I have just returned after spending a few days in the balmy, cool serenity of the mountains near Islamabad. Murree, nicknamed the “Queen of the Hills”, is a focal summer destination for domestic tourism. It is, however, unfortunate that uncontrolled construction and commercial ‘avarice’ has turned this once beautiful resort into an ugly concrete edifice that stands as mute testimony to our callousness. What we have failed to grasp is the fact that denuding the slopes of their vegetative cover and erecting lofty multi-storied buildings, is a recipe for disaster that puts hundreds of lives in danger. Families, who were traditional seasonal residents for generations have abandoned this station in favour of places like Gharial, Bhurban and Nathia Gali. The reason for this migration is the lack of discipline, good grace and dignity displayed by the mob of visitors, who promenade up and down the Mall, making life difficult for families. The situation is aggravated by the mess of traffic that gridlocks the approach to the town. Murree, its surrounding ‘Galiat’ and Abbottabad, were the only hill stations developed by the British that fell to Pakistan’s lot in 1947, while Swat, administered till independence by the Wali-e-Swat, was developed in the post ’47 period. We are fortunate that God gifted us with picturesque regions like Kaghan, Kohistan, northern areas and even some places within easy access of Islamabad that could have been developed into beautiful hill stations, but our short-sighted disregard of an industry that can generate revenues and jobs has resulted in status quo.People would argue that many spots in the general area of Kaghan and Kohistan are hill stations. It is, therefore, necessary to understand the true definition of a hill or summer station. To be classified in this category, a place must be town planned with residential, commercial, recreational, educational, medical facilities and connected by a good all-weather road. There are existing summer destinations in Pakistan that have some of these facilities and which can be upgraded to the status of a proper station through intelligent planning and partnership. There are areas around Islamabad that can be developed into mini hill stations without detriment to the environment. One of these is located approximately five kilometres ahead of Shangri Gali, beyond the Pir Sohawa barrier that announces one’s entry into KPK. This is a broad saddle with a miniscule bazaar and a forest rest house constructed somewhere in the 1920s. One side of the saddle overlooks the mountain ridges extending towards Abbottabad, while the other overlooks Khanpur Lake. The slopes are covered with a dense pine forest and blanketed in mist during monsoons, while light snowfalls in winter. sweet water springs provide an ample supply of water and the general mildly undulating surface of the saddle indicates very little levelling effort.Angoori is another place that could be profitably developed by the government into a mini hill station. This area is generally flat and pine covered needing very little site development. A metalled road connects this place with the Murree Expressway at one end and Patriata at the other. This road needs to be upgraded and tourism facilities set up at the spot. The one cardinal guideline that development anywhere in the hills needs to follow is to ensure that there is no environmental degradation or deforestation. This rule can be followed with little or no difficulty, as I have seen it being practiced in Alpine Communities, where facilities have been set up integrating trees and rocks.An unnecessary irritant set up by the Punjab government for visitors to the four-star hotel next to the Bhurban Golf Club needs attention of the concerned provincial authorities. Any one desirous of dining at this facility has to pay a toll of Rs 200.00 just to use the road, when entry into the actual premises is through a ticket. One does not mind the entry ticket as the amount is adjusted against one’s bill, but a toll plaza is nothing short of highway robbery. And now to end this week’s column here is a piece of good news. It was, indeed, a pleasure to see the new growth of pine trees on both sides of the Murree Expressway, saying volumes of the effort put in by the Forest Department and the NHA. One wishes an emulation of this massive effort elsewhere in the country.