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Environment: A walk in the woods

February 14, 2010

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If you have ever visited the Galiyat or the Murree Hills and have not been on the Pipeline Walk, then consider yourself most unfortunate. I first discovered it about 15 years ago and over the years have traversed it several times, the most recent being last week, after a gap of about 5 or 6 years. On the surface very little seems to have changed on the 4 kilometers walk itself through the Ayubia National Park; which was in sharp contrast to the whole area itself, as the Galiyat now seemed to be choking with ugly construction, humanity and litter. Not to mention the horrendous and excessive branding by one cellular telephone company in particular, on practically every steel sheet roof and other surface possible, for tens of kilometers along the main road. The irony being that the company originates from a country that itself has huge swathes of coniferous forest, not dissimilar to the Murree Hills forests. I wonder if the company is desecrating the natural landscape in the same manner in its native country?

It was in 1930 that the British built a water pipeline starting from Dunga Gali, a settlement on the slopes of the 2,813 meters high Mushkpuri Peak, the highest peak in the area. At Dunga Gali itself, a huge circular and open to the sky water tank of strong steel sheets was built, having a diameter of about 30 meters and a height of about 10 meters. In the mountainous heights behind Dunga Gali, run-offs from natural springs and rain-water channels were engineered and networked to flow into this steel water storage tank. Then choosing a relatively level route throughout, to achieve the longest horizontal distance possible, a track about 3 meters wide on the average was carved out along a mountain slope, through thick forest, and a water pipeline was laid in the centre of the track, to carry the stored water to Ayubia, from where it was supplied to Murree at an elevation nearly a thousand meters below the starting point in Dunga Gali.

The pipeline was covered over with earth and stones and the track now hiding the water pipeline came to be called the Pipeline Walk. And what a serenely exhilarating walk it is indeed!

Today it lies completely within the Ayubia National Park. In 1984 an area of 1,684 hectares of mountain forest was declared as a national park, with the aim of preserving the beautiful forest and biodiversity. The park area was expanded through a northern extension in 1998 to 3,312 hectares. The elevation of Ayubia National Park ranges between 1,050 meters in the valleys to 3,027meters at the mountain tops within. These mountains are 40 million to 170 million years old; sedimentary rock with mostly limestone but also alternating shale and sandstones. The soil is clay but also mixed with gravel and sand at places. The Park supports three types of forest eco-zones; sub tropical pine forest, moist temperate coniferous forest and sub alpine meadows, rich in biodiversity. The species recorded from this National Park includes 757 plant species, 650 insects, 203 bird species, 31 mammals, 19 reptiles and 3 amphibians.

More than 50,000 people live in surrounding villages of the Ayubia National Park and every year more than 250,000 tourists visit the park, mainly during the summer season. The pressure of a rapidly growing local population, heavily compounded by the tourists' pressure has created serious solid waste problems in the area. Hotels and restaurants for example generate up to 3,225 kg per day of solid waste. In the confines of the Park itself, tourists generate up to 3.84 Kg per person per day of solid waste, which is really alarming, because this is some 3.22 times the national average.

Luckily there are conscientious people, organisations and socially responsible corporations who have joined hands to improve conditions through various conservation initiatives. Coca-Cola for example, has signed an MOU with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan, for funding the cost of a project aimed at improving sub-watershed management and environmental awareness in the Ayubia National Park. The project will focus on three areas - sub-watershed management, awareness raising, capacity building and community development through introduction of alternate sources of energy, rainwater harvesting, crop diversification, habitat restoration and water filtration. This comprehensive project has been divided into two phases. Phase 1 is of 18 months duration and will include sub-watershed management, while Phase 2 is of 24 months duration and will sustain conservation activities under the project and broaden their scope.

So there is hope that in future I may be able to do the Pipeline Walk. At 2,499 meters above sea level, meandering along a mountain side, through still fairly thick coniferous forest, the Pipeline Walk is a 'must experience' for every visitor to the area who loves and respects nature and can walk for 4 kilometers without raising his or her voice. In fact there is really no need for any conversation on this trail, even if you are not alone. For it is divinely important to turn your ears to the sound of nature around as your eyes feast on a verdant valley on one side, and your nose picks up the heady mix of aromas of rain-soaked earth, dew-dampened undergrowth, pine cones and a green forest washed by heavy thunder-showers overnight.

So, as the clouds break and sunlight slants through the canopy of overhead branches, you try and count the different sounds gently knocking on your ears. The whistle of the wind through the trees, the high pitched calling of a flock of parakeets cutting across the forest, the sound of several other bird species and the gurgle of water over rocks as natural rainwater runs in full flow from the night long rains. A paradise within reach, but one that could have been lost if it was not for initiatives like the soft drink funded WWF-Pakistan project. So while different companies vie with each other to defile the landscape, one of the world's biggest brands is quietly supporting preservation of a natural heritage that surely must be preserved for our future generations. For they too must savour the Pipeline Walk and its home, the Ayubia National Park.