The attraction of placid lakes

November 21, 2021

Chakwal, a lake district in Rawalpindi division has the potential to become a prime tourist destination

Dhoke Bun Ameer Khatoon Dam.
Dhoke Bun Ameer Khatoon Dam.

Rawalpindi division boasts of sites and artifacts of which some are millions of years old. Although each district in the region holds attractions for anthropologists, Chakwal is clearly the most attractive to tourists and locals alike.

Balkasar interchange is the most common route to Chakwal. Having exited from the interchange, it is not advisable to take the direct road to the city because it is too dilapidated to promise a safe drive. Motorists generally take the Chakwal-Talagang Road to reach Chakwal, which is a slight detour. This road has become a business hub due to easy access to the motorway.

Wajeeh Haider Kazmi, the PTV correspondent in the district, says that the road was once dotted by a number of villages. These have now grown and coalesced and are collectively referred to as Chakwal. “However, the older residents of the city do not recognize those as a part of Chakwal,” he says.

A new feature on Chakwal-Talagang Road is the appearance of Shuhada Park. “Almost every other person in the district has ties with the Pakistan Army in one way or the other. The city remembers hundreds of martyrs. To honour them, we have built this park through a public-private partnership. It carries portraits of martyrs and their families feel a sense of belonging here,” Deputy Commissioner Bilal Hasham says.

The attraction of placid lakes

After crossing the park, one reaches the bus stop where the city’s famous Pehalwan Rewri shop is located. This is a kind of traditional sweet that is enjoyed all over the country. However, one needs to be wary of fake Pehalwan Rewri sellers.

The family home of former MNA and celebrated English writer, Ayaz Amir is close to the bus stop. A short distance away is the house of Raja Yassir Humayun Sarfaraz, the Punjab minister for higher education and information technology.

Kazmi, who has worked with Al-Jazeera in Doha before coming home to Chakwal, tells TNS that Minister Sarfraz is a foreign graduate with an interest in education.”Due to the efforts of Sarfraz, the city now has a university and has blossomed into an attraction for tourists,” he says.

Chakwal was declared “the best Tourism Friendly Region of Pakistan’’ on World Tourism Day by the World Tourism Organisation, a United Nations agency that promotes responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

Arif Azad, a resident of Chakwal and a policy development professional with a background in national and international media, explains: “Over 70 percent of the population in Chakwal is educated. This is one of the most educated districts in Pakistan.”

With a low crime rate, Chakwal has a lot of potential for the development of tourism. “There was a time when traditional fairs were a regular occurrence but they have died down over the years,” Azad laments. He recalls that the annual fair at Choa Saidan Shah, a tehsil in Chakwal district, used to be a mega event that garnered a large attendance.

The attraction of placid lakes

Lawa, a tehsil of Chakwal, has attracted worldwide attention after the discovery of 14-million-year-old fossils from a ‘great’ beast. A team from the Zoology Department of Punjab University made the discovery that has been well reported in international research journals and popular media.

Chakwal was declared “the best Tourism Friendly Region of Pakistan’’ on World Tourism Day by the World Tourism Organisation, a United Nations agency that promotes responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

In Dhoke Bun Ameer Khatoon, about 15 kilometres off Chakwal on the way to Choa Saidan Shah, more fossils were discovered with an estimated age of 8 million years. A very narrow road leads to this village and Bun Ameer Khatoon Dam has also been built there. This is one of many small dams that have been built in this rain-fed area for irrigation purposes.

An ill-maintained rest house has been constructed near the dam, which is a picturesque spot. An employee explained that in addition to taking care of the building, he makes sure that young people do not swim in the lake as some people have died there from drowning. The dam is surrounded by rough terrain and has an incredible view at sunset.

Five kilometres down the road is Dhok Tahlian Dam. This dam is in better shape than Bun Ameer Khatoon Dam. Boat rentals are available for tourists and the rest house is managed by the local tourism department. Lush green trees and crystal clear waters create a mesmerising ambience, which is a draw for tourists.

The attraction of placid lakes

Punjab Tourism Department Secretary Capt Mushtaq Ahmed (retired) said, “Chakwal is an important tourist destination because it benefits from easy access through motorway. Kallar Kahar Lake and Katas Raj Temple are famous amongst tourists and explorers.”

The lakes in Chakwal are popular picnic and recreation spots. It also has great potential for religious, historical and cultural tourism that can be further developed. “Many places are still hidden and unexplored; they need some development for tourist access, as Chakwal is a unique blend of urban, para-urban and rural cultures making it a versatile and potentially profitable tourist destination” he says.

Parks, heritage, historical and recreational sites are being connected to main roads. According to Ahmed: “The first parkway of the Punjab was developed in the Chakwal district, also known as the province’s lake district. Rs 26.399 million has been dedicated to promoting tourism in Chakwal.”

Dharabi Lake is just six kilometers away from Balkasar Interchange. It serves tourists as well. “Special steps are being taken to preserve Takhat-i-Bahari, the site where Mughal Emperor Babar set up camp before conquering Delhi. Arrangements for lodging of tourists are also being made at Kalar Kahar,” he says.

DC Hashim says that Chakwal is a popular site for foreign dignitaries and ambassadors, who come to appreciate truck art. “They value it highly. Recently an ambassador visited Chakwal whose wife had recommended the truck art here. His wife is an artist herself,” he recalls.

Azad, however, is of the view that attracting tourists is fine but more attention should be paid to city planning. “Due to mishandling of the city, it is fast losing parking space,” he says.

According to Azad, the university lacks qualified staff and it is still capable of providing only college-level education. He says that although the city has a liberal face, religious extremism exists and reinforcements need to be called in from nearby police stations to deal with issues. “Furthermore there is a serious water supply problem in Choa Saidan Shah which needs to be resolved,” he says.

In Dandot, a nearby village, there are coal mines. “But the roads are in a bad shape and little care is taken to keep the area clean,” he says.

Despite its problems, Chakwal is a feast for tourists with easy access through motorway, Mandra, Sohawa and Choa Saidan Shah.

The writer teaches   development support  communication at IIUI  Twitter:@HassanShehzadZ Email: Hassan.shehzad

The attraction of placid lakes