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ISSUE 17OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

SERENDIPITY, Beyond City Limits

By Safinah Danish Elahi

City-dwellers Safinah and Danish Elahi head out to Gorakh Hill – and are awe-struck by its charming beauty and warm hospitality. Roughly 7 hours away from the mega-city of Karachi, this lesser known hill station in Sindh offers cool respite from the hot temperatures of the urban center.

We are pure Karachi-ites. But we love to travel. We want to get up and go at every opportunity we get. And where can one possibly go that is only a drive away from here, some scenic spot in Sindh? Where it is a heavenly 18 degrees Celsius while the rest of the province melts in 42 degrees Celsius. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well guess what, it isn’t!

Gorakh Hill falls under the district of Dadu, and is situated at an altitude of approximately 5,700 feet. Its area is spread over 2,500 acres of land. One would be surprised at the elevation and landscape of the place, which is in stark contrast to Sindh’s otherwise flat, desert-like topography. When we were planning for the trip, Google Maps said it was a seven-hour drive from Karachi. We got some friends on board so we could laugh and chat along the way. Nothing like making memories with the people you most enjoy your time with!

The only catch was, the friend travelling with us was seven months pregnant, and our research told us that the uphill drive from Sehwan Sharif was going to be a bumpy one. We conveniently let that fact slide, and hoped for the best!

Hiring a 15-seater Hiace van, we left our urban lives, seated comfortably (actually lying flat down, as each of us got a row to ourselves), departing from our house at 3am. With enough snacks to last us a week, and two pillows per person for comfort, we headed off towards the end of the city. All of us slept for a couple of hours and woke up to see light. In a few hours it started to get warmer but we were hoping to make it in time; the journey was longer than we expected.

When we finally reached Sehwan, we stopped for lunch at Sehwan Divine (don’t judge by the name, the food was actually delicious!). After helping ourselves to a hearty meal, we headed over to Sehwan Sharif mazaar (shrine), a half hour detour but a must visit.

The mazaar is beautifully built and lit up at night. The needy, the poor, those in search of a miracle, all come here from far and wide to sing along to the chanting that echoes off the walls of the shrine. The energy one feels is almost palpable, and the experience is nothing short of surreal. One has the option to feed a daig (pot of rice served as a communal meal) to the locals.

Back on the road, we stopped by the wayside for a toilet break and some cold water. We were now to switch to an SUV since we had to drive uphill. This was a bit challenging since my friend who was expecting would really have to stay put. With fingers crossed, we began the tough leg of the journey upwards. The higher we drove, the lower the temperature dropped and our singing became more and more off-key.

After a two and a half hour drive up, we finally reached our motel. To tell you the truth, we were not expecting much, and were just happy to be there. We were guided to our rooms, where my friend took a quick nap and I, a shower, and headed down to a cafeteria for chai and snacks. It was pretty crowded and we ran into a mixed crowd – a college group, some Chinese visitors and more from the U.S. embassy.

We then re-convened and got ready for our hike to the highest viewpoint of Gorakh Hill. The climb was a tad bit steep, but we were in good spirits. It took 45 minutes in total and once we reached the top, we found the scenery breath-taking. We could not have imagined this magical mountainous view in our very own Sindh – a predominantly flat region.

Overwhelmed by the panorama, we tried to capture the moment and the view in our cameras. There we hung out until we saw the sun set far away. On our way down, we had to be a bit careful, since there was minimal light and we had to use our cell phone lights to avoid tripping over any rocks.

As we reached the bottom, we saw that most of the people who had also visited the viewpoint had returned sooner than us. We ordered food and asked everyone to join in – some did and we introduced ourselves to them. The food was absolutely delicious – between daal maash, chicken and mutton karahi, complemented with karak naan, and mixed sabzi, we had quite a feast! I had packed along some games for the night, and we took them out after dinner. We played a couple of rounds of Sequence which is light and easy to understand and our new friends loved it.

I then sat under the open sky, letting the cool breeze run through my hair and the clean air clear my mind. I was so inspired I ended up writing some poetry. The untouched beauty of the world is nothing short of a modern-day miracle.

As we headed back to our motel, my husband and I decided to camp out on the grounds while our friends stayed in the room. The camp was set up in the wild, but not far away from the building. It was supremely comfortable and spacious. I fell asleep instantly and the next thing I remember is my husband waking me up at 4am to one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. It was the most star-studded sky I had ever seen in my life. Absolutely gorgeous! The image will remain etched in my mind forever.

We woke up our friends and headed up to the viewpoint again to watch the sunrise. The fresh air filled our lungs as the sun came up, lighting the sky. We did a bit of yoga up at the top, before heading back for breakfast.

When we got back, we were treated to a royal breakfast of omelettes and chai and freshly made parathas (fried bread). We ordered a serving of French fries, with chaat masala (local spice powder) sprinkled over it. Life was good.

Photo by Saad Iqbal
Photo by Shehzad Ahmed

It was finally time to pack up. The trip was short and sweet but memorable nonetheless. This one and a half day not only gave us an opportunity to experience our home province, Sindh, in all its charming beauty and warm hospitality but to also form close friendships. Had we not planned this trip, we would have not made such great friends, for they say, when you travel with people whose company you enjoy, you form a special bond with them that is sure to last you a lifetime.

For all those who sometimes feel they need a bit of a break away from the city, Gorakh Hill offers a cool respite and an unforgettable experience.

Safinah Elahi
Safinah is travel enthusiast, a theatre lover, and a teacher by profession. She mothers two beautiful children and a husband. No kidding! (Pun intended) She likes to read, sing and strum the guitar in her free time. One day she hopes to write a book and travel all the countries in the world.

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