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Sep 1st, 2002 #1----
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By Salman Rashid
Top ten rest houses in the country
Part of the Central Brahui Mountains of Balochistan, the Harboi hills have an evocative name: har meaning all and bo meaning fragrance. These are the Hills of Many Fragrances. The name comes from the myriad of wild flowers and herbs that grow here lending a noticeable redolence to the air.
In the heart of the Harboi, barely three hours by jeep out of Kalat town, is a tiny little rest house owned by the Khan of Kalat. Perched at about 2700 metres (8800 feet) above the sea, this beauty is made of timber and painted green. Around it grow some magnificent juniper trees -- indeed this is a juniper forest, almost unknown outside the district yet far more impressive than the more famous one at Ziarat. From its vantage this rest house offers some fantastic views of the savage and lonely beauty of the Central Brahui Mountains.
Though I did not stay overnight in this lovely little rest house, I think this is a great little place both for its nearness to Kalat and the peace and quiet it offers.
Smack on the banks of Sindhu River, sits the white-washed rest house of the (if memory serves) Communication and Works (C&W) Department. Though the furnishings are rather Spartan, the patio in the back is lapped by the river with a magnificent view of the old narrow gauge railway bridge. Next door is the rest house of the Khan of Kalabagh where the trees are festooned with bearded gunmen -- not that this breed grows on trees in Kalabagh, but perhaps to provide protection to some (self) important guest of the Khan.
The high-roofed old building of the C&W rest house has great atmosphere. Sitting on the patio and looking across the river to the hills tinted pink by the setting sun, it is not difficult to imagine oneself a true sahib out of The Far Pavilions and call out 'dekho!' If one were to do that, I imagine a bearer in 'mufti' complete with a karakuli cap will appear with the goodies on a silver salver. Just the place to sip your whisky and soda!
PS. We honeymooned here in April 1983.
Ten years ago few people would have ventured here for fear of the dreaded dacoits of Sindh. Indeed sitting smack under the frown of the Khirthar mountains in the western fringe of Dadu district, Gaj Bungla is as remote as a rest house can get in the province. But times have changed and Gaj Bungla is once again an accessible place.
The stone building is rather old and despite a lack of repair and upkeep still looks impressive. The furniture is beat-up and decrepit -- at least that was how it was in 1987 when I was there for a short while. But the best thing is the Gaj River that flows nearby. With its limpid pools teeming with fish, this is a great place for a get away. Here one can swim in the clear ponds or simply sit around reeling in the mahasher for the next meal.
Since there was some sort of water management scheme at Gaj, I suspect the rest house would be managed by the Irrigation Department.
4 Forest Department, Ayubia
My favourite at Ayubia is the timber lodge of the Forest Department. It is almost five star: carpeted hallways, crisp white bed sheets, tidy curtains and fire places ready to be shown the light. If that is good enough, the staff here maintains the old tradition of rest houses making this the perfect place for a holiday. The cook here is perhaps one of the few remaining who will rustle up the prescription chicken curry, rice and caramel cream dinner that was the usual fare for travellers of the Raj.
The setting is perfect with the fine garden in front and the forest behind. If it is just to get away from it all this is the place -- to sit in the verandah and read or day dream. But if you are a naturalist, ten minutes out of the room and you are in the middle of the wilderness of Ayubia National Park -- among the best managed national parks in the country.
For some strange reason, the best things in life are generally the least known. And Phulwari Rest House on the Sakesar hill is one such place. The road coming up from Khushab winds around the villages of Naushehra and Uchhali and begins the climb up to the peak of Sakesar. Here, a little before Sakesar is reached, by the side of the road and hidden from view is the tiny little rest house of Phulwari. The only indication that something lies in the trees to the left is the little gateway and short drive leading to the building.
Complete with a pitched roof and a verandah with timber pillars, this rest house with its two rooms is an incredible place. Here are views to the west looking out beyond the Sakesar hills to Namal Lake or east to the Uchhali Lake and the Soon Valley. And here are great walks among stands of pine and phulahi (Acacia modesta) live with the song of magpie robins and tree-pies.
The crockery side-board, incidentally, holds several pieces of ancient white china marked with a blue crest that says 'Shahpur District'. This is a reminder of those far off times when there was no Sargodha of Khushab district. That was time when the district headquarter was Shahpur whose sorry remains can be seen by the roadside in Shahpur town. Though I spent some time in this rest house years ago, damned if I can remember which department manages it.
Perhaps the best kept rest houses in Pakistan today belong to the Irrigation Department. And Rasul on the Jhelum River is just the place. Built in the second decade of the 20th century, it was one of a series of rest houses strung out at every twenty four kilometre from Mangla along the Upper Jhelum Canal. All of them are great places, though at least one of these is in a state of total disrepair.
The two finest in this line is the one at Mangla and the other at Rasul -- both being identical. The stone building is surrounded on three sides by a verandah with two excellent suites on either side of central sitting room. At Rasul, the spreading garden has some magnificent old trees where in the right season one can see woodpeckers, koels, three species of vultures, orioles, shrikes, barbets and dozens of the more common birds.
The staff can serve up good fare, but being so near the river, it is advisable to take a short ride to the several roadside fish shops not very far from the rest house.
7 Sodhi Jaiwali
The Sodhi Jaiwali rest house in the Soon Valley was until some years ago managed by the Forest Department. Then the Wattoo government having renovated it handed it over to the district council of Khushab. Surely some politician would have wanted to avail himself of the privacy of this secluded little paradise. But it is not known if this happened before the government fell.
Anyway, the facilities have considerably improved after the facelift. One thing that has been lost forever is the kitchen (also refurbished). It once had a low roof with heavy rafters blackened with the soot of several decades and some ancient furniture giving it the air and feel of a bothy in a remote Scottish glen. Now even the kitchen is new-fangled.
Set in a side valley of the Soon, the rest house lies in wooded country rich with wildlife. Though it is right by the road through this side valley, it is a very quiet and peaceful place because of very thin traffic.
8 Nadi Bungla
Nadi Bungla is so named because it sits on the flowered-spangled banks of a nadi -- a mountain stream. As Forest Department rest houses go, this one is very new, having been built perhaps as little as thirty or forty years ago.
Extremely well-kept with neat furniture and clean sheets, it is a great place to get away to. The only disadvantage is that one has to walk at least an hour from the point where the jeep road up from Balakot (Kaghan) dwindles out. That having been said, it must be added that the walk itself is rather invigorating and enjoyable, at the end of which the rest house comes as a sort of prize.
At a height of some 2500 metres above the sea, Nadi is in an alpine setting where the evenings, even in mid-summer, can be chilly. Of particular interest here are the wild flowers and birds: this is the only place I have ever seen a Scarlet Minivet -- a strikingly beautiful scarlet and black bird.
In the heart of the Salt Range and accessible via Choa Saidan Shah and Basharat, Ara rest house stands just outside the village of that name. From its backyard the range begins its precipitous fall into the Punjabi plains. The old road to the plains leads through a wild and fantastically desolate gorge, and is my all time favourite walk.
Today the building looks superbly prim in its facing of sandstone. The interior too is first-class now with new furniture and clean sheets and upholstery. But as little as six years ago this building (first built perhaps in the 1920s) was on the verge of collapse. Then Azmat Ranjha, Deputy Commissioner Chakwal, took it upon himself to put it right. And the good man did.
I have so far not met a single person who has spent any time in this rest house. This could largely be because of scarcity of piped water. But if one has the connections that can organise a water tanker, a couple of days here would be a great holiday.
Managed by the Department of Highways, the Kund rest house sits at the confluence of the Kabul and the Sindhu rivers. The garden looks out across the great expanse of the two waters and out to the distant Mahaban hills. Indeed even the bedroom windows afford this same great view.
It was once a neat little place, but not having been there for several years now, I fear it might have gone to seed -- as most things do. But then again, it could be even better than before. Though the rest house has a full complement of staff, I am told of a restaurant nearby that serves up excellent fish reeled in straight from the river.
Sep 2nd, 2002 #2
I am interested in the ayubia and the kund one....could u also elaborate how to make a booking in these rest houses.
Sep 2nd, 2002 #3----
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