After Kohat, I was to travel and stay at yet another beautiful place for almost two years – Kakul, in the suburbs of Abbottabad. Kakul houses the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy - equivalent to Sand Hurst or West Point – but more of Kakul, from where the marching began, later. For now it is Abbottabad.
I first came to Abbottabad on a sunny day of May 1975 and have since then fallen in love with this beautiful city with fresh air and loving aroma of fruit trees. I remember having boarded a vintage Ford wagon from Sadar Rawalpindi for my maiden journey – filled with joy of a dream coming true (though it took two hard years to materialize). In those days, the road from Rawalpindi to Hasanabdal (a place from where the main Rawalpindi Peshawar highway branches off for Abbottabad). After an hour’s drive on curvy road, the scene changed and the road started to rise amid towering mountains on both sides. The last half an hour’s drive is through ascending and winding road (reminding me of the famous Beatles’ song “The Long and Winding Road”) till one reaches Abbottabad.
Located at a height of 4,120 feet (1256 m) above sea level, and 100 kilometers from Rawalpindi, Abbottabad is one of the most scenic and beautiful cities of Pakistan. Surrounded by pine abundant mountains and refreshing green hills of Sarban, it is one of the best-known hill resorts of Pakistan. The romantic weather of Abbottabad attracts thousands of visitors each year. The city was once called “The City of the Maple Tree”, for its large Maple trees that lines the road sides, but were sacrificed for the sake of widening the roads. Allama Iqbal wrote his famous poem “abr” (cloud) , when he got inspired by the beauty and grandeur of Abbottabad on his visit in 1904.
Located on N-5, the Karakoram Highway (KKH), Abbottabad is the junction point from where one can go to places like Hunza, Gilgit, Skardu and Indus Kohistan of the Karakorum Range. One can also reach from here to Swat, Dir and Chitral of the Hindukush Range or can approach to Naran, Lake Saif-ul-Muluk, Shogran and Babusar Pass of the Himalayan Range. One can see endangered magpies, shikras (falcons) and occasionally a golden eagle flying up there.
Over the years, the lush green patches around Abbottabad have been eaten up by housing schemes while the city has been polluted by thriving business centers and shops. However, the suburbs of Abbottabad still wear the still greener cloak surrounded by tall trees. Shimla Pahadi is a picturesque vantage point from where the entire valley can be seen amid fresh breeze.
But for real pollution free air, one needs to go to Thandiani (Thandiani means a cool and chilly place). The road up to the hill top is very steep, narrow and hair raising curves. People with old cars have to rest near many natural springs by the road to pour water on their radiators to cool down the boiling water inside (so I too stopped!!). One should not adventure the area in the winters as these can be very harsh with mercury dropping to -20 degree C, besides heavy snow fall which may sometimes pile up to 10-12 feet of snow.
Abbottabad is at its best in the Spring season when low flying clouds play hide and seek with the hills surrounding the city while the greener patches are filled with thousands of multi hued flowers. The fruit trees of apricot, pear, peach, plum and apple provide an adorable look.
For lovers of Cedar trees, one should pay a visit to the Frontier Force Regimental Centre Officers’ Mess, where I found a cedar tree planted in 1850s, planted during Major James Abbot times. The branches of the tree are so heavy that supports have to be provided, lest these droop on the ground.
There is yet another place worth visiting near Kakul – the Illyasi Mosque. . The mosque is built over a stream of water that flows from the mountain. In front of it is a little pond-like area in which people can ride paddle driven boats. The water running from various springs is sacred for many of the people.
But why am I revealing all secrets of Abbottabad – why don’t you pack up in the coming Spring and visit the place (don’t tell your wife that there is a place called “Jhugian” outside Abbottabad famous for ladies cloth and other house hold items – remember I warned you).