Last Friday, I visited one of the greatest tourist attractions of this region. Somehow I hadn’t seen it, inspite of living just two hours’ drive from there. When my college friends were going there, I siezed the oppertunity of meeting them as well as seeing the unique mines.
Khewra Salt Mines:
These mines are located near Bhera which is the middle of Lahore and Islamabad Motorway. So, it is around a two-hour drive from Lahore or Islamabad. It was discovered by an interesting incident happening over a couple of thousand years ago. In 326 BC one of the horses of Alexander the Great, was seen licking the ‘stones’ here with great relish. They found out that it was a chunk of pure salt. As you may know horses like to lick salt. So, that is how the soldiers of Alexander, discovered this place in 326 BC. It was a time when he was busy winning his battle with Porus the local king.
After that, slowly and surely this place kept being revisited, till 1876 when the British freshly having ‘settled’ the locals to accept them as the ‘lords of this land’, took over the salt mines and set about doing it up. We had our lunch at this rest house which was built then. So now, after a hundred and forty-one years we all from Home Economics College decided to have lunch here on October 27th 2017. It was already 3.00. p.m. when we reached the rest house for lunch.
A charming railway station near Islamabad, that deserves a visit.
It’s a six to ten km drive from Islamabad, on a bad road. Yet, I was charmed to get there, to see the station which was built in 1860 looking in good shape. The breeze lifted the leaves of the Banyan trees lying on the ground. Winds of Time and Winds of Change were so evident here. It’s a charming place, from where the outlines of the Margalla Hills are visible.
Adnan Afaq, living in Lahore had worked it all out. He even hosted the group at his home. It was all possible due to Sobia Maqbool who was studying at Harvard. The duo had worked things out together. She was doing her Masters in Public Administration, Harvard, Kennedy School of Government (2017).
As Sobia put it:
“From a casual conversation between two friends about going on a road trip together to explore the scenic northern areas of Pakistan, Adnan Afaq, CEO of Pakistan Credit Rating Agency, and I, then student of Harvard Kennedy School, pursuing my Master’s in Public Administration, took along 30 Harvard students on a once in a lifetime journey exploring various seasons, landscapes, people and tastes of Pakistan.”
When Sobia joined Harvard in 2015 she saw that there were trips being arranged by different groups of students to most of their home countries. She was upset to realize that there had been no trips to Pakistan. She reached out to Adnan, who was equally disturbed. An avid traveler, Adnan immediately offered to help arrange a trek to Pakistan. Together, they decided to create an itinerary that would provide the trek participants a unique opportunity to be able to gaze deep into the soul of Pakistan and gain access to an insider’s look into the lives of the locals. Adnan and Sobia wanted to create a journey filled with diverse experiences for the trek participants – from the food they ate to the people they interacted with and the landscapes they breathed in. The main idea was to give them a flavor of Pakistan. (Yummm we all know what a great flavor it is, in every sense.)
I’ve been here so often that by now my girls almost hate it. Yet, they will never refuse to go, as it’s a lovely outing for someone living in Islamabad. I love the drive on the Expressway, from Islamabad to 17 km short of Murree. It takes about an hour or so. The last steep climb up to the resort is really nice and challenging. Just be a bit careful, if there is oncoming traffic.
I found out about this place through my art group when Mansoor Rahi and Hajra Mansoor would bring about twenty of us on a coach to this place. While the tasty chicken karahi is being prepared, he assembles us for a lecture and demonstration on art. After that we spread around this area and do our own sketches and paintings. I’ve got many pictures of those sessions. (However, I can’t find any right now – good for you – otherwise, you would have been flooded with them! )
After spending four incredible days exploring Shiraz, I became a little bit worried that my Iranian adventure had started off too wonderful, and that everything following Shiraz would be a letdown.
Luckily, my next stop was Yazd, and it would turn out to be one of my favourite places in Iran.
Resident kitty at the Silk Road Hotel
Yazd city is the capital of the Yazd province and it is home to close to half a million people. Located a six hour bus ride North-East of Shiraz (and quite a pleasant one if you don’t find yourself having one of those days where you are constantly desperate to pee – there is a story there – but I will spare you all of the gory details) Yazd is an incredible example of an Iranian desert city, and one that should be on the bucket lists of anyone planning a visit to…
It was such a great surprise, to discover a beautiful place so near my home! Just the type of place I love – with streams, caves, rocks and mountains. It had heard about it, but I wasn’t sure of the exact location. ( I’ve lived near this place for over eleven years! ) Finding out that it took twenty minutes to get there by car, was even a greater surprise.
Two weeks ago, on a Sunday, Uzma and Daniyal agreed to show us the way, so my two daughters and I went on an impromptu visit.
The weather and drive was lovely. The road kept getting worse as the view kept getting better.
Walking on the trails in foothills of the mighty Himalayan mountain range.
Who wouldn’t want to touch the foothills of the great Himalayan mountain range? Margalla Hills in Islamabad, are part of the foothills. So, almost everyone in Islamabad, has to go for a to trek in one of its trails, in the Margalla Hills. ‘Trail 3’ was the steep one which has been very popular for years. Some years ago, my husband and I had been on the Trail 7 which starts behind the Faisal Mosque. Lately, Trail 5 was introduced. This one is less steep, longer, and along the way joins with the trail 3 route also.
You get glimpses of small water falls, streams and pools along the way. The hike is tough if you want to go all the way to the top. Many chicken-hearted people, just stroll in the lower tracks and get back – just as we did!
As far as I know, the camp site has never been actually used – but that is just a conjecture. We Pakistanis are not the camping types usually. Plus it is uncomfortably close to the civilization. No proper bathroom there either, at the camp. However, a few good bathrooms are available near-by.
There is a ‘khokha’ or cabin offering tea and snacks at the car park. You will find the local staff around to watch over you, and even guards strolling around to see you have no problems.
Last year, Niaz Husain, my gardener was missing and I was furious…… as usual!
“This time I’m going to fire him.” I said.
“I’ve been here for three years, you have been wanting to fire him every month!” Remarked my mother.
I was very upset. So, I tried to call him on my mobile phone. By mistake I called an earlier number of his, realizing too late – the phone was picked. So, I wished and asked if I could speak to Niaz. “I’m sorry Baji, I’m brother of Niaz, we are going for Umra by land. We are at the Quetta border now. “ I was very surprised. My anger vanished. I remembered that for some time, someone else was coming in his place.
“When will he be back?” I asked.
“We don’t know, but he will join as soon as he gets back.”
After that, no news for many days which turned into months. Then one day the substitute mentioned that brother of Niaz has died, and he was going on leave too. So, he disappeared too.
Finally, a few weeks later I found Niaz busy in my lawn. (I had been giving his pay to the substitute, and it wasn’t payday yet.) I dashed outside to ask what had happened. Well, he did have a successful Umra trip. But his other brother who was living in the village in Pakistan, died suddenly. So, this was the news he received on return from such an exhilarating trip.
Avoiding visits to Rawalpindi is my forte. Even though it is my birth place, I think it’s the birthplace of all humanity. If you pick up a stone – a human being comes crawling out from under it – in fact you will find one sitting on top of the stone also! All of them are on the roads, and trying to cross the roads, as you drive.
Well, then why did I go? I had to go for my dad’s medications at AFIC (Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology,) and look around for some stuff for him… since he is spending more time in bed these days. For example, a hospital bed, which can make the patient sit up and lie down easily. Also, it has safety rods on the sides, so the patient doesn’t fall off the bed.