There and Back Again - Holiday in the Valley of Kaghan

June 20, 2011

## Monday, June 20th 2011 We departed from Multan on June 20th 2011 at eleven in the morning. We, that is, me, my dad Rab Nawaz Khan Khichi, uncle Noor Khichi, and two of their friends, uncle Arif and uncle Bhatti, drove through the suburbs of Multan, the cities of Kabirwala, Jhang and Chinyot flashing past, until we stopped in Pindi Battian, for lunch in a restaurant called Bismillah Hotel just after noon. Soon, we were on the motorway. Overhead, the weather looked promising, with clouds veiling the summer sun and wind whistling in through the rolled-down windows of our Honda City. We reached Islamabad before I knew, the Capital glimmering in the dusk, but we were not stopping there, for our eyes were set upon the breathtaking hill station that lay just beyond the Capital. After another hour of weaving through serpentine roads, coiling around the same hill, going up and ever up, the packed streets of Murree appeared. It took us three more hours to find decent accommodation (at one Woodberry Hotel). It was the tourism season! Roaming on the Mall Road of Murree at midnight, which was jam-packed with bodies of every type and size despite the lateness of the hour, felt invigorating after the long journey and the tedious ordeal of finding rooms in the over-crowded tourist resort. The lights, the voices, the chilled gales of wind, the laugher on the air, the smell of mountains and the dewy leaves of pine trees, the bustling shops; it was a fortunate escape from the scorching heat of Southern Punjab, and the dull lives we led there. By the time we returned to our room, stomachs full, teeth chattering despite the hot beverages that were warming our insides, hand stowed deep inside the pockets and hunched over ourselves, it was already two in the morning.

## Tuesday, June 21st 2011 I woke up to a cold morning. The sun was already up high in the sky; light filtered feebly in through the curtained windows. I was first one up, so I took my time getting ready for the dat. Others were up soon, excluding, of course, uncle Arif. (He always slept in!) Breakfast was delicious, or maybe it was just my euphoria. Everything felt great here, probably because of the mesmerizing landscape that flowed around.

That afternoon, we went to the Kashmir point. It point gives a neat view of the beauty that is Kashmir. After spending considerable time there, and dropping off uncle Arif at a bus terminal for he had some errands to run (his brother’s family lived in Islamabad, he was probably off to them), we took a long, wasted road to Pindi point. What with the sudden twists in the steep climb up the hill, and the distraught condition the road was in, it was indeed a dangerous, and therefore a joyous and adventurous ride. While I was having fun, marveling at the scenes that flowed all around, and below us, uncle Bhatti sitting beside me looked somewhat unseated. It was a nice spot, the Pindi point. The old city of Rawalpindi lay sprawled far down at the bottom of hills, like a tiny insignificant blotch on the scenic beauty of the green mountains that spread in all directions. I chose to walk down to the Mall with my father while the other two returned the way we had come. Enjoying the sights before us, and stopping at places to take pictures, we finally reached Woodberry where the other half awaited us with steaming cups of tea.

While going to the Pindi point, we had stumbled across a Shangrilla Hotel, a recent addition to the Shangrilla Resort Networks. It reminded me of the Shangrilla Resort at Skardu and the limited time we had spent there, back in 2006. Though the grandeur and the breath-taking Kachura Lake were both absent, it had a very similar architect and somewhat matching color scheme. Both resorts were fenced by towering mountains; lush green in this case, black and devoid of life in that case. Reception area was laden with flowers and surrounded by mighty trees of species I did not recognize. On the opposite end were a few lavishly furnished residential rooms, and a Huqa Pani Hall which was decorated in a classical theme reminiscent of traditional subcontinental culture. A humble staircase led down towards more residential rooms. This was probably the best hotel I had seen so far in Murree, and the fact that it was away from the bustling Mall helped, too.

That night found us again on the Mall, window shopping this time. Uncle Bhatti said he needed a shoe, but apparently there was not a single pair in all of the shops that appealed to him, for he went inside every shop that had shoes on display but returned empty-handed. Uncle Bhatti took us to the Lintott’s Restaurant for dinner. Lintott’s is one of the oldest and most popular restaurant of Murree. By the time we were finished with dinner, my tummy was protesting against the amount of food it had to endure, and we all could just drag ourselves to our room. Uncle Arif, who had been missed much during the dinner, returned sometime after midnight when I was already sleeping.

## Wednesday, June 22nd 2011 Today, dad decided to take us to Patriata (also called New Murree, at a distance of 15 km from Murree Hills) so that I could experience chair lift and cable car, and that is how we ended up in a lingering queue that made us wait for two hours! The long wait, punctuated by occasional shuffling tired us all, but none as much as Uncle Bhatti who would frequently sit down and ‘crawl’ along when shuffled bit ahead. By the time it was our turn, I was sore. As I waited for a gradually approaching chair lift beside my dad, I had butterflies in my stomach. It was my first experience and I had a right to be nervous! But once I had managed to fall into the chair not-so-gracefully, and we were soaring above the landscape that spilled down my feet, nervousness ebbed away, and excitement took over. I gazed about myself hypnotically. At 2 m/s for 1264 meters, we ‘flew’ above the mystifying hills, sitting on chairs hanging from inches-thick black cables, before reaching the cable car station where we joined the not-as-long-as-previous queue. The stuffed up cable car had a sort of suffocating feeling which impeded joy, and too much of the view was blocked in the closed ‘car’. I immediately decided that I prefer chair lifts. It dropped us off at the top of Shimla Mountain where a recreation spot has been established for the benefit of tourists, and I dismounted all too gladly, inhaling lungfuls of the deeply aromatic air. The panoramic view of the Murree Hills on one side and snow covered Kashmir Hills on the other side, and the coniferous forests that provided a cool and comfortable shade, under which we enjoyed fried chips with coke amidst cheery chatter and laugher, were revitalizing. The return journey, which happened after a few hours, was similar to the first, minus the adrenaline rush. Chair lift felt even better than before, though.

From there, we went to the famous Pearl Continental hotel of Bhurban (Bhurban is a resort town, named after a nearby forest and located approximately 9 km from Murree city). Unsurprisingly, it was nothing like I had seen before. It was far better than PC Lahore, and though Shangrilla Skardu had a healthier environment and prettier landscape, PC Bhurban had its own kind of beauty. The endless meadows with horses to ride through the flowered paths, glittering fountains of foamy water adding to the magnificence. After dinner, we returned to Murree.

## Thursday, June 23rd 2015 Today, delayed by a flat tire, and breakfast in Nathiagali, we found ourselves enroute to Naran, flashing past the towns of Abbottabad, Mansehra, and Balakot. It was already afternoon by the time we entered Kaghan Valley. On left hand, river Kunhar gushed past. On the other side, there were those giant mountains, starting dark green from the roots, and becoming lighter upwards, fading to brown and finally becoming white at the peaks. Snow reflected sunlight, and streams of pure white water marred the green slopes, passing at places right over the road and into the river. As we continued on to Naran, I glimpsed quite a few honey farms on the river banks, which were swarming with what looked like thousands of bees. By eight o’ clock, we had reached Naran and rented a room at a place called Sohrab Valley Hotel. The three-day festival called the Kaghan Valley Festival was being celebrated in the town, and Naran looked even more crowded than Murree, which is saying something!