By Omar Mukhtar Khan
FOR most of us a trip to Murree means a nice walk in the clouds around Governor’s House and Kashmir Point; a joy-ride on the chair lifts at Pindi Point or Patriata, or just a parade from the GP0 to Marhaba Hotel and back on the ever-crowded Mall Road.
While teenagers love to sit on the stairs of the GP0 and roadside benches, near the church on Mall Road, scanning every passers-by, couples and families prefer to sit in the food joints enjoying meals and espresso coffee.
Murree has an interesting history that is unfortunately unknown to many of us. Murree was founded by the British in 1851 for its scenic beauty and cool environment on a ridge that was located more than 7000 feet high. Murree remained the summer headquarters of the Colonial Government of Punjab until 1876 when Simla was awarded this title. The British during their stay converted Murree virtually into a little London, establishing schools, churches, clubs, government houses etc.
Names like Carter Road, Cecil Hotel, Primrose Cottage remind one of the place’s British heritage. Murree, in the local dialect means ‘high place’, although an interesting legend relates the name to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who according to the legend is buried near Pindi Point, just around the PTV booster. A simple small grave is still there, where local people lay flowers and light candles.
It is always nostalgic to be in Murree especially for those who have been visiting the place since their childhood, either as a result of family vacations or for annual school trips. Many would remember sitting in the British time Lintotts Restaurant, ordering two coffee cups for four buddies and then slipping one-by-one to the washroom, the real reason to be in the restaurant.
The at least half a century old ostentatious wooden counter always fascinates one but at least the management does not know about its real age. It isn’t always necessary to sit at the expensive Lintots or the 1861 Cecil Hotel; one can have equally or may be more delicious meals at the not so expensive road side restaurants, with their rows along rows of skinned chicken hanging upside down. However, its the usually the tuk-a-tuk sound and canvassing by the bearers rather than quality of food that attracts one to a particular restaurant. The description of Mall Road would be incomplete without the makeshift slush, cone and French fries (Freedom Fries for the biased souls) vendors. While the newly wed couples, fully dressed up in three-piece suits and bridals are seen buying fur caps and coats, a novel way of impressing your better half, the younger lot is usually more interested in buying trademark walking sticks and caps. However, one thing is for sure that everybody seems to be enjoying and happy.
But Murree has much more to offer rather than just Mall Road, Kashmir Point or Pindi Point. For a real good drive, one should descend to Jheeka Gali Chowk from GPO or Kashmir Point. The place is the start of scenic Jheeka Gali with Murree towards its right and a vast valley towards left. The road is carpeted and very comfortable to drive on. Besides the green woods, the lovely sight of houses constructed one on top of the other in a stepladder-fashion catches one’s eyes.
The area is very peaceful and serene and there are a few good hotels for people who prefer privacy and exclusiveness. After a drive of about half an hour this main road is joined on right by a road from Pindi Point. The all time famous Murree Convent is situated on this road halfway to Murree. The main road continues to Lawrence College, a famous public school established by the British primarily for the children of British officers stationed in the subcontinent.
Soon after one crosses Lawrence College, a large hoarding welcomes you to Murree wild life park. It is recommended to leave the main road and drive into the park. The narrow but comfortable takes you deep into the lush green forest with tall coniferous pines all around forming a green natural tunnel for you. One must take a break here, ride down the car, have a nice stroll, the environment is simply unexplainable, and the only noise is of the wind whistling through the pine trees or an occasional roar from the only and lonely king of the jungle, that too a captive.
There are a few more captive wild animals as well but the best site is numerous species of free birds chirping all around. Soon after exiting from the park the road divides into a fork; take the right descending road and you will soon join the main Murree Road at Ghora Gali. But where does the left narrow road with upward gradient leads to? To solve this riddle one should drive or trek on this road. The road ascends in contours and curves around remnants of a huge building built with a well thought out plan in a stepladder pattern.
Large drains emanate from the building which now comprise of only dilapidated walls without any roof. An intrepid traveller is always attracted towards such curious places where there is usually no one to tell you of any history. If you are ready to take the pain of getting down from the comfortable seat of your vehicle and walk around the building, a large rusting plaque at the main entrance mentioning ‘Murree Brewery Limited 1860’ would be staring at you trying to tell history of a bygone era. Through the years, Murree Brewery has become essentially a household name in Pakistan, while some know it for its especially brewed vinegar, there are other reasons for its popularity as well. The Parsi owned factory was destroyed in a fire around 1947 and the factory was relocated in Rawalpindi.
If one continues driving on the main road, one comes across the Boy Scout Camp where young boys from all over the country come for scouting ventures. It is always pleasing to see boys and girls involved in constructive outdoor activities, again a luxury for the majority of our people. The road continuously winds upward until it passes into another valley on the other side of the mountains, into the small village of Namal.
There are a number of day trips that can be made from Murree considering it as a base camp, like Patriata, Nathia Gali, Kohala, Ayubia etc. Over the years due to non availability of many tourist sites and the easy access, Murree has become over-crowded, but it still has not lost its charm as any trip to the area is not complete without a walk at the Kashmir Point and of course the Mall Road. A small attempt at reforestation and development of other hill resorts can reduce the tourist load on Murree returning its peace and serenity.