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Pakistan: Globetrotting: Juniper nights.

Pakistan, June 27 -- It took me a decade and two visits to Ziarat to truly appreciate its geographical and historic importance. Travelling upwards, the colours and conditions reveal that there had been a huge volcanic activity in the area centuries ago, which made these mountains so colourful - some seem as if floating in ashes, while some appear as if they were baked in fire, and some even resemble burnt charcoal. The plethora of colours on these mountains is definitely a sight to behold.

Ziarat is at the distance of 133 kilometres from Quetta and approximately two and a half hours drive from the main city. The temperature remains quite cool during summer. It is very pleasant during the day, but one needs to wear warm clothing during evenings and early morning.

Midway to Ziarat from Quetta city, I was stunned to see a tortoise crawling on the road. I could not imagine what in the world would a tortoise be doing at the height of around 7000 feet above sea level. Interestingly, Ziarat also houses the second largest concentration of juniper forest in the world. These trees grow around an inch per year and seeing the size of the trees, it is easy to fathom that these trees are hundreds of years old.

A visit to the Ziarat Residency took me back to the time when Mohammad Ali Jinnah must have spent the last days of his life in this beautiful mansion. Although the house requires constant maintenance and refurbishing, it does not fail to permeate the aura of its glorious past. Undoubtedly, this house is recognised as the most important national monument of Balochistan province.

Later, we had to move down on a very steep road lowering into the valley to visit Baba Kharwari, another tourist attraction in Ziarat. This is the tomb of a Muslim saint which nestles inside a cup-shaped valley surrounded by mountains. Originally the name of Ziarat was Ghoskai. However, the word tomb means 'Ziarat' in Pushto, and due to reverence to this tomb it was renamed as Ziarat.

Around 18 kilometres from the main city is the Chakor Tungai water stream. What is amazing is that over the years this stream has sliced the hill into two and given it the shape of a narrow alley. The area is surrounded by orchards and thick juniper forest and forms a real picture of what we might see in the Chronicles of Narnia.

Travelling to Dumyara valley is not for the faint-hearted. The road to this valley, although metalled, is treacherous. Naturally-grown olive trees line the valley on its peripherals but the fruit is not of premium quality, and hence, is fed to goats. In summer, trees loaded with cherries, apples, and apricots in the orchards present a picture from one's imagination of heaven. Finding a tortoise or a hedgehog during the visit can be considered a bonus.

Generally, hotels and restaurants in the area are not of a very high standard. It is also difficult to look for food of your choice, but the area is definitely worth exploring. For the promotion of ecotourism in the area, both local and international organisations and NGOs are furnishing tourist huts with the help of communities in the Zizri area, which is not very far from the tomb of Baba Kharwari. It also creates awareness about ecotourism among communities so that livelihood of the local people can be improved.

Ziarat is a great escape from the scorching summer heat with all the rewards of Mother Nature and that too without straining your budget

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Publication:The Friday Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:Jun 27, 2010
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