When God made Sindh, He added a patch of heaven to the tapestry to provide the people a respite from the scorching summer heat. It is called Gorakh Hill.
In the sizzling summer months of June and July, when the average temperature in the province hovers around 48-50 °C, Gorakh Hill remains chilled at around 20 °C. In winter, the mercury plumbs the sub-zero region. Small wonder the locals call Gorakh Hill the Murree of Sindh.
Situated at an elevation of 5,689 feet (1,734 metres) in the Khirthar Mountains about 90 km northwest of Dadu city in Johi Tahsel on the Sindh-Baluchistan border, Gorakh Hill has long been valued by the people of Sindh for its pristine natural beauty and chilly summer weather.
Access to Gorakh Hill is not for the fainthearted: The 30-km journey from Johi takes up to two hours and requires a four-by-four vehicle. Particularly testing is the zigzagging two kilometre patch through mountainous terrain called Khawal Luk.
Locals and tourism experts say the only impediment in the way of Gorakh Hill becoming a bustling tourist spot is the non-existent infrastructure.
During Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s first tenure in 1989, when Abdu- lah Shah was chief minister of Sindh, development of a modern town was planned at Gorakh Hill. However, her government was sent packing before the plan could materialise.
A second initiative to develop the location came under military strongman Gen Pervaiz Musharraf in 2003-4. Electricity was provided to the site and small road was also constructed.
The government constituted Gorakh Hill Development Authority in 2007 to help develop the location as a tourist destination. Its first chairman was former Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah. PPP’s Member National Assembly Rafiq Ahmed Jamali has been the chairman of the Authority since 2014.
Much of the Authority’s budget goes to maintaining its two offices– a head office at provincial Karachi and a camp office at Dadu, the home city of the Authority’s current chairman.
However, the fortunes of Gorakh Hill remain unchanged by and large. Cell phone coverage is patchy and power outages are the norm. The region has huge wind and solar power potential that remains untapped.
A modern restaurant was built here in 2014, making the location slightly more tourist-friendly. But that is about all the authorities have been able to do more than three decades after Shaheed Bena- zir Bhutto’s first tenure, which is a crying shame.
The 25,000-acre site has only one viewpoint for tourists to enjoy the spectacular sunrise and sunset. The sitting area of Benazir View Point is in poor condition furnished with only a few wooden benches.
Contacted by the Truth International, Authority Chairman Rafique Ahmed Jamali expressed his satisfaction over the Authori- ty’s rile, although he admitted development projects are moving slowly due to paucity of funds allocated under the five-year plan. He lamented the federal government failed to meet its commit- ment to provide development funding.
Jamali said expansion and widening of the 30-km road from Johi was a priority to make the site more accessible by motor transport and claimed the project was expected to reach completion this year.
A chair lift project had been scrapped on account of high project cost and lack of funding, said the Authority Chairman. “We have enough residence capacity [for tourists], the restaurant is functional and security is available twenty-four hours”, he said.
Locals believe drive and dedication can go a long way towards uplifting Gorakh Hill from virtual anonymity to become a popular tourist destination – as illustrated by the example of Juman Jamali, the restaurant contractor and a local of Johi.
“Not only has he made the restaurant a success, he has put in a dedicated effort to make Gorakh Hill more popular”, said a local of Johi who frequents the spot. “He attracts educational institutions and tourist companies, he organises musical events and mountain trekking campaigns – he does all he can to attract tourists from big cities of country”.