Miscellaneous

Hiking Trails of Margalla Hills

“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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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