Margalla Hills National Park
Margalla Hills National Park Islamabad Reviews
Trekking and overnight camping at Margalla Hills National Park Dec 11, 2011
The city of Islamabad, by virtue of its location and climate has many beautiful sights to offer to its residents and visitors. Beside the commonly famous sites like Daman-e-koh, Peer Sohawa, Lake view park and Rawal dam and Rose and Jasmine Garden, the city has a number of various undiscovered sites and spots which are even unknown to the locals who claim to be the “inhabitants” of the city.
One such location, which was recently discovered by me and one of my friend is Margalla Hills National Park behind Sector E of the city. The Margalla Hills National Park is located at the foothills of the Himalayas. It is approximately 17,386 hectares in size. Declared a National Park in 1980, the Park has some breathtaking views to offer along with its unique Flora and Fauna. Laded with Oak and Pine trees, the Southern slope (overlooking the Islamabad city) in particular offers great outdoor activities like Trekking, Sightseeing, and camping.
This was exactly our plan. We set out for the journey which included trekking and overnight camping on 3rdof December, 2011 after making necessary arrangements which included packing up our trekking and camping gear, buying food items to cook up there and of course warm bedding. The little bit of research about the location revealed that the Margalla has a variety of mammals, which include the Leopard, Gray Goral, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Jackal, Red Fox and the Porcupine among others.
It is also home to a large number of birds such as Larks, Paradise Flycatcher, Black partridge, Shrikes, Pheasants, Spotted Doves, Egyptian Vultures, Falcons, Hawks and the Eagle. Reptiles such as the Russell’s viper, Indian cobra and Saw-scaled viper are found there.
Leopard! Okay.. That’s rare but we were just two and without any weapon of any kind it was indeed kind of a little worrying to the two of us who were going to spend a night on our own. “What about locals”.. What if we encounter robbers or muggers while camping?” All these questions were left unanswered as we set off in thrill and excitement.
We set off at around 11 am in my infamous but tough 1973 Corolla. After getting onto Khayabaan-e-Iqbal, you make a left turn on a road between Sector E-9 and E-10 which leads straight onto the foot of Margalla Hills. The hustle of the City is left behind immediately as you take that road. After driving for 10 minutes you come across a small village from which an unpaved (but okay to drive on) road takes you closer towards the mountains.
The view of high hills on your either side, thick vegetation, Oaks and Pines take your breath away. We stopped over to take some snaps but we hastened to move forward wondering what was ahead. “Born and raised in Islamabad, and we are seeing this place today?” These were the thoughts both of us had in our minds. Within a few minutes, the road starts taking you up the mountain. 2nd gear and going.. going.. going. Going on that unpaved track in our car. We crossed some locals who had chopped wood on their backs, they seemed friendly, exchanging greetings. The view just keeps on getting better and better. After driving for an hour or so, and gaining good height, which was certainly more than Monal Restaurant at Peer Sohawa, we came across two guys sitting on a rock beside the track. We stopped over to get some information as to where to camp and spend the night. Azram and Hafeez, as the two introduced themselves to us told us that we can park our car in a small village “Bani” just ahead and then get our luggage and equipment and trek (as the unpaved road ends there) towards this spot up in the mountain which is really beautiful. They seemed friendly enough to be trusted and they said they would accompany us in our hike towards that point “Topi”. We went ahead to park our cars. After parking the car, we started to get our luggage out and it was then we realized that two of our bags are missing. I realized that the trunk of my car was open. The bags must have fallen off from the trunk of my car while we were making that bumpy ride up the mountain. Not sure, how far behind the bags have fallen off, we had no choice but to go back and search for them. We told Azram and Hafeez what had happened and told them to wait for us till we come back. Luckily, after driving down for like 10 minutes we came across both the bags, they were still lying on the road.
Adeel with all the stuff!
Upon our reaching back, our new friends Azram and Hafeez seemed relieved that we had found our lost luggage. All set and loaded, we parked and locked our car in that village and set out on hiking. Boy o boy was it tough! The heavy backpack, gas cylinder for cooking, bedding and food stuff was proving tough for us, even though Azram and Hafeez were carrying one bag each despite our protests. It was very kind of them indeed. The locals we had encountered till now were all very friendly and welcoming and knowing this relieved us a great deal. But hiking, with all the weight on our back, was proving more and more challenging. Committed to reach to that point, and camping at the very top of the mountain, we kept on moving on while taking rest for two minutes after every 10 minutes of hiking. Azram and Hafeez on other hand, were not even out of their breath! “Just a few steps more, just a few steps more”. That’s what they kept on telling us, smiling at us occasionally.
Hafeez and Azram, sharing our luggage
A little rest along the way - beautiful scenes all around
The view was getting just breathtaking and we had this overwhelming feeling of pride about this gem of a place we had discovered, of which most of the people knew nothing about. Finally! After 40 minutes of trekking we reached the top of that hill and there it was… It was indeed beautiful. A small plateau overlooking Islamabad and Rawal Dam on its South, and on the Northern side, a village in the valley and Khanpur Dam visible faintly. Yes! It was indeed Khanpur Dam.
Enjoying the eve!
Adeel making tea
The sense of achievement was overpowering. Azram, gave us his cellphone number and said: “If you need anything, food, bedding, anything.. Just call me, I live in this nearby village, just give me a call”. We thanked him and told him that we had brought all the things with us, but his kindness was very heartwarming. Just after they said goodbye and left, we started to deploy our tents and setup our camp. We unpacked our luggage, setup a small kitchen, and then started to heat up the “Pulao” we had brought along with us as lunch.
Heating up the Chicken pulao on Gas Cylinder
Adeel devouring the lunch!
After devouring the Chicken Pulao we started collecting wood for cooking the barbecue at night and the bonfire, which was all so important for camping at night specially in winters. There was no shortage of woods there, but how to chop those branches? As we were thinking of that, this old shepherd came walking towards our camp with his goats. We said hello and introduced ourselves respectfully and he said that he lived in a nearby village and asked us if we need anything. The hospitability of the villagers was indeed very heartening and despite us saying that we have enough supplies he was adamant that we should at least have a cup of tea at his place. We regretted very politely. But then he offered us something for which we couldn’t say no, he told us to keep his wooden axe for cutting the branches of trees for wood, and told us to leave it here next morning and that he will collect it from this place. Wow! That’s exactly what we needed. Thankful and gratified to that old shepherd, we said goodbye to him and set off to the task.
Chopping wood for Bonfire
It was evening and time for tea! The camp was complete, wood for the barbecue at night and the bonfire was ready and chopped off and me and my friend were having tea with boiled eggs and enjoying the sunset. Quiet, peaceful, surreal and dreamlike. We were having the time of our lives.
“What I like about camping is you can get really dirty. Either you’re all by yourself, so no one else sees you, or everyone you’re with is just as dirty as you are, so nobody cares”
After tea, we started to marinate the Chicken with Masala, as we had planned to have Chicken Tikka and Chicken Boti for dinner at night.
Adeel marinating the chicken
The darkness took over just as quickly as we lit up the bonfire. Time seemed to have slowed down as we experienced this quiet night filled up with stars and complete pitch darkness, eerie to some extent. Munching on the peanuts and enjoying the bonfire. We sat near the fire and everything seemed to peaceful. At around 9 pm, we started barbecuing. It was really tasty. The outdoor adventure just kept on getting better and better.
Bonfire was great! - Loved it
“The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness”
~Henry David Thoreauat
The night comes quickly when you camp out in the winters. At 10 pm it feels like its midnight. Just as we set our beddings in our tents, another guy, whose name was Sheeraz and who worked for the CDA (Capital Development Authority) came to us with his rifle and two Pointer Dogs. He was on duty on his night patrol of the hills, his job was to make sure that the trees and wildlife is safe from the illegal woodcutters and hunters. A young lad in his 20’s he befriended us quickly and sat with us chitchatting and sharing his adventures of patrolling in the mountain.
Me with Sheeraz, the CDA person
After he left, tired of the hiking and setting up the camp, we went into our tents leaving the bonfire burning so that animals do not venture near our camp.
We woke up with the sunrise, had breakfast, packed up and trekked all the way down to where the car was parked. Put our luggage in, and said goodbye to the Margalla Hill National Park. It was one of the best campings I ever had and an unforgettable one too!
“Another thing I like to do is sit back and take in nature. To look at the birds, listen to their singing, go hiking, camping and jogging and running, walking along the beach, playing games and sometimes being alone with the great outdoors. It’s very special to me”
~ Larry Wilcox
If you plan to go camping at Margalla Hills National Park, here are a few tips you should read before setting out.
Tell someone where you are going, and when do you expect to come back, Cellular network coverage is shaky up there and should something wrong happens, someone should know where to look for you.
In winters, always bring matchstick, lighter or equipment to make fire (for cooking and warming up purposes)
Bring a survivor knife, bedding, mosquito repellents and fresh drinking water along with you.
Locals are the best source of area knowledge, but be a little smart while interacting with them, you don’t want to look vulnerable. Four is the best number of people to go camping.
Whatever happens, never leave your friend alone anywhere.
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