Forming the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, Margalla Hills are located to the north of the capital city of Islamabad. Offering scenic views and lots of opportunities for outdoor entertainment, it is a place that all Islamabadis and visitors to the capital should explore. Here, we’ll brief you on what the hype is all about and why exploring Margalla Hills is truly worth it.
About Margalla Hills
Margalla Hills are encompassed within the limits of the Margalla Hills National Park, along with Rawal Lake and Shakarparian Park. The area the hills cover is a little more than 31 thousand acres, with the region having several high mountain peaks and steep valleys. Tilla Charouni is the highest peak here, with an elevation of 5,263 feet.
Two of the popular destinations here are Daman-e-Koh and Pir Sohawa. Daman-e-Koh is a viewing point with a beautiful park located 2,400 feet above sea level. It is a stopping point for many people who are heading up to Pir Sohawa, at an elevation of 3,600 feet, which is home to the famous Monal Restaurant. The hills receive snowfall once in every few years, but overall, Margalla Hills’ weather is hot and dry, with vegetation covering most of the hilly terrain.
Reaching Margalla Hills
While many people choose to hike up the numerous paths in the region, a well-paved road is available for cars, leading up to Monal Restaurant and Pir Sohawa. The road is named Pir Sohawa Road and the route starts off near Islamabad Zoo and the Japanese Children Park, at the base of the hills near Daman-e-Koh.
Recreational Activities at Margalla Hills
Once you arrive at the foot of the hills, there are a number of activities that you can indulge in. Here are some of the top things to do in Margalla Hills:
Grab a pair of binoculars and set your eyes on the skies, as you will surely find some spectacular feathery friends in this region. Some of the birds that you can spot here include:
- Paradise Flycatchers
- Spotted Doves
- Yellow Vented Bulbul
- Himalayan Griffon Vulture
While some of these birds can be found here all year round, others are simply winter migrants that come here from colder northern areas. Some species also visit the region only for spring and summertime breeding.
Margalla Hills is home to several hiking trails, catering to both professional as well as novice hikers. As Pakistan generally enjoys a hot climate in the summer months, the best season to go hiking here is the early winter months, when the weather is mild and pleasant, with fewer chances of rain. The hiking trails are numbered 1 to 6, with the most famous ones being Trails 3 and 5. Two of the remaining trails are known as Bari Imam Trail and Saidpur Trail.
While hiking through the hills, keep in mind that the terrain can be rough in some areas and hiking alone is, therefore, not advised. However, you will not have to worry about getting lost as the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has placed hiking milestones and direction guides at regular intervals all along the trails so that you do not stray away from your path. These signs can also help you explore the best spots during your hike, including small springs and scenic viewing points.
We have discussed each of the trail routes below for your convenience:
- Trail 1 leads to the top of the Pir Sohawa Road, with a hike of about 1 to 2 hours. Walking on a bit further, you can reach Monal Restaurant in just 20 minutes.
- Trail 2 begins at a point near Islamabad Zoo and after a walk of 1 to 1.5 hours, you can reach Daman-e-Koh.
- Trail 3 starts from the Main Margalla Road and it is an exhausting climb due to steep inclines. The track can take you directly to the summit, passing by the famed restaurants located at Pir Sohawa. This walk can take 1.5 hours.
- Trail 4 acts as a connecting trail between Trails 3 and 5, which have a distance of 1.5 kilometres between them.
- Trail 5 begins from Sector F-5 on Main Margalla Road and is somewhat parallel to Trail 3. However, this is a much easier climb and will lead you to the top of Pir Sohawa Road. It can take an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 hours to cover this trail. If you want to witness a waterfall in Margalla Hills, this is the trail to choose.
- Trail 6 is not as commonly used as the rest, because its entrance is well hidden behind Shah Faisal Mosque in Sector E7. This trail has a well-defined route that takes you through a valley and ends at the top of Pir Sohawa Road. This path also has a separate track for mountain biking and cycling, as well as a bird-watching point.
- Saidpur Trail is named after Saidpur village and it moves alongside a small river, passing through the village and entering a valley where a track leads straight to Monal Restaurant. This trail is mostly used by the locals though.
- Bari Imam Trail also starts at the farthest end of Main Margalla Road, near the Bari Imam Cave. After climbing up steep hills, you can come close to Pir Sohawa Road, from where a walk of 5.5 kilometres can take you to Trail 3.
Margalla Hills has several spots for climbers to test out their skills. However, very few cliffs have actually been developed to accommodate the sport. If you are a rock climbing enthusiast, you can try out any of the following crags:
- Jasmine Corner
- Saidpur Village
For Skilled Climbers
- Musical Lounge
- Shahdra Wall
- Shah Allah Ditta
Exploring the Wild Life
Nature has truly blessed Pakistanis with an array of geographical landscapes and climate zones. When it comes to exploring Margalla Hills, you can find close to 300 species of plants, 54 types of butterflies, 9 species of amphibians, 37 kinds of fish, 380 varieties of birds, 20 types of reptiles, 15 kinds of large mammals and around 21 species of small mammals. Some of the creatures you can see here include:
- Indian Cobra
- Russell’s Viper
- Saw-scaled Viper
- Asiatic Leopard
- Barking Deer
- Red Fox
- Grey Goral
- Golden Jackal
- Wild Boar
- Chinkara Gazelle
- Fruit bats
- Rhesus Macaque
- Leopard Cat
- Yellow Throated Marten
Visiting Shah Allah Ditta Caves
Shah Allah Ditta Caves are located near the tomb of Shah Allah Ditta in Islamabad’s Sector D-11. These spooky caves are said to be 700 years old, along with the neighbouring village of the same name. Buddhist relics can also be found here, in the form of murals on the walls. The area is known locally as Sadhu ka Bagh.
The area surrounding the caves was also a regular route for people travelling from Kabul in Afghanistan to the Gandharan City of Taxila. One of those people was Alexander the Great, who traversed this route to be welcomed by then-King of Taxila, Raja Ambi. The ground still holds a marker as a reminder of the location where Alexander stood as he was given a royal welcome. The Pashtun Emperor Sher Shah Suri is also said to have journeyed on this very path to reach the Indian sub-continent.
Satisfying Your Food Cravings
Margalla Hills is home to the famous Monal Restaurant, which can be perfect as your lunch or dinner option after a day of exploration. The restaurant also offers a breakfast menu for all days except Sunday and a Sunday brunch option for those who want to eat a hearty meal before exploring the area.
The menu includes Pakistani, continental and fast food options, along with a range of pizza and pasta dishes. The restaurant is best known for the fabulous views it offers of Islamabad and the green rolling hills on all sides.
Another restaurant on Pir Sohawa Road is La Montana, which also offers similarly stunning views of the hills and greenery that surrounds the capital city of Islamabad. This eatery offers a diverse menu, with seafood, Pakistani and continental dishes being served in style.
Barbeques and Picnics
As long as you are responsibly cooking your meals without damaging your surroundings and ensuring that the fires are put out before you leave your camping spot, you are allowed to host barbeques within the region. If open-air cooking is not your preference, you can always pack a picnic lunch to enjoy in the outdoors with your family.
Having so much to offer, exploring Margalla Hills is a must for all locals and visitors alike. This should be your next destination on a day trip from Islamabad.