21 August, 2014 / Shawwal 24, 1435

The guise of Gorakh

Published Mar 23, 2013 02:27pm

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.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

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.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

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.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

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.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

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.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

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.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

The “rest house” at the top was a fiber glass construction perhaps, completed in the haste of meeting an “inauguration” deadline rather than actual utility. I will be surprised to hear if it has survived the winds even after a mere two and a half years since our visit. The sanitary fitted in the fiber glass toilet booths had already been torn apart and had become part of the “landscaping” carried out by the authorities.

At night, we had the traditional “much kachairi” or discussion forum by a bonfire with a handful of locals. I inquired why more people did not visit the place. A local guide stated that it was due to the “law and order” situation as there are some bandits around. One of the drivers replied that he knew that Gorakh beats Murree hands down but it was the lack of facilities and poor access that prevented tourists from visiting! The comparison with Murree seems to be a widespread phenomenon. However, in my view, even with all the pollution in the Galliats, Murree and its surrounding areas are a more attractive option with their accessibility, greenery, snowfalls and comparative security.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

With a height of well over 5,500 feet, Gorakh does not receive as much “snow” as it is fabled to, mostly due to lack of moisture. However the Mercury does go below zero in the winters on occasions with some frosting and occasional snowfall. The hill station offers a unique micro environment in Southern Pakistan as it rides high on the Khirthar ridge that was formed when the Indian tectonic plate collided into the Eurasian plate approximately 50 million years ago. Amazingly, this pre-historic pedigree means that parts of the Khirthar range formed the seabed when the two plates collided. This is evident from the abundance of fossils of sea creatures that are found at various places in the range including Gorakh. Marine fossils are also found in the Himalayan Range for the same reason.

In the morning, while strolling along the cliff’s edge I spotted a couple of huts visible around 2000 feet below. They were completely isolated from any settlement or road and hence I asked my guide why it was so. He informed that since the land is rocky and farming is not possible, people often live in isolation so that their limited cattle can forage around.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

My question about their source of water was replied with a finger pointing towards a small stream many kilometers away. My naive inquiry about where these people went to in case of a medical emergency was finally scoffed at by the guide. He said that the most basic medical emergency that a family could have was the delivery of a baby and even for this, these people had no medical access. Since the huts are so isolated, and everyone except the would-be mother were likely to be out shepherding or arranging water when the time came, the lady in question was usually taught by other ladies to deliver the baby herself! I believe every human being deserves a better chance than this – both the mother and the baby.

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-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

Enormous amounts of funds have been spent during the decades since the idea of developing Gorakh was re-floated in 1989 after a visit by the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Yet the untapped tourism potential of the place has not translated into a functional Hill Station with appropriate safety and amenities. Its development will provide an economical option for tourists from lower Pakistan, offering a less time-consuming get-away from the heat. Once the tourists start pouring in, the economy will also undoubtedly flourish with more options for the local population which is badly in need of social and economic uplift.

10350 foundation laid in 2004 - unusable in 2009
-Photo by Raheel Hussain.

 


The writer works for a bank and is interested in the outdoors, wildlife and science. Currently he is seeking transfer to a branch either in the Australian outback or the Himalayas! He can be reached at vagabonds.odyssey@gmail.com

 


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (18) (Closed)


Zeeshan Shamsi
Mar 23, 2013 10:01am
Super blog. I am sure it excites many others as well to visit the magical place you explored.
Omer Farooq
Mar 23, 2013 11:11am
A wonderful piece and an eye-opener for Pakistanis like me who are so ignorant about the country we live in.
S. A. M.
Mar 23, 2013 11:40am
Dear Adil I had a good time reading through it. It would be a good thing for the people of Sindh if this hill station is developed for tourists. As you said it cannot be matched with Murree and the likes in northern Pakistan but still it has beauty in itself. It is not only essential to develop the area but also more important to maintain it. Whatever work had been done is now lost.
Fuzail Z. Ahmad
Mar 23, 2013 12:14pm
This is the first excellent piece on Gorakh hill. But there is hardly anything that could be called excitement stirring. If there is very little precipitation, no amount of spending would be able to convert this place into a green spot. Very few tourists want to see a barren hilltop completely devoid of natural, green scenery. Because of lack of greenery, the wildlife I am sure is non-existent. Sindh should develop tourist spots along the Sindh river and the lake.
G.A.
Mar 23, 2013 12:20pm
Pakistan is so utterly beautiful with a diverse landscape and history. Yet tiny Gulf 'sand-doms' draw in more tourists.
A.H. Siddiqi
Mar 23, 2013 01:45pm
I hope Pakistan Tourism Ministry can do something to at least provide some basic amenities so that this place can be visited bu many Pakistani thrillers like me who want to explore the national lands.
j iqbal
Mar 23, 2013 02:02pm
I have heard that former sind minister Rauf Siddiqui have made a lot of efforts to develop this area,but didn't get much support from chief minister for funds allocation.
Qasim Asim
Mar 23, 2013 04:42pm
By the way, for those who may not know Dr. Adil Najam moved back to Pakistan (a courageous move) to become VC of LUMS in Lahore and has put new life into the place with activities, initiatives and great vibes lums.edu.pk
Ajaya K Dutt
Mar 23, 2013 07:22pm
After a sleepless night in Karachi, we offered our Fajr prayers, and downed a cake stolen from a friend’s kitchen with tea.......................
Tariq K Sami
Mar 23, 2013 09:25pm
Adil thank you for sharing yours experience. Keep travelling.
surrinder gill USA
Mar 23, 2013 10:49pm
Very knowledgeable. I never thought that Sind has a hill station. But without water and green vegetation a hill station hard to imagine. But still it improve our knowledge. Muree, Simla, Srinagar or Mussuri are successsful that they have height, water, vegetation. As goraas developed these stations they would have done for something for Gorakh also. I hoped that you will also let us know why it was name Gorakh. Is it after the name of Jogi Gorakh nath who was guru of Puran Bhagat of Sialkot or something else? Thanks for improving our information.
Manoj
Mar 24, 2013 08:25am
Possibly this beautiful place is connected with famous Indian saint Gorakhnath as the name suggests. Traditionally, Guru Gorakshanath is believed to have been born sometime in the 8th century, although some believe he was born hundreds of years later. He traveled widely across the Indian subcontinent, and accounts about him are found in some form in several places including Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Punjab, Sindh, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal, Assam, Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and even Sri Lanka. This beautiful place Gorakh must be developed into tourist destination.
Akbar
Mar 24, 2013 10:01am
Considering this is the only hillstation within Sindh, it can attrack quite a number of people to this place provided tourist security is ensured and basic amenities provided.
Akbar
Mar 24, 2013 10:04am
Thank you Mr. Adil for such a nice article and amazing photography on Sindh's sole hill station. I would love to visit this place as I believe every person from atleast Sindh would love to provided law & order situation and some basic facilities provided.
Sameer Ahuja
Mar 24, 2013 06:17pm
Why did you mention this. Now they will rename Gorakh too....
Aijaz
Mar 24, 2013 07:00pm
Very gud article written in a very beautiful way. I have visited the place as I belong to a small town "Kakar" situated at a distance of 28 KMs from Dadu. There are two options to go to Gorakh Hill Station. One is from Wahi Pandhi where Mr. Adil etal went through. The other is passing from our village Kakar. From Kakar, Gorakh Hill Station can be reached within a drive of 25-30 minutes. Whereas via Wahi Pandhi, it takes more than an hour to reach to wahi Pandhi from Dadu and onwards a life threatening road takes about 2 hours to reach Gorakh. From Kakar, the road construction could not be completed upto Gorakh as it failed prey to the dispute between Late Abdullah Shah and Zafar Laghari. Both were PPP leaders and both wanted to pass the road from their constituencies. Subsequently, none of the option was approved.
adilmulki
Mar 24, 2013 10:11pm
Dear Mr. Fuzail Z. Ahmad Thank you for your comment. Though the Khirthar range is relatively dry and less green as compared to hilly areas in Northern Pakistan, it carries a different kind of beauty that needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. Further, wildlife generally needs much less water than human activity. Some deserts around the world support large populations of birds, reptiles and deer etc. I've personally observed deer, ibex, multiple species of birds and reptiles in the Khirthar range (which Gorakh is a part of). However, I'm sure, wildlife in greener areas is more abundant. Regards, Adil Mulki
Abdul Basit
Mar 25, 2013 08:04am
Informative and beautifully written, took me back to those fun days.,Murree and other hill stations have been taken care of by respective Provincial Govts Alas In Sindh we are deprived of any good leadership May Allah bless Sindh with some good leaders,