسے میں ہمارے نوجوان‘ مستقبل کے معمار سب سے زیادہ پر عزم اور پرجوش نظر آتے ہیں۔ اس سلسلے میں کئے گئے انٹرویوز میںیہ بات واضح نظر آتی ہے۔

 

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میڈیا سٹوڈنٹ علی حسن

(Honour at Pixel Art)

بدلتے حالات میں آنے والے سال سے بہت پراُمید ہیں۔ وہ یقین رکھتے ہیں کہ نیا سال گزشت سالوں کی نسبت زیادہ پرامن ہو گا۔ میں دعا کرتا ہوں کہ ہماری فلم انڈسٹری خوب ترقی کرے اور پروان چڑھے تاکہ میڈیا کے طلباء کو بہترین مواقع ملیں۔ انہوں نے بتایا کہ ’میں اپنے

Pixel Art Studio

کو بزنس کی شکل دے کر پوری دنیا میں پاکستان کی مثبت تصویر پیش کر کے بحیثیت پاکستانی بھرپور کردار ادا کروں گا۔‘

 

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یوں ہی فاطمہ بھی فن میں آگے بڑھنا چاہتی ہیں۔ وہ کہتی ہیں میں اس سال میں پاکستان کی ہر چھوٹی بڑی جانی پہچانی ثقافتوں کو مرتب کر کے ایک ایسی ڈاکومنٹری یا ڈرامہ بنانا چاہتی ہوں جس کو دیکھ کر پاکستان میں لوگ اپنے مذہب اور رسم و رواج کے دائروں سے آزاد ہو کر دل سے پاکستانیت اپنائیں۔

 

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واجد اعوان پڑھائی کے ساتھ ساتھ فوٹو کاپی کی دکان چلاتے ہیں۔ وہ نئے سال میں اچھی تعلیم کے ساتھ ساتھ گورنمنٹ جاب کے متلاشی ہیں۔ ایک ذمہ دارانہ کردار نبھانے کا ارادہ رکھتے ہیں۔ وہ کہتے ہیں میں گزشتہ غلطیوں سے  حاصل سبق سے اپنے دوستوں کے کام آؤں۔ یہ ہمارا فرض ہے کہ اپنے ساتھیوں کی تکلیفوں پر ہمدردانہ رویہ اختیار کریں۔ اسی طرح ہم ایک بہتر قوم بن سکتے ہیں

 

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تھرڈ ایئر فزیوتھراپی کی طالبہ بیا خان گزشتہ کچھ عرصے سے بچوں کو فری ٹیوشن پڑھا رہی ہیں۔ نئے سال میں وہ پارٹ ٹائم فیشن ڈیزائننگ کی کلاسیں لینے کی شوقین اور پرعزم ہیں۔ وہ کہتی ہیں کہ میں نے معاشرے کے غریب طبقے کے لئے ڈگری مکمل کر کے فزیوتھراپی کے مفت علاج کا علیحدہ سیٹ اپ بنانا ہے۔ یہ علاج مہنگا ہونے کی وجہ سے لوگوں کی نظر میں مطلوبہ مقبولیت نہیں رکھتا۔ میں لوگوں میں ورزش کی اہمیت کا شعور پیدا کر کے ان کی زندگیوں کو بہتر بناؤں گی۔

  

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زین عباس 13ماہ سے بک شاپ میں کام کر رہے ہیں، ایک بھائی ہونے کے ناتے نئے سال میں وہ اپنی اور بہنوں کی پڑھائی پر بھرپور طریقے سے متوجہ ہیں۔ اکثر معاشرے میں یتیم بچوں کا خیال رکھتے ہیں اور فکر کرتے ہیں۔ وہ کہتے ہیں کہ میں یہ سب بچوں کو پڑھائی کی تلقین کرتا ہوں اور چاہتا ہوں کہ زیادہ سے زیادہ بچے مجھ سے فائدہ حاصل کریں تاکہ میرا کردار معاشرے میں تسلی بخش ہو۔

 

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مارکیٹنگ میں ایم بی اے کے ساتھ ساتھ طلعت ستی چند چھوٹے پراجیکٹز کر رہے ہیں‘ میں ویب سائٹ پر ترقیاتی منصوبوں کی ابتدا کر کے بہت اچھے سے انٹرنیشنل فلمز کی مارکیٹنگ کر کے ہماری عوام میں اچھی فلمز کو مقبول بنانا چاہتا ہوں جن کے ذریعے انسانیت کا پیغام اور سبق عوام تک پہنچایا جائے۔

 

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بیدار این جی او کی سوشل ورکر سعدیہ بی ایس کی طالبہ ہیں۔ وہ کہتی ہیں کہ میں پڑھائی مکمل کر کے اپنی این جی او کے ذریعے تعلیم اور اس تک رسائی ہر بچے کو فراہم کرنا چاہتی ہوں تاکہ نیک کردار ادا کرنے سے مجھے خوشی حاصل ہو۔

 

 

 

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کونسٹ انسٹی ٹیوٹ آف انفارمیشن ٹیکنالوجی کے طالب علم شاہ رخ ارشد کہتے ہیں کہ ہمارے ملک کی معیشت جن حالات سے دوچار ہے، اس کی بہت بڑی وجہ ماہرین اقتصادیات کی کمی ہے۔ میں نہ صرف اپنی ڈگری مکمل کرنا چاہتا ہوں بلکہ بہترین ماہر معاشیات کا کردار ادا کرتے ہوئے ملک کو ترقی کے راستے پر گامزن کرکے اعلیٰ مقام پر پہنچانا چاہتا ہوں۔ کیونکہ ہر قوم کی معیشت اس کی ریڑھ کی ہڈی ہوتی ہے۔

 

ہمارے وطن عزیز کا حق ہے کہ نیا سال اس کی ہر لحاظ سے معاشی اور معاشرتی خوشحالی کا ایک اہم ورق بن جائے۔

بلند حوصلے‘ پرعزم رہ کر جینے کی آرزو

یہی ہے جسے کہتے ہیں ہم ایک حقیقی جستجو

سارہ صلاح الدین مقامی یونیورسٹی میں ماس کمیونیکیشن کی طالبہ ہیں۔
 
26
December

Break Fast at Kan Mehtarzai

Published in Hilal English Jan 2014

Written By: Salman Rashid

Balochistan was the greatest railway adventure there was in Pakistan. It drubbed the much-flaunted Khyber Pass train by miles. I wish I could talk of it in the present tense, but sadly that is not the case. It was once a great railway adventure.

There was, for example, the magnificent line that ran north of Sibi through Harnai, into the Chappar Rift and on to Quetta. The marvel of engineering on this line was the Louise Margaret Bridge that stitched the gaping crack of the Rift. The line died back in July 1942 after it was washed out by a massive torrent during a rainstorm. This wasn't the first time such a thing had happened. The Chappar Rift was famous for recurrent maintenance problems and the question of dismantling it had been considered before. The war was on, steel was needed for munitions and in any case the Bolan route was in service. And so the line in the Rift was uprooted. Today all that remains of this glorious piece of railway engineering are bridge piers, line bed and abandoned railway stations.

The other great one was the Zhob Valley Railway (ZVR), so named for following the course of the Zhob River. While the Chappar Rift line was Broad Gauge (5'-6”), this one was the tiny Narrow Gauge (2'-6”). It ran northeast from Bostan on the Quetta-Chaman route to Zhob – or Fort Sandeman as it had been renamed by the British. Its length of three hundred kilometres made it the longest Narrow Gauge line in the Subcontinent. I had once thought that at 2224 metres above the sea, Kan Mehtarzai station was the highest Narrow Gauge railway station in the world. But I now know that it is Ghum on the line to Darjeeling in India. The latter being thirty-five metres higher than our Kan Mehtarzai.

The ZVR was laid during the First World War. But then it ran up only as far as the chrome mines of Hindubagh (renamed Muslimbagh in the 1960s) that was used in the manufacture of munitions. In the 1920s the line was extended to Zhob with dreams of it going across to connect with Bannu in the North West Frontier Province, KPK now. But that dream became a victim of the uncertainty of the 1930s and the Second World War. What Pakistan inherited at independence, few thought it was the sacred duty of her sons to undo. And so barely forty years down the line, ZVR has been successfully closed. The first time I travelled the length of the line in 1992, it was not by train but by car: the line had been dead for some six years or so. Whereas India draws train buffs from all over the world to its various railway lines, we have been great ones for shutting down our best showpieces. And so this line became a victim of part apathy and mostly inefficiency and corruption. Half-hearted attempts to revamp the line were made and the locomotives that rest and rust in the sheds at Bostan were overhauled some years ago. But no work was done on the civil works of the disintegrating line. For some time the refurbished locomotives were periodically fired to keep them work. Bye and bye all was forgotten and the last time I saw them in 1999, they were beginning to lose their shine once again.

As I stood on the platform at Kan Mehtarzai on that blustery November morning in 1992, I imagined myself in the First Class Sleeper on the NG-10 pulling in, enroute from Zhob to Bostan. And I had imagined myself making ready for the bearer to pop into the carriage with his stack of breakfast trays. The idea of toast and eggs at the highest Narrow Gauge station in the country (the world, as I then believed) had tickled me. I found myself wondering if, when the line worked, travellers had paused to consider the uniqueness of their situation.

In Bostan in 1992, Mirza Tahir, the Station Master remembered the glorious days of the ZVR. Winters were pretty hard on the tiny Narrow Gauge locomotives, he had told me, and it was not uncommon for trains to be caught in snowdrifts. Tahir remembered the great snowstorms of the winter of 1970. So deep was the snow that the snowplough in front of the locomotive just could not make way. The train foundered. The fireman built up steam while the driver tried again and again to nose through. But the snow was too deep – nearly two metres – it was said, and they had to give up. They dropped fire and waited.

While the passengers walked to the highroad that runs parallel to the line and got away as best as they could, the telegraph wires buzzed. Bostan was informed of the snow-bound train and requested for a rescue locomotive. Out came one steaming and puffing through the wintry landscape only to be caught in the snow a few hundred metres short of the stranded train. Bostan sent out yet another one and even that could not make it. Tahir said it took them a few days to clear the line and get it going again.

Since that journey along the ZVR thirteen years ago, I have passed through Kan Mehtarzai half a dozen times. Once or twice I detoured to the station just to check things out. But none of my trips had been in midwinter after a good fall of snow. Kan Mehtarzai station, as I knew it, was always dusty and wind-blown sitting in a treeless openness with a touch of a spaghetti western. I knew I was lucky when I got a chance recently to be there in the area in the grip of what many people would call bad weather: for several days there had been incessant rains and snow on higher altitudes. After years of drought, this was the best thing to happen to the Balochistan plateau and local farmers were joyous at the prospect of the harvest that the summer would eventually bring.

For me this was the chance to get to Kan Mehtarzai and imagine what it must have been like during the blizzards of 1970. The distant peaks and the rolling hills around the village were all nicely couched in deep snow and looked a darn sight better than their normal summer khaki. Snowmen being a Western partiality, there were none to be seen. Strange that when it snows, building a snowman does not come spontaneously to these people. Perhaps unprompted artistic expression is not part of our make-up. Or perhaps it is because we have not yet invented waterproof mittens that will keep the fingers from freezing while we attempt to flaunt our creativity. In town, business was shut and the few open doors showed shawl-wrapped men huddled around fires. Kan Mehtarzai seemed a bit of a ghost town.

Bordered by orchards where the apricot and almond trees were all undressed for the winter, the unpaved lane taking off to the south from the main highway was still unmistakable seven years after my last visit. The only difference was that it was under snow that a tractor gone before us had churned up into slush. We left the jeep short of the station and with snow crunching underfoot walked around a fencing, under the tall water tank and on to the platform.

I did not remember the set of three freight wagons, in their prescription reddish-brown, from my last visit. Surely they must have been abandoned there when the line worked. Only I had failed to register them. They were as bound in the snow as the trains in the winter of 1970. This time round, however, the snow was about a metre deep. On the ZVR, the cutest things on the entire pre-partition North Western Railway are the darling station buildings. I have not seen them duplicated anywhere else in Pakistan. They are, with only a couple of exceptions, all mud-plastered; they come with a pitched roof and, to one side, a neat octagonal tower-like structure with a conical roof. This was the ticket window. But only for those who cared to pay fare, for most travellers on this line considered it their birthright to go free. Indeed, that was one of the reasons for the line's untimely demise.

Icicles were draped along eaves that were shaded from the sun for most part of the day. Glass-less lamps that once lit up the platform at night emphasised the dereliction of the station. The mud plaster on the façade was beginning to crack and peel and the roof on the north side of the building had caved in. This portion, if I remember correctly, bore a sign in 1992 marking it as the Station Master's Office. The rest of the station had been taken over by a family for we could hear women and children behind the matting that shielded them from prying eyes. A young lad from this family came around to check out my friend Naeem and me. I wondered if others came around to photograph Kan Mehtarzai railway station or he thought we were a pair of loonies with nothing better to do than to have our ears fall off with cold.

Snow completely covered all signs of the platforms and the track. Years ago this is how it must have appeared to travellers on this line. And when in the winter of 1970 the train failed to show up, the Station Master must have sent out a patrol to see what had become of it. Now nothing happens at Kan Mehtarzai. They don't even build snowmen on the platform. Only the squatters bicker behind the matting.

I lament again the waste of a perfect showpiece of a railway line that could have helped Pakistan earn a few good tourist dollars. But that would have happened if the writ of the state held and if there were dedicated men in the railways. All those I had spoken to concerning the reopening of the ZVR as a tourist line had said it could not be done. There were too many problems and not enough finances. That I know to be untrue: we first permitted a working line to go to seed and now we complain of not enough funds to revitalise it.

India did much better with her Narrow Gauge show pieces in Simla and Darjeeling! If not emulation, then we should have preceded.
The writer is an avid tourist, has authored several books and contributes regularly for national and international media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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