- Once a place of stunning beauty, the destruction and desolation of the Galliyat are spearheaded by the timber mafia and aided by government apathy.
Back in school, an Urdu essay titled Mera Gaon (My village) was included as part of our class VI syllabus. It was a hot favourite among students.
The writer, while praising his village, which was situated in Punjab, described the past and present lifestyles and daily routines of villagers. He did not narrate any problems or miseries faced by inhabitants. In his village, people lived great lives and had no worries whatsoever. My class fellows and I were always very impressed and fascinated with the life of this village, and described it as heaven on earth.
Not that we had it less heavenly either: we lived in the valley of Nagri Totial, situated to the southeast of Abbottabad, west of Murree, and its eastern border meeting Ghora Gali in Murree. At an elevation of 4,081 feet, the valley is dotted with colourful iron rooftops, green plains and lofty trees.
Nagri Totial can also be reached from Abbottabad and Rawalpindi. From Rawalpindi, one has to turn left at Ghora Gali point on the main Rawalpindi-Murree road, and after a 30-minute drive, one has to turn right, short of Lora town, onto the main Lora-Abbottabad road.
Once a place of stunning beauty, the destruction and desolation of the Galliyat are spearheaded by the timber mafia and aided by government apathy.
Lora town is the hub of commercial activities for nearby villages, and also houses the police station of the area. Jeeps or taxis can be hired easily from Lora town, for onward travel into the galliyats.
About a 20-minute drive from Lora town, after crossing the beautiful bridge on River Haroo, one finally enters the lush green, picturesque valley of Nagri Totial.
The valley serves as the centre-point for political and business activities for dozens of adjacent villages. It is also in this valley that much of the famous Dhoond tribe of the Abassi family resides; the majority of the Abassis are descendants of the late Great Sardar Totta Khan and late Sardar Dehmat Khan, chieftains of the Dhoond tribe. Gujar, Chaudhary, Syed, Awan and Mehmood Khanies are the other tribes who live in the valley peacefully.
Perhaps it is a personal bias, but I’d always argue that in the picturesque Galliyat belt of district Abbottabad, Nagri Totial is the most awe-inspiring.
The British had named these valleys as green streets due to their thick forest cover. Later on, each green street turned into a “Galli” — hence the modern names of Nathia Galli, Donga Galli, Kooza Galli, Changla Galli, Khaira Galli and Ghora Galli among others.
Then there are some hidden valleys in the area, each of which can be termed neglected heavens. These include Ziarat Masoom, Seer, Maira Husnal, Lora, Maira, Ghanikhoor, Channali, Thooba, Beenani, Panjhoogi Jassia and Batan among others.
To protect the forests of the area, the British set up an observational post which was later converted into a rest house. It is now commonly known as Dak Bungalow. This allowed the forest to prosper and flourish: in the Mari and Channali range, for example, in the midst of heavy forest cover, a few pine hills used to surround one beautiful, gushing water spring.
The conservation of forests was encouraged by President Ayub Khan; no one dared to cut a single tree as it was considered to be the gravest crime — even a sin — by villagers of Nagri Totial.
The woodlands are now gone; hills which were once covered with thick forest cover now present themselves as if they never hosted a single tree.
Local government officers allege that the timber mafia roams the area without any hindrance, and trees are now being cut brutally in connivance with forest officials posted in the upper jungle areas. Three woodcutting machines openly operate in the valley and provide wood for household use.
“Forest officials and the police come to the area only once or twice a year,” says local government official Tariq Mehmood.
“But they go back after getting their share of money from the mafia, thereby giving a free rein to the mafia to cut more trees. This has completely changed the environment of the entire valley; now we cannot see the old water spring channels which used to add beauty to the valley.”
Deprived of freshwater springs, the villagers of Nagri Totial are today forced to drink polluted water, with the supply of potable water to the village heavily compromised.
Many years ago, Nagri Totial was provided one water supply line by the water supply committee headed by late Major Gul Rehman Khan.
But soon after his death, the pipeline plunged into mismanagement and began being hacked at various points by different people. As a result, rainwater began mixing with the natural spring water through the punctured water line, and contaminated the available potable water. As per a water testing report, shown to me by a Nagri Totial villager, the drinking water available now is injurious to the health of the villagers.
In case someone falls ill, there is an acute shortage of basic health facilities inside the village. The only basic health unit (BHU), located in the midst of a jungle, is quite far away from the village and is in deplorable condition.
“There is absolutely no use of this so-called BHU, and we have to go to Lora or Murree in emergency, which costs us a lot,” says Attiq ur Rehman, a resident of the valley.
“We need a proper hospital inside our valley, which is a hub for at least two dozen villages.”
Nagri Totial has a great historical background. Some British colonial rulers and administrators, posted in Peshawar or Hazara division, reportedly visited the valley to meet the five great socio-political figures of the area at the time (who also happened to be brothers).
The eldest tribal chieftain was Khan Bahadur Abdul Rehman Khan, who served as the former chief of NWFP’s central investigation department under the British. He was later elected as member of the legislative assembly (MLA) and also inducted as provincial minister. On the call of Quaid-i-Azam, he stopped using the Khan Bahadur title.
The other brothers were the late Sardar Khan MLA, late Raja Allah Dad Khan, late Raja Ajjab Khan, late Eng Raja Mohammad Nazar Khan (who was the engineer in-charge of building the famous Army Public School, Abbottabad).
Today, there are insufficient educational facilities in the valley. There is one high school and one middle school for boys, while only one middle school exists for girls. A primary school for girls has been under construction for the last seven years. Villagers claim that the contractor building the school building left the job, and sold all material to save himself from any financial loss. Girls now study in two rooms of a private house.
Despite various complaints and media reports about this sorry situation, the authorities remain mum. “Most teachers remain absent. They are paid for sitting at home,” says Javed Iqbal, a local.
Meanwhile, petty theft in the valley is increasing by the day. “There are many FIRs lodged against unknown persons, who have cut the costly telephone wires worth millions of rupees but till date no one has been arrested,” narrates another resident.
Nagri Totial, mera gaon, was once a place of stunning beauty. The problems and miseries faced by inhabitants were few. Many lived great lives and had few worries. But it isn’t the fabled village that would fascinate children; it is now a memory that is fast fading away.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 22nd , 2015