When I decided to settle away from Lahore - the city of my birth, friends and extended family did their best to dissuade me, even using emotional blackmail. I was told that my life would be dull as the Federal Capital lacked the warmth and character that hallmarked the City of Gardens. I added ‘fuel to fire’, when I announced that my humble home would be in the hills next to the city. I was finally labelled as crazy and left to my own means. A decade down the line, it is these very friends and relatives, who flock to my rustic abode in search of rest and recreation, leaving me vindicated. I am nonetheless grateful to my Creator and them, for filling my house with their presence.
I first fell in love with the Margalla Hills as a young man, who often pedaled to what is now the start point of trail three. I had recently taken up a career and was on a year-long training course in Rawalpindi designed to prepare me for what lay ahead. Some important federal ministries had already shifted from Karachi to Rawalpindi awaiting completion of the Secretariat Blocks in the new Capital nestling in the lap of the Himalayan Foot Hills and construction crews were frantically working to put Islamabad on the map in order to meet the dead line set by President Ayub Khan.
It was on weekends that I would pick up my bicycle, pack some sustenance and head for the hills. I would park my leg powered two wheeler under the shade of some tree and begin a leisurely climb into the pristine forest with its unending surprises. The broad carpeted road that takes visitors to Pir Sohawa and beyond was an asphalt ribbon that ended at what is now ‘Daaman e Koh’. Onward travel (and none did that after nightfall) was on a narrow gravel cum dirt road.
It was during one of these trips that I made my first discovery – crystals. There embedded in a rock, I saw what appeared to be gems gleaming from the rock face. I managed to pry out a piece and excitedly returned to my rented room. That evening I took my find to a local jeweler in the hope of getting a wind fall and was told that the stuff I held in my hand was a natural crystal formation. Three decades later during a professional visit to Islamabad, I met a colleague, who showed me his multicolored collection of these amazing rock formations, acquired from caves inside the pine covered crags of the Margallas.
It was during one of my weekend hikes that I found my very own spring. This discovery was made during the monsoon season, when the cataract had been fully charged. I stood transfixed watching the ice cold sweet water gushing out of a crack in the rock face and falling into a small pool at the base, before rippling down the slope. This was a perfect idyllic spot landscaped by nature itself. The little clearing was shielded from vandals by a dense growth of pines, walnut and chestnut trees. The little pool itself was repeatedly being visited by bird species that I had not seen before and bird song filled the air with its beautiful music. I am told by a local that the spot is as yet undiscovered since it involves a fair bit of hard trekking – I sincerely hope that this information is true.
During another walk near my home after a fresh monsoon shower, I saw the ground covered with yellow rain lilies. I was sorely tempted to take a few bulbs for my garden, but better sense prevailed and I let natures garden grow and titillate the senses as it was designed to do. On another of my explorations I saw Islamabad’s indigenous yellow and orange tulips blooming on the banks of the Rawal Lake.
It was yesterday that I saw a flash of red in my blooming Erythrina tree. I knew that shiny black sunbirds nested in the branches, but presence of a new feathered friend excited me. I sat in my verandah, binoculars glued to my eyes and was soon rewarded by the sight of a male sunbird with dazzling red and green plumage.
I consider those of my readers, who have made Islamabad and its surrounding area their home, blest with God’s special gifts - pine covered hills, a refreshingly cool environment just minutes away, gushing springs, flora and fauna to warm the cockles of even the hardest of hearts.