Some years back, browsing through the now defunct Pakistaniat.com ran by Dr. Adil Najam and his team, I came to know about a place called Gorakh – the title of the piece written by Owais Mughal highlighted it as a place “Where it snows in Sindh”. I got interested, as all I knew of Sindh till then was dry, arid and hot. Gorakh, the mystical “Hill Station” of Sindh inspired a sense of wonderment and thrill amongst my travel-buddies but the perceived “law and order” situation in the Dadu district resulted in a few aborted expeditions. We finally mustered the courage to make a trip a couple of years back with the help of the Village Shadabad Organisation, a local NGO.
After a sleepless night in Karachi, we offered our Fajr prayers, and downed a cake stolen from a friend’s kitchen with tea and left for Hyderabad. Driving smoothly, we reached Jamshoro and had a proper breakfast at a roadside restaurant located on the N 55 (also known as the Indus Highway). This would be our last full meal before another one the next day, at the same place! Whizzing past the Runnikot Fort exit and bypassing Sann city, we reached Sehwan where the Lakki Hills make an impressive appearance and serve as a reminder of the highlands ahead.
We drove straight through Dadu city and Johi town to reach the village of Wahi Pandi around noon, where we were greeted by the staff of VSO. Here, we purchased provisions and arranged for water, blankets etc. A courteous contact had also arranged for a police guard and a cook. Owing to the lack of any four wheel drive vehicles, we decided to hire jeeps available from the village which is the last settlement of any consequence before Gorakh. The Potohar jeeps are fitted with a diesel engine to cope with the daily routine of treading on the Khirthar range. Fully geared, we headed straight for the top as we wanted to be there before nightfall.The ride up the hills was exciting and the road often meandered through dry beds of perennial rivulets. The rugged terrain coupled with sights of camels foraging around shrubs were a paradox when one recalled that we were just a couple of hours from a hill station. A hill station also usually means ample supply of running water but here we had to carry water for drinking and all other purposes with us, as there is none available at the Hill Station! This also meant that inside the small jeeps, everyone was cramped up with our camps, warm clothes, beddings, food, water, photography equipment, etc.
We did not come across a single vehicle moving in any direction, other than those of our own entourage throughout the ascent. Sparse vegetation, a few camels, some donkeys and the odd flock of sheep or goats stood out amongst an apparently lifeless landscape. People were only visible at and around the few police pickets set up on the Gorakh Road and were mostly shepherds and wood gatherers.
Throughout the drive, electricity poles and a water pipeline ran alongside and implied a more comfortable reception at the top. As we stopped over for a break at a camp, half-way through, I inquired about the same and was told that though there is a pipeline, there is no water, and despite a transmission infrastructure, there is no electricity at the “hill station” just like, though there was a road, it was so badly washed away at places that it remained only navigable by an off-road vehicle.
Over one hour into our drive, we came across a very steep track with sharp bends. This was the Khawal Lak – a Lak is a mountain pass in the local language. Here, portions of the road have completely eroded due to landslides and it is hard to believe that a road ever existed. Any false move on the part of the driver at the Khawal Lak could be the last one for him and his passengers. Once through the pass, the remaining climb is more of an inclined plateau with markedly more greenery than seen earlier. Peesh, the local variety of dwarf palm, which is an important commodity is found in abundance.
This green gold drives a unique economy in some parts of the Khirthar range. It is used to make rope, as roofing and construction material, bedding, mats, footwear, cattle fodder, etc. Finally, we were near the top and as if to welcome our party to Gorakh, an unexpected mild drizzle greeted us. The scorching heat in Wahi Pandi below seemed a world apart from this place.