I spent four years in Pakistan recently and although it is not a country I would recommend others to visit, I have to say that it is a beautiful country. While travelling around the Punjab province, you might think that you are in Europe. The low flat-roofed buildings with goats browsing in unfamiliar trees are often the only signs that you are travelling through and Asian country. The rice paddies are a give-away too.
One of my favourite places is Murree, a hill station from the days of the Raj. Today it is a popular holiday resort for Pakistanis both in summer, because it is at least ten degrees cooler than the plains, which are sweltering in summer and in winter when it snows. If you live in the port megacity of Karachi, then snow is a welcome distraction.
It is incredible to stay in a hotel and look down through the clouds to the pine trees that cover the hill. I have never seen such spectacular scenery, although I have travelled extensively. Murree had a brewery at one time under the Raj, but this was destroyed in a fire in the riots which followed Partition and independence for Pakistan in 1947, although there is still a brewery with the same name “The Murree Brewery” which is now situated in Islamabad/Rawalpindi – the “Twin Cities.”
I found it ironic that Mall Road in Murree was once the preserve of the white British and ‘natives’ were banned from traversing it. Today it is THE place to be seen and mothers parade their unmarried daughters up and down it in the hope that the prettier ones will attract a prospective (rich) husband.
There are properties in Murree which are owned by absentee Europeans, although when I was there (on several occasions) I was the only white woman on the streets. This was so obvious that people (usually men) with cameras would ask my male escort if they could take my photograph. I have no idea what stories they concocted to explain who I was and how they happened to have my photograph.
There is an Anglican church in Murree with memorials to the British soldiers who died in the town and those who died constructing the winding road leading up to the hill station. There are also schools run by Catholics and Anglicans. It is one place in Pakistan where there is still harmony. However the people who live permanently in Murree suffer in the winter when there is little electricity because of power cuts (which happen frequently during the day all over the Punjab) and the fact that the natural gas freezes in the pipes because of the low temperatures. Schools are open in summer and closed in winter, again because of the harsh winter temperatures and the relatively cool summer ones.
I stayed in a hotel built into the hillside which consisted of many stories which could not be seen from the entrance in the town. You had to walk down flights of stairs to the lower levels, and then goats would wander into the rooms if the doors were left ajar. Of course there were more expensive rooms on the upper levels, but goats are not as bad as some people can be.
You can easily get to Murree from Rawalpindi’s main bus station in Faizlabad or indeed, from Lahore or Sheikhapura (other cities in the Punjab). However, unless the country becomes less dangerous for foreigners, Murree will be a sadly neglected tourist destination.