Saturday, April 12, 2014




In my early teens when romanticism was at its peak, there was a famous song which was my favorite and I used to sing it over and over again. 

I had not seen the movie ARADHNA with its "Mere Sapno Ki Rani", which was composed by Sachin Dev Burman and performed by Kishore Kumar

But when I saw the movie in 1970 and its romantic picturization the beautiful scenery and the back ground plantation fascinated me.    
Most of you must have seen the famous narrow gauge Darjeeling railway track which has been the epitome of many romantic Indian movies featuring the top Indian stars. Down the memory lane is the nostalgic reminder of MERE SAPNOO KI RANI which shows RAJEESH KHANA riding in a jeep and serenading to Sharmeela Tagore sitting on the window side of the Darjeeling Express pretending to read a book but her ears are listening to the serenade sung by RAJEESH KHANNA.

Similarly in the latest award winning movie BURFI it also shows many glimpse of the narrow gauge railway track of Darjeeling from which India is earning multi million dollars as a result of tourism and as a hill station which is a tourist attraction.
India is still maintaining its Darjeeling Railway track in a superb condition so as to attract people to this highly elevated tourist resort.
At the time of partition in 1947 Pakistan inherited many tourist attractions in which the Z.V.R better known as the ZHOB valley railways has been a magnetic attraction and has great historical significance.
The nearest I came to see this magnificent railway tract was in 1964 when  I was at that time a student of Cantonment Public school Quetta and went on a scouting trip to Lora lai  and Zhob little knowing that in future my restless and adventurous spirit will make me fall in love with  these places. 

The year 1986 may be marked as a black year for Z.V.R when the last railway engine plied on this narrow gauge railway track never to be used again and the dismantling of this line began. What remains now are the up rooted railway track beds, the dismantled bridges with their piers sticking out like sore thumbs and the dilapidated railway stations en-route from Bostan to Zhob. There were eleven railway stations on the Z.V.R and amongst them was KAN MAHTERZAI, which is the highest railway station in Pakistan located at the height of 2224 meters (7295 feet) above sea level even higher than Murree. The Gumm railway station on the Darjeeling line is about 35 feet higher and thus is the highest narrow gauge railway station in the world.

During First World War, a Railway line was laid from a place called Khanai (30 km north of Quetta) to a place called Hindubagh (renamed as Muslimbagh in 1960s).
The work started on Khanai-Hindubagh line in 1916 and was opened for rail traffic in 1921. In 1927, the Hindubagh to Qila Saifullah section was opened and finally the section up to Zhob was opened in 1929.

For a long part of its journey, the railway track followed the Zhob River and thus it was called the Zhob Valley Railway.
The British interest in this area grew when chromate was discovered between KAN MAHTERZAI & Hindu Bagh in 1901 & mining on a massive scale was undertaken as this chromate was used in production of munitions during the First World War.
KAN MAHTERZAI situated between Kuchlag and Muslim bagh became an important stopover point for the British war effort because of this discovery which made the British to lay a railway line between Quetta and Muslimbagh for the transportation of chromate. 

ZVR was a tiny Narrow Gauge (2’-6”) railway track as it ran northeast from Bostan on the Quetta-Chaman route to Zhob.  Its length of three hundred kilometres made it the longest Narrow Gauge line in the subcontinent.

Today nothing much is left of the desolate and abandoned KAN MAHTERZAI railway station as it is in a state of decrepitude and ruin. It is now a rather quiet place, as no longer those small narrow gauge engines haul passengers and good bogies on this once very active railway of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. No more is there the hustle and bustle of miners, British soldiers and traders and the locals. Nor there is the aroma of typical Balochi cuisines like sajji the karak chai stalls that was once sold there.  

Finally the days of narrow gauge came to an end due to wearing out of the narrow gauge engines and bogies. The narrow gauge railway track had a common nemesis the People of Pakistan as they must undo what has already been done as most of it became a prey of pilferage vandalism and theft.

This line became a victim of neglect callousness coupled with inefficiency and corruption. Some times in the late eighties (80’s) a half-hearted attempt was made to revamp the line and the resting locomotives that were gathering rust and dust in the sheds at Bostan were overhauled. But no effort was made to re do the civil works of the disintegrating line. From time to time the refurbished locomotives were periodically fired to keep them at work. By and by all was forgotten and the last time it was heard that they were beginning to lose their shine once again.
Many people of that area still remember the magnificence, splendor and grandeur days of the Z.V.R. Winters were very harsh on the tiny Narrow Gauge locomotives, and it was not uncommon for trains to be caught in heavy snowdrifts. There was a great snow storm in 1970 that the railway line was covered in deep snow up to the height of the Cow catcher of the steam locomotives which just could not make their way forward. The engine driver and the fireman kept the fire alive waiting for the rescue train to come which also bogged about 5 kilometers away.

From the tourism point of view KAN MAHTERZAI was a winter attraction as the whole treeless area around the station was covered with snow as far as the eye could see with the orchards of apricot and almond and the mounds of Bostan in the background giving it an added attraction.  
There was a ticket window but only for those who cared to pay as most of the travelers on this line considered it their moral duty not to pay. Indeed, that was one of the reasons for the line’s untimely demise.
I as a social activist and an ecologist long for the day when this great jewel in the tourist Map of Pakistan will be fully restored to its former zenith and grandeur when the writ of the government will be fully implemented in these areas and the chug chug of the steam engines will be heard heading on the ZVR line and early in the morning the bearer will bring in my English breakfast telling me that KAN MAHTERZAI will be the next stop.

Dr. Babur Zahiruddin



There are times in life when you can literally listen to silence........

Some of you may never have heard of this phrase before nor will you give emphasis on the literal meaning of this  and some  may just skip reading this thinking it to be some kind of an over statement of an eager mind but remember One who does not understand your silence will never appreciate the wisdom of your words.

I fell in love with this utopian paradise on a hunting trip about a year ago...... as it is like Shangri-La...........

Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, and particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance.

The phrase "Shangri-La" is derived from Tibetan ,"Shang" - a district, pronounced "ri", "Mountain" = "Shang Mountain" +la , Mountain Pass, "Shang Mountain Pass".

Once you are on Murree road about 10 minutes drive from the convention centre after  turning right from BARA KOW at satra meel (MILESTONE 17) you are on the Murree expressway and then a short distance before the toll plaza there is an arrow sign showing a right curve to Angoori. You take this right curve and find yourself on a single metalled road which is narrow and not well maintained as the sides and the road shoulders are in a dilapidated conditions but the aura and ambience is scenic and beautiful that you forget about the bad condition of the road and focus on the greenery and enjoy the drive.

The first hamlet that comes is MALLATA which has a very winding road and a small causeway that passes in front of the mosque & the speed becomes slow, crossing that you find yourself climbing a small gradient passing through green fields and a small row of thatched houses which are a reminder that we are still living in the medieval times. There are large poultry farms scattered at varying distances on the road side giving you a nostalgic aroma & constantly reminding you that the ecological balance is being slowly eroded those of you who have a sensitive olfactory nerve may have to hold their breath for a minute or two once you get past the foul stench of the poultry farms.

Short drive and you are now passing the hamlet of Bobri which is the last boundary of Islamabad & from there the boundary of Rawalpindi district starts .Then onwards is a small descent and you come to a big ravine which you cross by a bridge as water is flowing beneath it and at a distance on the left side you can see a beautiful cascade which can also serve as an ideal place for family picnic.

From this place onwards there is a steep ascent for about five miles and you have to put your vehicle in low gears in order to make this climb which might be taxing on the old vehicles and even the experienced drivers with new vehicles may experience difficulty in the drive. To compensate this is the beautiful scenery through the lush green hills and your first hand inter action with mother nature and not to forget the English poet William words worth whose poem the cherry tree is still fresh in ones memory even after a lapse of many years.

The next hamlet is Talhar with a small free dispensary and the drive for the next 20 minutes or so is a constant steady incline at an even gradient and finally you start seeing signs of houses and buildings in the foreground and then the board of union council Angoori can be seen with a small village bazaar this is called Behak Gali which the villagers pronounce as back gali.

You go past the village bazaar and after 200 yards you come to an inconspicuous turning on the right which is surreptitiously not visible as it is camouflaged and shaded from the eye by vegetation and over growth and you park your car there. Take your belongings in a back pack along with a bottle of water for it is a down ward trek of about 1.50 km on a dilapidated dirt track which is not there.  This takes a good hiker about 25 minutes to complete as in the last section there is a steep climb of more than 200 feet and you may become breathless in the last stage.

Finally you are in DHOK DUMMA which is a mini shangrila la where time stands still for you, if you want as here you are secluded from civilisation and have no contact with the outside world as the mobile signals don’t come here. Here you can throw away your tranquilisers and your worries & enjoy mother-nature at the same time you can also do meditation and appreciate Gods creation.

A strong lover of nature like me somehow finds here solace, solitude, seclusion and peace of mind with a strong affinity to my creator and his creations.

The greenery & the weather is ideal as in May June you may need a blanket at night and a refuge from the scorching heat of the plains in summers. Appreciate the shrubs, herbs, hedges, trees, twines the wild growing green grass and the blooming flowers, the chirping of the birds the cawing of the ravens and the distant call of the jackals all built together as a nature’s orchestra which is very soothing to ears which have become so much accustomed to the noise and din of the traffic of the town life which is only one hour drive from this place.

Now coming to the caption of my article LISTEN TO SILENCE  because here you can literally listen to silence as you can hear  your heart beat and if you have a burpy stomach then you can also listen to the complaints of your stomach which  usually groans in protest over your over eating. Dhoke Dumma is like Shangri la as narrated by James Milton in his novel as time literally stands still but about the longevity of the residents I cannot say with much certainty as modernisation is catching up with them but over all the people are strong and sturdy as they have to walk several kilometres to reach places and the women folk have to fetch water from long distances from springs and brooks which are located at a height from their abode.

So next time you feel tense apprehensive & depressed just take pack your haversack lunch a bottle of mineral water put on your walking shoes and head for the hills your escape from modernization into the pacifying serenity of Shangri la and take refuge in the arms of mother nature in Dhoke Dumma which awaits you only 30 minutes away from Islamabad..

Dr. Babur Zahiruddin



Many a times you have been to the Shopping Malls and Utility stores and you go to the section of edibles and without even giving a glance you go past this wonderful fibre perched on the shelf packed in bottles & sachets waiting for you to take it home where it can do wonders for you. Somehow or the other you ignore this wonderful fibre because you are not aware of its multipurpose healthy properties.    
It was way back in 1982 when I left the army and returned to civilian life that my weight from 80 kgs shot up to 95 kgs along with arise of my Blood Pressure. On examination of my lipid profile I was diagnosed as a case of high cholesterol leading to hypertension and insomnia.

I was given high doses of cholesterol lowering drugs like Lipitor & tranquilizers Librium for my insomnia. Now having lived an active life all throughout my army career the return to sedentary and static way of life took a toll of my health and mental faculties.

I myself being a doctor prescribe drugs and medications for my patient but I am paradoxically opposed to taking medicines myself, made this pledge that I will reduce my cholesterol and blood pressure without taking medication & resorted to dietary abstinence and exercises.

After a passage of more than three months, I found that despite my vigorous exercise and strict abstinence there was hardly any dent in the levels of my lipid profile. At that time an elderly friend of mine suggested that I should take Isabghol Husk daily and my cholesterol levels will come down. This happened June 1982 and now after 30 years I have been taking this fibre daily without fail.

My cholesterol levels these days remain in the upper limits of normal mainly attributed to my hereditary  family tendency and to my wayward eating habits of consuming NIHARI’S, Paye’s and Haleem which I savor as delicacy but never has my cholesterol level gone above the normal limits……….. Thanks to the wonderful dietary fibre ISABGHOL.

Isabgol is derived from Psyllium seed husks and is also known as ispaghula.
Isabgol, are portions of the seeds of the plant Plantago ovata, (genus Plantago), a native of India. They are hygroscopic, that is they absorb water expanding many times and become mucilaginous.
These Psyllium seed husk are indigestible and are a source of soluble dietary fiber. They are used to relieve constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea. They are also used as a regular dietary supplement to improve and maintain regular Gastro intestinal tract transit. The inert bulk of the husks help provide a constant volume of solid material irrespective of other aspects of the diet or any disease condition of the gut. Some recent research has also shown them to be promising in lowering cholesterol and controlling diabetes

The husks are used whole in their natural state, or dried and chopped or powdered for easier consumption. In either of these forms, one takes them by mixing them with water or another fluid.
A typical dose is one to three teaspoons per glass of water. My personal experience is that of putting two table spoons of isabgol in the mouth and gulping it down with two glasses of water. Of course gargling may have to be done two three times so as to remove the remnants from the teeth and the palate. 

The best time to take this is one hour before dinner so that it gives you a feeling of fullness of the stomach or immediately after meals.
There may be some people who may have adverse allergic reactions, especially among those having regular exposure to psyllium dust, gastrointestinal tract obstruction may occur, especially or those with prior bowel surgeries or anatomic abnormalities, or if taken with inadequate amounts of water.

Isabgol, (or Ispaghol in Pakistan) comes from the Sanskrit words asp and ghol, meaning "horse flower," which is descriptive of the shape of the seed. India dominates the world market in the production and export of psyllium. 

Isabgol is mainly used as a dietary fiber, which is not absorbed by the small intestine. The pure mechanical action of psyllium mucilage absorbs excess water while stimulating normal bowel elimination. Although its main use has been as a laxative, it is more appropriately termed a true dietary fiber and as such can help reduce the symptoms of both constipation and mild diarrhea. The laxative properties of isabgol are attributed to the fiber absorbing water and subsequently softening the stool.

Isabgol Psyllium is produced mainly for its mucilage content. The term mucilage describes a group of clear, colorless, gelling agents derived from plants. The milled seed mucilage is a white fibrous material that is hydrophilic, meaning that its molecular structure causes it to attract and bind to water. Upon absorbing water, the clear, colorless, mucilaginous gel that forms increases in volume by tenfold or more.

There are many varieties of Isabgol available in the market and is marketed in open, sachet, bottle or packets but be sure to use the clean, impurity free and refined brands available in the market. The latest addition is the highly refined variety known as Serene Isabgol. 

So next time when you go to the stores please make it a point to purchase this wonderful fibre and make it a permanent feature of your dining table. 

Use this wonderful fibre regularly for three months and with a little bit of exercise and abstinence your health parameters will improve remarkably and your body weight will come down thanks to the miracle effect of this fascinating fibre.

Dr. Babur Zahiruddin