In one of my earlier columns, I wrote about summer destinations in Pakistan. Soon after, on insistence of some friends and urged by my footloose nature, I began exploring places that had the potential to be developed into hill stations as an alternative to Murree. My objective in doing so was to bring these spots into the limelight amidst hope that someone relevant in either the government or the private sector would pick up the story and in a few years, offer domestic tourists with a widened choice of where to spend the scorching summer months. Since I could not accomplish this task on my own, I enlisted the help of my young media colleagues, who like me carried the mark of being ‘suckers’ for the great outdoors.

I fell in love with Margalla Hills, thanks to my friend Shamrez, who rules the roost in scenic Pir Sohawa. It was because of this fascinating young man that I became part of a wonderful world made up of lush green pine forests, swathes of turf dotted with wild flowers, caves shimmering with crystal formations and ice cold fresh water springs.

At the heart of all this beauty, I discovered Makhnial, a small community located only 15 minutes away from Pir Sohawa. On this wet and humid summer afternoon, I was accompanied by my dearly departed friend Obaidullah Baig or OB. As we rounded the last curve on the excellent road, I beheld a scene that left me breathless - before me lay a flat expanse of land known in geographical terms as a ‘saddle’. On the northern fringe of this, stood a tree covered knoll crowned by an old rest house. My watch altimeter indicated that the area was 5,000 feet above sea level and the temperature around 20 degrees centigrade. The scene appeared to be picture-page-perfect with banks of clouds playing hide and seek in the trees and hollows. We walked some distance to a spring that spouted sweet ice cold water from some rocks and were told that there were a number of similar water sources in the vicinity. I left this beautiful place nursing a twinge of regret, for here was a delightful setting, ideally suited as a summer destination, which could not only generate revenues, but also open up income opportunities for locals.

My next trip was initiated by something I saw on a Pakistani website. This particular post featured a three-tiered waterfall near Havelian at a place called Sajjikot. I was excited beyond measure, as I am no stranger to Havelian and its surroundings - thanks to my professional commitments in the area a long time ago. It took us a little above two hours along an excellent road to reach our destination nestling amongst green pine covered hills. It took another 15 minutes and we found ourselves looking at the lowest and the most awesome of the three cataracts. The cool environs, a benign landscape and friendly inhabitants of this pristine community forced me to rate the place as one of the best kept secrets of Pakistan. In a nutshell, Sajjikot provided mute testimony to the short-sightedness of those that run our tourism business, for like Makhnial, this place had the untapped potential of generating revenues and employment. What irritated me more was the fact that unlike other hill stations, Havelian was connected to Rawalpindi by rail.

I next turned my eyes to Batrassi, located midway between Mansehra and Garhi Habibullah on the main route to Naran. A surprise awaited us at the old forest rest house, when we were shown the room where the Founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah had spent a short time during his tour of the area. If one makes this rest house as a focal point, the forested hills around it make the perfect setting for a balmy pine covered tourist camping resort.

In our headlong desire to make money, we have destroyed Murree, once aptly called the “Queen of the Hills”. We have done this through wanton construction and resultant overcrowding. We have not only degraded the environment, but created the possibility of a major geological catastrophe and loss of precious lives. It is time that we look for alternatives and look for them seriously.

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