The scenic gardens and waterfalls in the Soon valley remain a popular tourist attraction
In 1933, Maj Whet Burn, the district engineer for Shahpore, was asked to establish an orchard at a suitable place in Soon valley. After careful research and many surveys, major Burn selected Kanhatti as the site for his experiments and named it Kanhatti Gardens.
The authorities experimented with various fruit types including almonds, pineapples and apricots as well as different crops but eventually lost interest. A few years back, the government decided to revive the gardens as a tourist attraction. The effort was reasonably successful as thousands of families now visit Kanhatti Gardens on a regular basis. Kanhatti Gardens are situated at a drive of around 15 minutes from the Kabheki Lake in Soon valley, around two hours from Kallar Kahar on the motorway.
Before the onset of Covid-19, a few friends and I undertook an exploratory visit to Soon valley. We stayed a night at the Phulwari rest house on Sakesar hills. The location of this rest house overlooking the Uchhali Lake, not to forget the exquisite 1833 dinner set placed in the dining room cabinets, is one of the things that have always fascinated me about this place.
After overnight stay at the Phulwari rest house, we left in the morning for the Kanhatti Gardens. We passed the famous Uchhali Lake known for migratory flamingos and ducks, at the Sakesar foothills. We crossed Nowshera town towards Kabheki Lake and after a short tea break at the lake, took a left turn from Kabheki village towards the Kanhatti Gardens. Soon valley is Pakistan’s Lake District. It has five large lakes: Namal, Jhallar, Uchhali, Kabheki and Kallar Kahar. All except Kallar Kahar, attract migratory birds in winter. Imagine Siberian birds travelling thousands of miles south to spend winters at these lakes and then returning.
After a drive of around fifteen minutes in the rolling hills with shrub forests all around we reached the Kanhatti Gardens. The gardens are maintained by the Tourism Department with decent facilities. We walked around the orchards and sat at the gazebos with wonderful views of the surrounding mountains and canyons. However, the real adventure, while you are at Kanhatti Gardens, begins when you visit the famous Kanhatti waterfalls.
The falls are beautiful and if you are lucky and early, you may be the only one there. The falls keep on changing their expanse depending upon the season but they never disappoint you. To listen to the sound of waterfalls in the dense grove is mesmerising, especially with the sunlight pouring through the branches of the trees above. You can sit there for some time and just relax, however, it is always better to plan your visit during the week as the place may be crowded over the weekend. The edges of water pools are quite slippery, hence caution is recommended.
The real secret of the Kanhatti Gardens is not these waterfalls. To find it, we went through the jungle on a dirt trek down into a gorge. We were lucky to witness the fabled black partridges on our way to the gardens and listen to the familiar sounds these beautiful creatures make while running through the bushes as you approach them. After trekking for twenty minutes on the narrow edges of mountains, we reached the base of a rocky canyon. It is here that the Kanhatti waterfalls join the other streams forming a bigger mountain stream flowing through huge boulders, and forming blue water pools at several places. Our guide showed us a roaring mountain stream coming through a narrow gorge and dared us to go through it to see the hanging gardens of Kanhatti.
We thought for a minute and before we knew it we were jumping from one stone to the other through the gorge while avoiding the slippery green moss. There were moments when we didn’t have an option but to put our feet down in the cold gushing water or use all our limbs to hold on to a rock. Imagine carrying a full-size camera with you and trying to save it from water at the same time. After fifteen minutes of unimaginable acrobatics, we finally reached our destination under a huge overhanging mountain edge. We could see trees and dense green shrubs hanging from the edge of the cliff about fifty feet high.
By this time, we were all drenched but the place was captivatingly beautiful. After staying there for a few minutes, it was time for us to navigate our way back through the splashing water and moss-covered rocks, which was way more difficult than the climb up the gorge. After reaching the base of the main canyon in one piece, we sunbathed on the boulders along the stream for some time.
Kanhatti Gardens are located around two hours from Kallar Kahar and can be an excellent day picnic resort especially from Islamabad. The government has developed decent facilities for lodging and boarding. Promoting awareness among visitors not to pollute this beautiful place is important. Also, safety at the waterfalls must also be prioritised. The Tourism Department should consider developing the trek to the hanging gardens beyond the Kanhatti waterfalls, to make it safer for visitors. A few guides who can take visitors to the canyon, the hanging gardens and perhaps for an Urial-watching tour, would be great, too.
The writer is a development professional with a passion for travel and heritage. He blogs at www.countryroads.pk and can be reached at [email protected]