I first became acquainted with Rawalpindi in the early fifties as my family undertook their annual migration to Murree Hills in a bid to escape the heat of the plains. As the years went by, I realised that the place, with its clean environment, sleepy roads, old pines, mild summers and frequent rain showers had, in a definite yet subtle manner, taken hold of me. In later years, I returned to the place frequently and witnessed its slow decline into poor administration and callous conversion into a concrete jungle. Since the current face of this once beautiful city is now a mess of traffic snarls, ugly plazas and heaps of refuse, I would prefer to relive my memories of what was once 'a gem in the Potohar Plateau. Historians speak of evidence regarding a culture dating back 3,000 years that once flourished in the region and of a Buddhist city that existed, where Rawalpindi now stands. It is believed that this city was destroyed by marauding Huns, in a manner similar to Taxila. Mahmud of Ghazni appears to have given the ruined place to a Gakhar Chief called Kai Gohar, but it was Jhanda Khan, another Chief from the same clan, who restored it around 1493 and named it Rawalpindi. In 1765, the city fell to the Sikhs, who brought it into prominence as an important trading centre. Following British annexation in 1849, the place became a key garrison town in 1851 and continues to be one to this day. The 'Pindi Mall was all that Raj era Malls were apt to be, with the difference that it was a stretch of the Grand Trunk Road from the old Presidency to the Military Hospital that had simply been renamed by the British. A sprawling white palace like mansion adorned the point where the Mall began. This beautiful white building surrounded by wide grounds was originally built as a residence by two Sikh brothers, Mohan Singh and Sohan Singh. It became the Presidency in the mid 60s, when the capital shifted from Karachi to the under construction site at Islamabad, but now houses a Womens University. The Anglican Church was located at the point where Murree Road took off from the Mall. It was and still is a beautiful structure dating back to the 19th Century and has survived the vagaries of time and man, thanks to its clergy and congregation. Flashmans Hotel stands only a stones throw from this Church and its patronage was once considered a status symbol. The hotel complex was characterised by comfortably spaced sets of single storey buildings designed to look as if they were small cottages. The premises took on a festive look on New Years Eve, as people converged on it for the annual ball and its restaurant served the best Peach Melba that I have ever tasted. A little ahead and across the road lay Rawalpindi Club, which was a popular watering hole for military and civilian members. I remember visiting this club as a guest during the sixties and enjoying one of its best loved specialties - 'chicken paratha. The place was taken over by the army, renamed as a 'Mess and in the process all but lost its original charm. Some distance from the club along the Mall, one could not miss a sign with the words 'Silver Grill vertically emblazoned across it. This was a restaurant par excellence and no private tea party was complete without its mouth-watering chicken sandwiches. Sadly enough this establishment is no more. A small park with old Silver Oak trees and some pines lay across the road from Silver Grill. These magnificent trees, which are now only a shadow of their former glory, veiled a row of beautiful buildings with burjis. These were the Odeon and Plaza cinemas, a pair of pre-independence movie theatres that screened quality English movies and enjoyed decent patronage. These cinema halls are now a mere reflection of their former self, but continue to stand as a city landmark. Like any other garrison town, Rawalpindi boasted a Saddar Bazaar. It was here that two hotels from the British era did booming business. These hotels were unlike the ones that we see today, as they were composed of large compounds enclosing single storey cottage like accommodation and a central bungalow type reception/dining hall - all shaded by tall trees and adorned by well kept shrubs and hedges. One of these hotels whose name escapes my fading memory was located on the road that leads from the Mall to the railway station. The other was run by an old lady and was called Mrs Davies Hotel or Boarding House after her own name. This establishment was located behind Flashmans Hotel and appeared to be surviving in a Raj era time warp. Much later, it was sacrificed on the altar of commercial progress and demolished. There is much more that I would wish to pen down in this column, but all good things must come to an end. This may well be the motivation for me to take another stroll down Rawalpindi of yesteryears and bring to life forgotten names such as the historic Kashmir Hotel and the bakery near the Civil Hospital, whose roast adorned menus as far away as Karachi. n The writer is a freelance columnist.