National Parks, Pakistan
If you have to travel to hills stations, do plan a hike through Ayubia National Park. I visited this park in 1989. Many people confuse it with the city of Ayubia on the hill top, but the park itself is located in the deep valleys in its neighborhood.
It is a comparatively small national park located about 50 kms from Islamabad in the Galliyats / Murree hills. The park supports one of the best remaining examples of moist lower Himalayan temperate forest in Pakistan. No official figures are available, but local estimates suggest that there are about 100,000 visitors per year to this beautiful.
If you are lucky, you may be able to see a Western Tragopan, Koklass; Kaleej and Cheer Pheasants, asiatic leopard, black bear, Yellow throated Marten, Kashmir hill fox, Red Flying squirrel, Himalayan palm civet, Masked civet and Rhesus Macaque. Birds in the park include Golden eagle, Himalayan Griffon vulture, Honey buzzard, Peregrine falcon, Kestrel, Indian sparrow hawk, Hill pigeon, Spotted dove and Collared dove.
Pakistan has a network of 225 Protected Areas comprising 18 National Parks, 99 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 96 Game Reserves, and 16 unclassified areas. The total area covered by these categories is 10.4% of the total land area of the country. Some of these are easily accessible from its major cities like Kirthar Range near Karachi, Margallah Hills near Islamabad, Chiltan-Hazara Ginji near Quetta, etc. These national parks are home to a diversified range of wildlife such as Muntjac or Barking Deer shown here, Chinkara Gazelle, Blacbuck, Snow Leopard, Black and Brown Bear, Asiatic Leopard, Markhor sheep, the blind Indus Dolphin, birds of prey, waterfowl, etc.
The Ecotourism Society Pakistan (ESP) has strongly rejected proposed plan of Capital Development Authority (CDA) to construct a tunnel through Margallah Hills within the premises of Margallah Hills National Park.
Instituted in 1980, the Margallah Hills National Park comprises of the Margallah Range (12605 ha) the Rawal Lake, and Shakarparian Sports and Cultural complex. The hill range nestles between an elevation of 685 meters at the western end and 1,604 meters on its east. The rock formations are 40 million years old, and fossils of
marine life abound every where bearing eloquent testimony that the Margallah hills were at one time under the sea.
In the north, stand Pines and groves of Oak. The fauna is mainly Indo Himalayan, with some overlapping of Palacaretic species. The birds found here are residents
as well as winter migrants from higher altitudes of the North, spring and summer visitor for breeding, and short
day transit species arrive in spring.
The park was setup to provide refuge to the Gray Goral, Barking deer and the Leopard, found in this area during
winters. Protection to these animals have benefited other unusual and interesting smaller animals as well. Margalla
Hills Park provides an excellent bird watching
opportunity. A Cheer Pheasant hatchery has been established at Chak Jabri to raise captive Cheer pheasants that have become extinct in the hills. These are then released in the wild.
Margalla Hills are unique in Pakistan, being rich in Sinohimalayan fauna, some species of birds remain threatened.
It is an extension of the Islamabad wildlife sanctuary, which includes the Shakar Parian Hills and the Rawal Lake. The park was setup to provide refugee to the Gray
Goral, Barking deer and the Leopard. Mammals in the park include--Asiatic leopard, Wild boar, Golden Jackal, Rhesus Macaque, Leopard cat, Gray Goral sheep, Barking deer, Chinkara gazelle,
Red fox, Pangolin, Porcupine, Yellow throated
marten and Fruit bats.
We visited Keenjhar Lake recently during an adventurous drive out of Karachi (see travelogue in the near future).
This is the largest freshwater lake in Pakistan (formed by the damming of lakes Kinjhar and Kalri in 1930) and is one of the 9 lakes of international importance in Pakistan that appear on the Ramser List. It is located 20 kms from Thatta, which is a small town 100 kms east of Karachi on the National Highway.
The lake, which is set in a stony desert, is 24km long and 6km wide, with an irregular shoreline of some 192km.
Swimming is strictly prohibited, because of reedbeds and floating vegetation that abound, especially in shallow western and northern parts. The eastern shore is formed by a 12 km dam.
The lake is internationally important for breeding, staging and wintering water birds. The birds are best observed through oars pushed boat. Couple of motorboats also ply in the waters for thrilling rides, but are a nuisance for bird watchers.
Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation's Lakeside cottages, somewhat worn down, are available for night stay. These have to be booked in advance.
Lal Suhanra National Park is located 60 miles (100 Kms) from Multan towards Bahawalnagar in the Punjab.
It has 3 eco-systems - desert, lake and marshes and grassland. It is the habitat of Blackbucks, Nil Gai (Blue Cow), water fowls, Indian Rhinosaurus, Chinkara Gazzelle like the one here (a female, see a male in the wildlife travelogue), etc. This is also home to 480 Black Bucks, easily the most beautiful of antelopes and of lions that can be watched through a lion safari.
Information on the park can be had from WWF Pakistan or Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation.
The park has a good restaurant by the name of 'Whispering Hills'. Boating facilities are available on site.
However, this national park may come as a disappointment for avid national park lovers for its more like an expanded zoological garden. The best thing is to treat it as a base camp for moving into the deserts of Cholistan towards East, seeing desert forts, anciant ruins and life of Cholistani nomads, who remind you of olden times.
If you happen to be with Cholistani folks, then watch the special hairdo of floral patterns on their camels.
Margallah Hills National Park hovers over the capital city of Islamabad as its most identifiable natural feature and is the most accessible of Pakistan's National Parks.
We went on a supposedly 3 hour-long hiking trip that turned out to be a thrills packed 8 hour long adventure over the Himalayan low hills. During the trip, we were lucky to see rare Leopard (Panthera Pardus Fusca) descending a hill to drink water from a rock pool. We also saw Rhesus Macaques preparing their evening nests, Barking Deer (also called Muntjac), Goral mountain sheep and Monal pheasants. Grunting of wild boars every now and then kept us on our toes.
The narrow track with forested slopes on one side and forested wall on the other, the chirruping of birds, the gentle cool wind of October and the whispering pine trees so enthralled us that we kept on moving till the dusk began to set in. For quite some time, the narrow trek would wind to give views after views of Islamabad. The city appeared smaller and smaller till it disappeared altogether leading to some panic in the group of beginners.
If you are interested in hiking, we recommend to take the 'Secretary Walk' once you go behind the Shah Faisal Mosque and encounter the forks. Else, remember to take the far left track at each junction. Start in the early morning so that you are able to complete the trek during the day time.