Hill resort – on a downhill slide
With each passing kilometre of the 34 KM journey from Abbotabad to Nathiagali, one can see, smell and feel a distinct change in scenery, lengthening of pine trees, freshness of air and rapid rise of altitude. The chatty cab driver who flew us to Nathiagali in his well maintained Suzuki had little hesitation in assuming the additional assignment of a tour guide – an old tradition adopted by almost every one you come across on the mountains. He did not need much prompting and was generous in volunteering info that ranged from his part-time hobbies to depletion of ozone layer. “If at all I regret any thing in life, it is the cutting of forests that I was involved in for seven long years. I cut trees as if there was no tomorrow. Once every week, I would bring a truck and load it with the finest pine trees, the jewels of this forest”, he said with an obvious sense of regret and sorrow. “But did no one catch you in all these seven years”, I could not help asking a question that bordered between partial naivety and absolute silliness. “Of course there are two agencies whose palms must be greased , if one has to do any sensible woody business. The forest department and the police. But those guys are very accommodating and highly accomplished in the deployment of ‘live and let live’ principle. Simply deposit 25% market value of the cut trees and move on with your truck”. Coming directly from the mouth of an ex-forest destroyer , these words were not the best way to start a vacation on a mountain resort.
The nostalgic fragrance of pine trees, the immensity of dense natural forests and the clean mountain air, powerfully make their presence felt well before one reaches the outskirts of Nathiagali. No wonder that this sleepy little resort stands out as the finest and the prettiest hill station in Pakistan. Having frequently visited Nathiagali, almost like a pilgrimage for the past thirty odd years, one is saddened to notice an air of neglect, disorder and commercialism creeping over what was once a serene, quiet and peaceful retreat. The streets which were once reserved for passer-byes, children and cyclists, are now raced by the smoke-emitting, truck-size Pajeros, driven by haughty politicians , bureaucrats and landlords, devastating the silence and serenity of nature with their power horns, extra-revving engines and missing mufflers. One can not help noticing that the biggest violators are the government vehicles, perpetually being misused to shuttle families, friends and performing odd jobs such as lugging construction materials for the ‘saab’s’ under construction summer house.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) obviously considers hill resorts exempted from any application of environmental protection laws. Not that they are considered any more necessary for the rest of the country. The untreated effluent from the toilets of Green’s Hotel – NathiaGali’s most sought after joint, merrily slides down the winding curves to pollute miles of down stream walkways. Those enjoying a walk on the heavenly mountain-hugging ‘pagdandi’ (between the old telephone exchange and the Green Spot) are suddenly required to plug their noses, pull up their socks and pretend to be looking in the opposite direction, to escape the onslaught of such ‘effluential’ waterfalls. Such blatant violations are no longer noticed by the powerful and the influential , since they now practice a modern technique of walking, that involves sitting in a large, fast moving, four-wheeler and harshly pressing a lever located at its bottom right.
Conspicuous by company logos, the waste disposal drums placed at various turns and corners are a comparatively new and welcome addition. Thanks to many of our corporate bodies who are beginning to make their contribution to society by helping out on issues of education and environments. But what is sad is the cosmetic nature of this entire exercise, as there is no designated landfill to discharge the contents of these well decorated boxes. The individually collected small volumes of trash thus find their way to become large heaps of litter, callously spread on slopes and pits behind every shop and hotel.
Built in 1930, the 4 KM Pipeline track between Dungagali and Ayubia has provided tourists with an ‘out of this world’ walking experience for the past 75 years. It had to be the honour of this great Islamic Republic to completely destroy this heavenly walking track by digging and laying a new pipeline in a manner that could embarrass even the technicians of Harappa civilisation. This great walking track has now been converted into a walkers’ nightmare by its littered stones, uneven heaps of mud and pipes protruding out from the ground. Perhaps laying of water pipes is a highly complex and advanced technology and thus not yet well understood by our engineers. Now that we are somewhat free from our centrifugal obsessions, perhaps we could concentrate on also mastering the art of laying water pipelines.
Despite all the negative factors progressively degrading its environments, Nathiagali continues to offer a wonderful experience of serenity, natural beauty and of course the unique scent of its pine trees. Must we destroy it all by our callousness and greed. Can the heartless government itself be made accountable to address the issues suggested in this article. Could the concerned citizens of the mountains as well as the plains come together to launch a “Help Improve Nathiagali” movement.