In sync with summer: Uphill to Gorakh

Gorakh Hill Station

Breathtaking natural beauty with snow covered peaks, lush green alpine meadows, barren mountains and rolling hills, forests, irrigated plains, rivers, deserts and coastal areas — our country has it all. There are distinctive historical monuments and hot spots for recreation, research and eco-tourism due to abundance of wonderful flora and fauna. Such areas attract a large number of people by virtue of their sheer natural beauty and aesthetic value especially to beat the scorching heat in summer. Why bother with visa hassles and pay exorbitant airfare when Pakistan is home to a variety of holiday destinations …

Gorakh Hill Station

Snowfall in Sindh — sounds more like fantasy but no, there’s one place in Sindh where it really snows in winter, to the extent that in 2008 the mountains got entirely covered with a layer of snow.

Gorakh is a scenic plateau situated at a height of over 5,688ft and is part of the Kirthar Mountain Range that covers the entire Sindh’s border with Balochistan in the west. It appeals to those who appreciate the beauty of mountains, plateaus, and fauna and flora and has rightly been compared with Murree in the north and Ziarat in the south-western side of the country, because of its breath-taking, mesmerising beauty; enough to make one forget all worldly woes.

At present the amenities are scant
At present the amenities are scant

Yet it is not a frequently visited place. Why? Because travelling to Gorakh is quite difficult, nay risky? Only 4×4 vehicles can take you uphill and there are many dangerous points on this steep road which only an expert driver can cross. The distance of about 423km from Karachi to the top of Gorakh hill takes about eight hours due to the poor condition of roads, especially from Johi, the last major town en route to Gorakh, to Wahi Pindhi the last village before taking the road to the hill.

Waiting to be explored, the Gorakh Hill Station is like a hidden treasure of Sindh

The uneven ‘single road’ leads you through a series of (dry) beds of seasonal rainy streams, called Nai in Sindhi. On both sides, there are dark mountains with scattered small settlements of mountain people. Different types of plants and shrubs can be seen along the way; as many as 74 plant species representing 62 genera and 34 families have been described in a study conducted by the Department of Botany, University of Karachi.

As you get closer to the hill station, every passing mountain prepares you for a larger one. At the very base of the mountain there is a point which the local drivers call Panj-treeh (35 in Sindhi), because it is located at a distance of 35km from Wahi Pandhi. Here, on benches under fibreglass shades, drivers usually stop to refresh and check their vehicles as right after this point the ascent begins.

The dangerous track on the mountain looks like a huge snake making its way up to the hill. “We have to climb up there and from that point to that mountain …” Ali Akbar Soomro, our driver-cum-guide, pointed his finger to the far off last mountain visible through the dense fog.

“About 4kms from here, you will reach the Khawal Lak, which is the most difficult part of the journey; the remaining drive is relatively easier,” he added.

The drive gets more difficult as the road becomes steeper after Khawal Lak
The drive gets more difficult as the road becomes steeper after Khawal Lak

Even expert drivers dread Khawal Lak because there are four sharp bends in a steep track, leading finally through the pass and the vehicle is not supposed to lose pace, let alone stopping halfway. When there was no proper road here, people would usually get off the vehicle and walk up while the driver would risk driving up through it alone.

Once you cross the Lak and the altitude increases, a distinct change in temperature is noticeable along with different types of shrubs and plants — the common plant being ‘Peesh’ (Chamaerops Ritchina), a kind of dwarf date palm, used for making ropes, mats and other items.

The scenery is breathtaking and you will be mesmerised by the beauty of the large and small mountain peaks visible all around, and the green ‘plain’ of the hill top.

Among the commonly found wild animals are Sindh Ibex and fox. There was a time when wolf and lion lived here, too, but now even Sindh Ibex is under threat due to excessive hunting.

About 4-6km from Gorakh top there is a natural spring, called Heengarr in the local language, which is the source of water for the entire Gorakh hill area and the government has made sufficient arrangements to make it available on the top by installing motor pumps and tanks at different spots.

The scenery is breathtaking and you will be mesmerised by the beauty of the large and small mountain peaks visible all around, and the green ‘plain’ of the hill top.

When at Gorakh, besides being awed by the beauty, you forget for a while that you are in Sindh, as the climate here is totally different from the plains. June-July is the best time to go, as in winter, especially December-January, it gets very cold here. Water freezes at night as the temperature dives well below zero. Locals advise not to go to the chotee or peak during winter. Even the tribes living up at different parts of Gorakh come ‘down’ to spend winter in the plains.

Floating in the sky
Floating in the sky

Once at the top, all you will see is small and big mountain peaks of the range and the view of the low-level clouds all around makes you feel as though you are floating in the sky. On the eastern side of the hill station, it’s Johi (district Dadu) of Sindh and on the west, it borders Khuzdar, Balochistan.

Those bidding Gorakh as ‘tough competition’ to Murree support it by mentioning the vast area the plateau covers. They hold that the expanse is suitable for different kinds of construction meant for facilitating visitors including hotels and rest houses.

The place needs to be developed. At present the amenities are scant — fibre glass shades with benches made at the top of the hill at four different sites to have four different views, besides a rest house constructed by the government for tourists to stay. A five star hotel, contrary to the government’s recent claims, is still under construction, while another small rest house meant for ‘VIPs’ is also planned. A helipad has also been built, which is used by government authorities.

Due to the extensive coverage in the local media there is a regular flow of tourists which is termed as informal tourism. Our guide, Ali Akbar Soomro, said that the local drivers of Johi, serving as the base camp for the hill station, make three to four trips per week to cater to the growing demand.

“Tourists come from all parts of Sindh including Karachi. We also have tourists from other parts of the country, who are mostly groups of friends arriving after they read something about the hill station in the media or on the internet,” he added.

Only 4x4 vehicles can take you uphill as the road gets steep
Only 4×4 vehicles can take you uphill as the road gets steep

The entire region is also important from the ecological and archaeological perspective. There are, literally, hundreds of archaeological sites at the foothills and highlands adjoining Gorakh. From beautiful natural streams to prehistoric caves, rock carvings to fossils, Buddhist stupas to old forts and temples, Kachho and Kohistan region are home to the archaeological sites explored by archaeologists and explorers who carry out research and promote informal tourism here. However, there has been no worthwhile support from the government.

Despite allocation of funds for the development of the proposed hill station by successive governments, and the establishment of Gorakh Hill Development Authority, no serious efforts have been made to develop the hill station.

The local population also faces numerous difficulties due to the lack of basic facilities such as healthcare, education, basic infrastructure, etc. In case of medical emergencies they have to reach Wahi Pandhi for health assistance. The locals also demand schools for their children so their kids can also get educated.

Proposed facilities for the hill station besides water and road infrastructure are provision of natural gas, cellular network towers, restaurants, hotels and chairlifts, etc. Gorakh can well be developed into a successful hill station attracting thousands of visitors all year round to generate considerable income for the government as well as local employment opportunities.

People in the region are quite hospitable and it is quite easy to find a guide and 4×4 vehicles in Johi or at Wahi Pandhi on competitive rates. You can take packaged food or can cook your own food up on the hill. Travelling to Gorakh is an electrifying adventure and memorable experience. And those in doubt should check it out themselves. The splendid beauty of the hills is waiting for you to come and explore.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 29th, 2014

Author: AamirRaz - عامر راز

Aamir Raz is a freelance writer and has been involved in consultancy for some national and international organizations working in the social development sector. He has also provided consultancy to different organizations and companies for their Social Media presence and campaigns. As a human rights activist, he has also been raising awareness and running online advocacy campaigns for various sociopolitical issues and human rights. Besides, he is also an Author at GlobalVoices Online.

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