Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

No longer a molehill

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It was back in the early 1980s when journalist Azmat Ansari first brought Gorakh into public notice. In those bygone days, the dacoit problem in the Sindhi outback was just breaking out and Ansari did well to have trekked in the troubled land from the old Gaj rest house to Gorakh hilltop. That was the only way to go for in those far off days, there were no roads leading up into the Khirthar Mountains (it is pronounced as kheer-thar in Sindhi, meaning milk and cream. The British mispronounced it and then misspelled it as Kirthar Mountains).

Gorakh thereafter remained in the news in an on again-off again manner with much hot air being expended about turning it into a summer resort. Ignorant journalists billed it the ‘highest spot in all Sindh’ that was ‘colder than Murree’. For one, at just 1734 metres (5688 feet), above the sea it is way lower than a number of other Khirthar peaks; the highest, a nameless elongated summit, standing at 2171 metres. With the evocative title of Kutte ji Qabar (Dog’s Grave), at 2096 metres, the second highest holds the romantic tale of a faithful, self-respecting dog. On the peak, there is indeed a dolmen of limestone nodules under which, so the legend goes, lie the mortal remains of that remarkable animal.

At twenty-six degrees of latitude north of the equator a seventeen hundred-metre high hill can only be this cold and no colder. Murree being at least five hundred metres higher and eight degrees farther north will forever be considerably cooler than Gorakh. But then there are few journalists who understand such intricacies of geography. Nevertheless, as soon as the law and order situation stabilised, work was taken in hand to make Gorakh accessible as a summer resort to the people of Sindh.

In the late 1990s, having done some work on Gorakh and hoping for funds from the federal kitty, Liaquat Jatoi, the Sindh Chief Minister, invited Nawaz Sharif (then prime minister) to see Gorakh for himself. The story that follows comes from a dear friend who, as part of the district administration was at hand to observe the knavery. Since he has retired from the service, it is now safe to relate his account without fear of Ali Akbar Hingoro being compromised.

It was probably May and there had been a very heavy freak fall of rain the day the prime minister was due on Gorakh. The tractor hauling the fancy furniture up the dirt trail broke and fell by the wayside, upending its trailer and strewing the slope with sofas and beds. Ali Akbar tried every which way to have the stuff man-hauled to the top, but it did not work. As a result by the time the chief minister accompanied by the provincial police arrived, their jeep had to weave around the drenched and ruined furniture.

It was a bit of a flap when the two boobies got to the top and they were told there was no way the bed could be hauled up. The prime minister was supposed to stay overnight at Gorakh and so a charpoy was organised from the house of the local Gorchanis. Ali Akbar says having been left out in the rain, the cord of the charpoy had shrunk and warped the wooden frame. Consequently, at any time the bed would only stand on two legs; changing the legs with every shift in the weight on it.

Now, Jatoi and his police chum had brought along a liberal supply of alcohol to while away what they thought would be a pleasant night on the hill — the rain and the resultant cold snap not being part of their best laid plans. Their plan was to feed the prime minster on roast wild goat and put him to sleep before indulging themselves. The prime minister arrived and all went well until after the meal. Jatoi and his chum fluffed the pillows and tucked the man in on the crooked charpoy inside the only brick building on Gorakh at that time.

As they clinked glasses on their first round outside, the pair could hear the clunk-clunk of the charpoy as the man shifted his gout-ridden body on it. If Jatoi and his chum had planned a right binge on Gorakh, their night was ruined worrying about the lack of furniture and the prime minster trying to sleep on a crooked charpoy.

On the morrow, there was another flap when the marquee under which the party was about to have tea flew off in the stiff breeze. Faiz Mohammad Gorchani, who heads the clan living on Gorakh, says Jatoi was fawning over a grouchy and unrested prime minister at the lookout spot where they were supposed to be served with tea. In the coming from the makeshift kitchen the tea got cold and the prime minister asked for it to be reheated. Not understanding what he wanted, Faiz Mohammad, seeing the man shiver, pushed the brazier in front of him. Jatoi roundly berated the poor man for this blatant lack of decorum. Faiz says that in exasperation he burst out about why it was not possible to have tea where it was being prepared. By and by the helicopter arrived to pluck a very dissatisfied Nawaz Sharif from cold and windy Gorakh. Needless to say that Liaquat Jatoi never got federal funds to turn Gorakh into Murree. But the Sindh government, entirely to its credit, did not give up.

Recently my friend Ashfaque Dasti in Khairpur insisted I check out the hill station. So there we were setting out of Dadu to fetch up at the restaurant on the summit in three and a half hours. Had the road been better, the travel time would have about halved. What I saw completely floored me. There was a large restaurant with a store in front where you could purchase all the munchies you need with a drink. The restaurant later served us reasonable vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Unlike what Nawaz Sharif had to suffer, our tea came piping hot in proper crockery.

A hundred metres away was a set of eight rooms in fetching green and pink wash. Young and presentable Jumman Jamali who runs this establishment invited us to check out the interior of his facility. He said the charge was a thousand to fifteen hundred rupees for Dadu residents and twenty five hundred for outsiders. I had heard of water scarcity at Gorakh, but Jumman assured me there was no shortage. At least not for some considerable time until the resort grows beyond its carrying capacity.

According to Jumman, there had been two falls of snow during the last cold season. The first fell in December 2013 and the next in January. Though several inches of snow fell each time, it stayed only as long as the sun did not shine. No hope for snowman builders, I thought to myself. Faiz Gorchani who says seven generations of his elders are buried on Gorakh told us that he had seen greater falls of snow in his childhood forty years ago. Then they could actually play in the snow.

As we pottered about revelling in the peace and joy of having Gorakh to ourselves, two jeeps arrived and disgorged a bunch of swaggering, over-weight young men. A little later another pair of jeeps pulled in and a bevy of beauties filled the quiet air of Gorakh with their chatter and laughter. Considering that it was late November and the group was likely to stay overnight, this was pretty good business for Jumman. Gorakh was no longer the molehill I had always dismissed it as.

Note: For bookings at Gorakh, Jumman Jamali can be contacted at 025-401-0070 and 0300-270-0930


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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