OVER the years, Islamabad has drawn its fair share of criticism for apparently being a ‘dead city’ having little or no cultural or social activities. That criticism, however, remains no more valid. In all these years when the ‘outsiders’ were busy criticising, Islamabad has transformed itself impressively.
Islamabad has gradually become an [epic]centre of social happenings and a potent market for commercial activities. Meanwhile, the people inhabiting Islamabad have brought their respective cultures along, and, as they grew in numbers, their cultural habits started to blend in, thus making the capital territory a very exciting place to live in.
It can now be safely said that the federal capital has become the second most culturally rich city of the country — the first, of course, being Karachi ... or, wait, is it Lahore?
The calmness and peace offered by Islamabad are nowhere to be found in any other urban centre. The adventure opportunities the capital offers are quite unique for a city to have.
However, all the above-mentioned findings, observations and rulings were based on the countrywide accepted standards of being ‘culturally rich’ and ‘socially happening’. But there are certain things which make Islamabad completely unique from every other city.
The calmness and peacefulness offered by the city are nowhere to be found in any other urban neighbourhood. The city is so lush green that its surroundings are often referred as the ‘leafy neighbourhoods’. The adventure opportunities it offers are quite unique for a city to have.
Being located right at the foothill of Margalla Hills, it is the only major city in Pakistan to offer hiking and trailing as part of its usual life experiences. The Margalla Hills are the continuation of the Himalayan mountain range. The soil on the hill is fertile and completely covered with green trees, herbaceous plants and rocks, thus offering a natural habitat for wildlife.
Over the years, the capital authorities have marked and developed various hiking trails at different points of the mountainous range which surround Islamabad from two sides. Theses trails have made it possible not only for the people of Islamabad, but for visitors from other parts of the country and the world at large, to visit the forest area, roam around safely and explore this natural resort.
Every day hundreds of local residents, visitors and foreigners throng to these hiking trails. Some do so as a one-off adventure outing, but for others it is a daily routine.
The city houses a number of diplomats, senior bureaucrats and military officers, along with other government functionaries, and these scattered trails, located next to the government offices and the diplomatic enclave, serve as the perfect spot for evening walk for these functionaries.
In addition to those who come for a walk or jog daily, the trails are also frequented by the enthusiasts who want to experience hiking and overnight camping.
As for the number of trails, there are said to be many identified trails in Margalla Hills which are mostly used by the locals. Furthermore, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has marked and developed eight hiking trails. The first six of these trails are identified by numbers 1 to 6, while the remaining two managed to get proper names — Saidpur Trail and Bari Imam Trail.
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:
TRAIL-1 [VILLAGE KALINGER/SINYARI]: It starts behind Sectors E-8 and E-9 and comprise three interlinked sub-trails. The trail moves along a water stream that leads into the mountains. Unlike other officially recognised trails, this is not marked well, therefore it Ctakes considerable effort to explore the path.
The trail is rough and rigorous and, as such, it is not recommended for families, including children. However, it serves best for a group of young and properly rationed enthusiasts looking to undertake an exciting half-day trip.
TRAIL-2 [DAMAN-I-KOH / ZOO]: This trail is the shortest among all officially recognised trails. An hour-long walk on this trail leads to Daman-i-Koh. It has two starting points, but both tracks merge midway. It does not end at Daman-i-Koh though, and goes till the Cactus Ridge.
TRAIL-3 [SECTOR F-6]: This trail is relatively well-marked and properly maintained. Its trail head is located opposite Sector F-6 and a dedicated parking area is also available at the starting point. Since this trail is in proximity of diplomatic enclave, many foreigners can be sighted here.
The viewpoint marked on this trails offers a mesmerising view of the federal capital. Almost all prominent buildings, monuments and avenues can easily be identified with naked eye from there. A rigorous hike following the viewpoint mark leads to the famous recreational spot located on Pir Sohawa Road.
TRAIL-4 [DHOK JEEVAN]: This trail loops around the local mountain village called Dhok Jeevan and is quite challenging and strenuous. It moves around a water stream in the beginning, but then is surrounded by thick forest with no water source nearby.
TRAIL-5 [DERA JANGLAN]: Located few hundred metres ahead of Trail-3, it offers a dedicated parking area opposite Sector-5 and is quite popular among the residents. Initially it was not open for the general public, but now people from everywhere can visit it.
There is a seasonal water stream at the start of it, making it a popular picnic spot for families. This trail also ends at Pir Sohawa Road, and a 500-metre walk from the end point leads to the recreational spot.
TRAIL-6 [CHAK JABBI]: The trail-head of this four-kilometre-long track behind the Faisal Mosque besides the parking area leads up to village Jabbi. Trail-6 passes through thick jungle and offers a steep climb for the hikers. It also has a beautiful water spring surrounded by date and palm trees.
SAIDPUR TRAIL: It passes through the Saidpur village and leads right up to the Pir Sohawa Road. This trial is not frequented much by the outsiders but the local residents are quite fond of it.
BARI IMAM TRAIL: This trail starts near the Bari Imam complex and offers a steep climb up till the Pir Sohawa Road where there are a few recreational, though commercial, spots. It can also be connected to Trail-3.
There have been some persistent environmental concerns since the opening of these trails, the foremost of which is the litter or garbage that hikers leave behind them. Due to lack of awareness on the part of the visitors and mismanagement on the part of the local administration, the hiking trails in the hills are littered with plastic bags, food and drink containers, bottles and other non-biodegradable material.
The Capital Development Authority (CDA) has tried to fix garbage bins along the hiking trails, but environmentalists believe that this will do more harm than good.
Experts say that national parks should not have garbage bins inside because it is a cumbersome job to clean them on a daily basis.
And the wildlife also scatters the garbage to inaccessible spots where collection becomes even harder.
They call for generating awareness among the visitors so that they know that they are themselves expected to carry away their consumed-lunch boxes, empty cans, water bottles and wrappers.
If you plan to visit one of the Margalla hiking trails for the first time, you would do well to either choose Trail-3 or Trail-5. They both have a relatively moderate terrain, water streams and maps for guidance. But come well prepared, as these trails will test you for sure.
And, try to clean up once you are done with your trip and leave a clean trail behind. Please.