I consider myself lucky that professional commitments presented me with frequent travel opportunities, wherein days were spent in outdoor activity and nights in Dak Bungalows. If any of my readers has not spent time in what is a wonderful legacy from the days of the Raj, he or she ought to do so now as many of these old structures are on the verge of extinction.

Dak Bungalows were, as the name suggests, staging or relay points along a dak or mail route, characterised by a simple structure (with a wraparound verandah) for overnight stay and detached buildings that housed a kitchen, stables and accommodation for staff. By far, the most scenic of these structures were owned by the Forest and the Canals Departments, where they were known as rest houses or inspection bungalows and provided temporary residential facilities to government officials during tours, travels and excursions.

Many of these old buildings were reputed to be haunted or had interesting tales attached to them and my penchant for exploring everything mysterious often confronted me with phenomenon that was, to say the least, inexplicable. Take, for example, the case of Margaret’s restless spirit in the Canal Rest House near Kamalia or the happenings at the old house in Kohat Cantonment  - narrated by me in one of my earlier columns.

Many of these rest houses were looked after by caretakers, who had inherited their calling in a hereditary manner and talking to them was akin to turning the pages of history. During one of my frequent jaunts deep into the Margalla Hills beyond Sanghri Gali, I was brought to a halt by a sight that had all the prerequisites of a beautiful hill station.  This was a wide saddle like feature, amply dotted by trees usually found at this altitude. A hill, densely covered by ancient pine, chinar and walnut trees, crowned one side of this feature, partly hiding an old structure. As I trudged through this screen, I found myself face to face with an unforgettable scene. I stood on an oval of well-tended turf flanked on one side by an old structure straight out of a colonial picture book and on the other, by a vista of valleys and ridges stretching as far as the eye could see. My reverie was soon broken by the arrival of an old man, who welcomed me with a toothless grin and a warm handshake.

This idyllic rest house belonged to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Forest Department and had been constructed in 1924. The visitor’s book contained a long list of British Forest officials, who had paid overnight visits, which had ironically become far and few in the post-independence era. I spent the next few hours walking around and marvelling at the short-sightedness of the concerned government and the possibilities that the place offered as an alternative to overcrowded Murree.

Inspection bungalows belonging to the Canals Department are usually located in close proximity of irrigation works. One such structure is located near Shujabad and was home to me for a couple of nights many years ago. One only had to walk out of the gate, cross the canal service track and presto, one was standing on top of a weir that turned placid waters into a rushing cataract.

On arrival, I found the rest house in an impeccable condition and the surrounding garden more so. When I told the staff that I would be staying here alone with only my driver to give me company, they looked at me in a strange manner and shook their heads. It was almost half an hour later that I was able to draw out, piece by piece, the reason for their attitude. It turned out that the place had the reputation of being haunted or possessed by supernatural forces.

As night fell and I tucked myself into bed, I had an odd feeling as if I was being watched. I muttered my customary prayer and was quickly asleep only to be jolted awake by what appeared to be moaning sound coming from the adjoining bedroom. I got up and found that the sound was coming from the direction of the roof. Almost an hour of meticulous searching by me and my driver (whom I had prudently awakened), revealed the ghost - a hole in one of the old skylights, which produced the eerie sound whenever a gust of wind passed through it.

In the morning, I decided to put one over the rest house staff by telling them that I had driven away the ghost last night and he would never trouble any one thereafter. Needless to say, the following night passed in absolute peace and I left the place bearing the status of potent ‘peer’. So dear readers, if you happen to be down Shujabad way and come across a small mud plastered Dak Bungalow near a canal weir, remember this was the spot where a lowly servant of the ‘sirkar’ drove away a horrifying demon after an ‘epic battle’.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.