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Malika-e-Kohsar Murree


Experience to hill station Murree can be a mixed bag. It is popularfor cold pine forests, amidst magnificent mountain scenery that makeit a first choice for a day's outing or serious hill walking. It iscommon with locals throughout the country as well as foreigners innearby Islamabad on the run from the sweltering heat of plains insummer. And in summers it is crowded like a cinema hall some time.This archetypal hill station is famous for other things too: It is a convenient political pawn to keep the loyal and or hideout for foreigndignitaries on their way to secret strategic missions elsewhere.

In the Himalayan foothills Murree -- known as Malika-e-Kohsar meaning the queen of hills -- was founded as a hill station by the British in1851. Like other cities set up by the British, the town has the Mall for promenading, parks, churches, schools, clubs and plenty of othercrumbling colonial charms. Remember, during British rule, access tothe Mall was restricted for locals. After independence Murree has onceagain become the summer retreat of the government and since Islamabadbecame the capital of Pakistan in 1962, has expanded rapidly. There is a governor house, other government houses and summer homes of affluent class from all over the country. The residences are built on thesummit and sides of an irregular ridge, and command magnificent views over forest-clad hills and deep valleys, studded with villages andcultivated fields, with snow-covered peaks of Kashmir in background.

Murree town spreads along the top of a ridge for about fivekilometres. At the north-east end is Kashmir Point, with views acrossthe valley of the Jhelum River into Azad Kashmir. At the south-westend is Pindi Point, looking back towards Rawalpindi and Islamabad.Between the two runs the Mall, at the centre of which is the mainshopping area, where visitors flock. Most conspicuous rendezvous inthe town is General Post Office on the Mall.

Apart from odd looking ruins of Murree Brewery (shifted to Rawalpindi long ago), there is an Ecology Centre that was established in 1960 toexperiment with environment friendly agricultural processes such asgreenhouses to grow winter crops. Although fruit and vegetables areimportant crops at the Centre but this institute has played significant role in the mainstream agriculture through its work oncereal rust. The site was specially selected after a thorough surveyby Canadian team of experts that visited Gilgit, Chitral, Swat, Kaghanand Azad Kashmir. The Centre has done some considerable work to extendthe carrying capacity of the land. Other than this, economy of thearea is predominantly agricultural though land holdings are small. Orlocals have some openings in tourism industry that is still in theinitial stages of development.

In addition to sunsets and cloud effects seen daily during the rainsand good weather, trekking or riding in the chair-lifts are Murree's main amusements. But one can turn the soft jaunt into a dauntingexperience in the name of adventure. Who stops! Like for more daring types and those who want to beat the crowds and still enjoy the green environs of Murree, the best is to explore the surrounding areas.There are many defined walking trails in adjoining country that iswell wooded and its scenery attractive: from Islamabad to Tret, fromTret to Ghora Gali (where "dak" horses used to change during Britishera), from Ghora Gali to Murree, from Murree to Barian and Changla Gali with Swar Gali and Khaira Gali in between and from Changala Galito Nathia Gali through Ayubia and Dunga Gali. From Nathiagali a commontrekking route is to Thandiani with an overnight stay in the way.

Though sometime out of compulsion, I have been walking on Murree-Kakul (Abbottabad) route for sometime. During training in Military Academy Kakul, even fun trips to Murree customarily used to be converted in awalk with big packs (pack point zero eight) instead of trendy andlight backpacks on the back. Out of twenty six items, from needle to blanket to venom antidotes, one was supposed to keep in the packs onlymap and compasses were useful. Rest used to look like an added loadabout as useful wet matches during rain?

But what if sometime one wants to escape into open solitudes, intoaimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, inorder to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to becompelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what? That might be the reason for my once deciding to go back from Murree toKakul cross-country.

Walking a series of hills along the ridge between Murree andAbbottabad is the way to see the green mountain glen, as it requiresto be seen. Murree is over 2,200 meters above sea level whereasAbbottabad lies at the height of 1200 meters therefore walking 70 kilometres downhill from Murree to Abbottabad, even cross country,should be an easy option. But it is not. The contours, those thin,maroon lines on maps of the area are not easy to negotiate on ground.That is what I found during my zigzagging along the contours.

First it is a climb. I felt comfortable and warm but every now andthen I had to go a little down too and then "sweat became a fridge." Inever got warm again. It became soon clear that I could not walkstraight. So I decided to stay at Nathiagalli. Next day, I still hadcold feet but from there on it went down fast and did make it in theevening. Now I have forgotten the agony of carrying the weight of mypack zero eight but till today I have been able to preserve thefeeling stirred by encounter with natural beauty in the way. The wildflowers were big and grass green. It was all very silent. I felt the true essence of a place, for seeing without feeling can obviously beuncaring; while feeling without seeing can be blind.

Walking parallel to Khanspur , at the bottom of a visibly used track ina small bowl like gorge one finds a warning sign posted by some NGO concerned with conservation of wildlife and nature. "Save theWildlife," it advises. Beneath the images of the different birds found in the area, independent visitors had scrawled their names and someone had written his own impromptu comments that reads, "Wish you werehere with me." Very apt! In the way, you also see stacks of animal fodder to be used in winters, villagers coming down the hillsfollowing donkey loaded with dried wood or pruning of trees and an axehanging on side, or carrying the load on heads for use as fire wood,or a rabbit frolicking on the grass, maybe a rat. Or you come acrossred cheeked and friendly kids asking for pencils, their faces bathed in peace. The peace and serenity in the area has a marvellous effecton the nerves.

Most hard core travellers, particularly foreigners, come up with somedaisy character who came "offering them hashish, heroin, sledge, orsomething even more bizarre when they write about their travelexperiences in Pakistan, perhaps in an effort to make their tales rich in adventure, absurdity and humour. Or they tell harrowing tales liketheir belongings stolen on gun point. Maybe they think this makestheir stories culturally more erudite. But in this very touristy area(and even during my other long hauls elsewhere), what I could comeacross are many kindnesses from any thing but ordinary people. I wasoverwhelmed by the consideration I was shown during my cross countrywalk by a humble and hospitable local Malik Nawab Khan, an ex serviceman, who offered me food. His home was in a deadbeat place, cluster ofa few houses on my way and away from any where. Exhausted, and wantingto rest my feet we settled for tea. That was one of the best and muchneeded hot cups of hot tea (with solid boiled eggs) that I took. Hehad told me to keep a lemon and suck on it while walking hard and longin hills. It gives strength and quenches thrust. He also said, "Tirethe mountain not yourself." I realize the folk wisdom in the advices every time I walk. And we still are in communication with each other.Malik Nawab remains another reason for me to visit the area morefrequently.

Hunger for nature becomes more intense as one sees pristine wilderness turning into a scarce commodity. Revisiting a place like Murree doesnot put me off. - I find a new and original angle every time!

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 10:55 AM, , links to this post

Oriental Handicrafts from Swat Pakistan

suhail Rao
Suhail Rao

More products here, Contact Oriental Handicrafts, [Fine on Facebook, Twitter]

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 9:55 AM, , links to this post

My Cup of Tea

Pakistan is one of the best travel destinations in the world – desert expanses in Thar and Cholistan, Lush green plains in Punjab, mighty mountains in Northern Pakistan, Chitral and Swat, so many unexplored and just to yourself places, what else. Start of some of the world history can still be traced down to Pakistan – Indus Civilization. Moreover, Pakistan being one of the cheapest countries in the world is best for budget travelers. Which is why it is said that Pakistan has a lot to offer to every one; not only to travelers, hard core adventurers, mountaineers, and rural tourists, vacationers but also to anthropologists, archeologists, and researchers? (Also for those who want to sit back and enjoy the ride from the comfort of home). Read about my travel experiences at  Doodh Patti - My Cup of Tea.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 8:28 AM, , links to this post

Net Cafes

Internet cafes have played a visible role in promoting internet usage. It is a public place where people can use a computer with internet access for an affordable fee. Café may or may not serve as a conventional café. Besides internet connection, a number of cafes also provide other services such as printing, scanning, CD viewing and burning. Some even conduct internet training classes for beginners. The word is that some of the cafes around the world are being used for activities much beyond their scope.

Eva Pascoe, a PhD student while sitting in the coffee shop of London City University conceived and decided "to put a permanent PC connection in a coffee shop and link it to internet."
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 7:04 PM, , links to this post

Ucchali Lakes

This article appeared in daily the Nation

People try to hunt out the most alluring and the most fascinating places that they can find to visit. The thrill or idea of a place is what inspires curious and quirky travels further and deeper. Locale of twin villages Ucchali and Dhadhar is one such place for anyone who can be happy just being closer to the raw nature and it is off the beaten track.


To travel as a person interested in nature (as if there were other ways to travel) is to have regrets these days. Inevitably, most is already gone. But there are, of course, many such places out there. Only one has to find them. Three lakes near quaint villages Ucchali and Dhadhar are good examples. Complex of three lakes is recognised as International Ramsar Site (number 818). Hills in the background, grass and walking trails make the place attractive.

The lakes are picturesque with the foliage of different kinds of towering grasses, their meadows of floating lotus leaves, their myriads of waterfowl of diverse species. In seasons when lotus and grass come to bud, the lakes present an exquisite appearance, as the water surface along the shore and marshy patches are covered with an unbroken succession of flowers and leaves. I have travelled to, and through, many places but Ucchali Complex, as the three lakes are called, have something for, or do something to, me every time I am there. Everyone who visits this place can have the pleasure.

Tucked in the southern periphery of the Salt Range and hemmed in by its higher cliffs, cluster of natural lakes ? Ucchali, Khabbeki and Jhallar ? are situated in district Khushab. Biologists say that the lakes have been here for at least 400 years, maybe more. But the complex of lakes first came to prominence in 1966 when it was declared a protected sanctuary for the native and migratory avifauna on the appeal of World Wildlife Fund. Later, Ucchali Complex was designated for the list of wetlands of international importance in the Iranian port city Ramsar (from where the convention draws its name) when Pakistan became a contracting member to the convention held there in July 1976. Some other recognized Ramsar sites in Pakistan are Tenda Dam, Taunsa and Chishma Barages on Indus River, Drigh, Haleji, Kinjhar lakes and Thanedar Wala Game Reserve. All wetlands are active agents for recharging water tables and aquifers, besides being home to diverse bird populations.

Ucchali Lake Complex in the central Punjab is unique in many ways. Nestled at about 800 meters above the sea, lakes have some marsh vegetation and are mostly surrounded by cultivated land, which is picturesquely intersected by hillocks. The lakes are fed by the spring, seepage from adjacent areas, and run off from the neighbouring hills of the historic Salt Range. The water level and salinity fluctuate according to rainfall in the area and it varies at different times of the year, and year to year. The depth in the lakes also keeps changing and the water is usually saline. The number of birds present in Ucchali Complex also rises and falls widely from time to time, depending upon the water level and salinity. The lakes are one of the most important wintering areas for the rare white-headed ducks (Oxyura leucocephala) in Pakistan that comes here from Central Asia.

Marsh vegetation is confined to small patches along the lake shores. There is a very rich growth of grass (called plankton) in the marsh. The natural vegetation of the region is a mixture of subtropical semi evergreen forest and tropical thorn forest. Even the grass looks magical when it comes into flowers. The golden colour Salt Range in the backdrop also wears a greener look in the spring and rainy seasons. On the southern side, vast stretches of vegetation in the plains are lined everywhere with avenues of trees. The lakes provide good opportunities for scientific research, nature oriented travel, walking and bird watching.

Walking the area is very refreshing. The only company you might have en route is squirrels, rabbits or butterflies. The public sector orchard near the complex is another restful spot where one can sample off-season fruits of several varieties. The area also makes one of the finest rendezvous for watching birds. The most prominent presence is diving birds that hover over the lakes ready to dive the moment they spot the catch in water. Winged creatures that have arresting tonal contrasts also catch the eye and attention.


On one visit to the Ucchali Complex, I was accompanying a high profile group of wetland experts. They talked in jargon-loaded language ? even the name of local birds and trees did not seem familiar to me.

Experiencing ennui in their company, I took a chance to talk to the locals and picked up ideas in the process instead. I learnt many interesting stories: In 1982, a strange phenomenon was observed in the villages Ucchali and Dhadhar. A very broad and distinct rainbow appeared over the horizon of Ucchali Lakes Complex that was seen continuously for 15 days. No scientific explanation of this has been given so far, but the locals think that the rainbow appeared because of a volcano hidden under the three lakes located near the villages. I kept looking at the sky and it looked clearer and cleaner. They also tell that the water of these lakes keeps changing colours due to the volcano. Also, the lakes? water is considered as a cure for gout and skin diseases. People have been taking the water from the lakes as far as Lahore and Karachi. People think that a pure white winged creature called Great egret, from Grus family, found in the area is a symbol of longevity.

The ancestors of Qutab Shahi Awans, who migrated from Afghanistan many centuries ago, inhabited Ucchali and Dhadhar villages among many others in the Soan Valley where they live in peace using old agricultural methods. The hospitable folks of the area can be recognized by their long shirts and sandals they wear and the loving dialect they speak. There are no facilities in the area, but of course you can rely on Awans? hospitality.


So far, only geologists or NGOs interested in ecology venture on the Ucchali Complex. The main reason why not many people know of the place or have traveled to the Ucchali Complex is lack of information. And the public sector tourism departments do not seem keen to help even in providing information about the serene place that?s particularly interesting for nature lovers or bird enthusiasts. I have not seen the mention of this location in any touristy literature. Residents of the area do not seem interested in research-oriented activities because it does not involve them or have any return for them. They wish that the lakes should be developed as a recreation spot like Kallar Kahar, as it was before the completion of the motorway. It is wise now that the Kallar Kahar Lake is turning into a typical buss adda (stop) due to the proximity of the interchange on the motorway near the Lake.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 9:30 AM, , links to this post

Those who make Thatta Kedona possible

Related: Thatta Kedona volunteers, Thatta Kedona Dolls, Thatta Kedona Toys, Thatta Kedona Images, Dr. Norbert Pintsch, Dr. Senta Siller, Sale Points

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 8:00 AM, , links to this post

Preservation of cultural heritage

The Mud Housing Project is being currently implemented by SPARC in Lahore.


SPARC had taken up the initiative years ago in order to remind of the importance of mud as construction material and to sensitize the general public in this respect.

Mud is not a construction material of the past; that steel concrete and bricks have pushed back such good construction material is a story in itself. Considering the enormous costs of cooling and heating the current form of buildings, it becomes quite clear that mud is environmentally friendly, energy efficient and biologically far superior.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 9:22 AM, , links to this post

How nations look at their women?

Societies pride in different strengths: Some give importance to bravery, some to democracy, and some nations think that freedom of expressions, development and or education are the hallmarks for their long-term sustenance. “The nations should be judged on how they look at their women,” writes Abbas Khan, the author of Urdu novel Mein Aur Umrao Jan Ada, his eleventh, that I have had the chance to read.

There is a famous saying that every thing in fiction is true except dates. But in the novel written by Abbas Khan even dates are true because he has based his novel in the back ground of five very famous women in the history: Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Quratul Ain Tahira (Iran), Mughal Princess Noor Jehan and Umrao Jan Ada.

Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus and Leda and wife of Menelaus, considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Her abduction by Paris caused the Trojan War and made thousand ships drown.

Cleopatra (actually Cleopatra VII) was the last of the Ptolemies, the Macedonian-descended pharaohs who ruled Egypt beginning in 304 B.C. Cleopatra has come down through history less for her administrative skills than for her beguiling ways, which she used in an attempt to keep Egypt free from Roman domination. Among those whom she charmed was Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son, Caesarion. After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra joined forces with Caesar’s colleague Marc Antony; they became lovers and political allies against Antony’s rival Octavian. Octavian’s forces finally defeated those of Antony and Cleopatra in the naval battle of Actium in 31 B.C. The two lovers fled to Alexandria and, faced with defeat by Octavian, committed suicide. Legend has it that Cleopatra died by the self-inflicted bite of a poisonous snake called an asp, though no firm evidence exists to support that claim.
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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 9:43 AM, , links to this post

Crimes and Criminals

This articles appeared in the daily the Nation.

Violent crimes have been at historic up nationwide; they are rising sharply in all cities. The rise seems to have been set off by something more bewildering.

Imagine Lahore only ten years ago: It was a different city; socially cohesive, closely knit. Young children could go visiting neighbors or to nearby shopping centers to get groceries and other things but not now. People then knew each other personally and had strong social bounds; hence courtesies for each other.

Things started changing with an exponential increase in urbanization. Large number of outsiders started moving in Lahore to live and or work. Now even the immediate neighbors do not know each other and people act like total strangers. Garish housing societies have come up on all the open spaces inside the city and Lahore has expanded much beyond what used to be municipal boundaries. The crime rate has grown with mush faster speed than the city.
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