I first began my ramblings in the lush green and beautiful environs of the dense forest that covered the area from Shakarparian to the Margalla Hills somewhere in the mid nineteen sixties. The vast tract of this exciting piece of God’s earth was full of thrills – teeming with wild life such as boars, monkeys, leopards and even black bears. This was a time, when we were getting news that the country’s capital was to be shifted here from Karachi. As the years passed, we saw the forest gradually being replaced by concrete, brick and mortar structures. The black bear sightings decreased to almost zero, while the leopards retreated into the hills, which mercifully, were designated into a park and therefore protected. The boars adapted themselves to the change by making their hideouts in the green belts and the monkeys occasionally forayed from the hills into the houses closest to their habitat.

Few people know that the Federal Capital was once intersected by more than a dozen streams (I once counted sixteen and am sure that some may have been missed), most of which were fed by springs in the Margallas. Clear unpolluted water rippled in these picturesque water courses and teemed with fish. The fishes are now gone except in one spot, as sewage and trash turned pristine channels into stinking nightmares.

While man callously destroyed the environment, nature’s anger was manifested by a change in climate. I remember a time, when winters in Islamabad were real, hallmarked by rain, sleet, soft hail and a rare flurry of snow, blown into the area by gusty winds. During the last four decades, the Capital grew at a phenomenal rate due to an influx of new arrivals, attracted by the climate and natural beauty. New generations were raised, who had no idea of what they had missed in terms of wild life, natural beauty and most importantly, the climate.

Then the weather decided to ‘forgive and forget’, returning to its original state this year and old residents like me welcomed it with open arms (in spite of the fact that we had moved on in age and physical tolerance). Those however, who had not experienced winters in and around the Margallas, were not comfortable with the ‘return of the prodigal’ cold and expressed it in no uncertain terms. These people included some members of my immediate family, whose reluctance to move away from warm comforters and other sources of heat didn’t go down well with my temperament.

I remember a time, when the Federal Capital was just the Shehrezad Hotel (now the Foreign Office), the Secretariat Blocks, Aabpara with government homes around it, F5 and F6 Sectors (there was no diplomatic enclave then and foreign missions were on Embassy Road now called Ataturk Avenue). Jinnah Super was half finished and F7 had only a sprinkling of homes and a block of government flats. On a training tenure and newly wedded, I was lucky to have a roof over my head in the home of a relative. The daily ride along the Islamabad Highway on a Vespa scooter during December and January was a trial of physical and mental endurance. We dressed up in multiple layers of thick woolies, which failed to stop the sharp and stabbing barbs of freezing sleet. With temperatures hovering around a couple of degrees below zero, we laughed and joked our way to work and the delicious samosas that awaited us on arrival.

Those were the days, when Jack Frost took up permanent winter residence in the ‘under development’ capital city and turf on both sides of the road was covered with a snow white layer of frozen moisture that crackled deliciously underfoot. I used to hitch a scooter ride with a fellow trainee, who lived in his ministry’s flats in F7 and had to foot it cross country from where I was staying, to my ride. This walk was a daily affair in the early morning freeze, aggravated by the possibility of being attacked by a boar. I now pass the point, in the warm luxury of a car, but can never forget the icy chill that penetrated through my shoes and heavy socks.

As far as I am concerned, the return of the Federal Capital’s real weather has brought a feeling of déjà vu, which makes me happy, much to the annoyance of my better half and oldest offspring. They are not the only ones that gripe, I find a large number of Isloo residents passing their time in this activity, while I go around jauntily indoors and outdoors enjoying the return of an old friend – freezing point.

 

The writer is a historian.