The army is everywhere! Even out here, in this remote, lakeside picnic spot 125 kilometers north of Karachi, there’s no on the run them. In this case though, they have done something positive for the community. And it has nothing to do with power or politics. They have developed a new, cheerful, small resort, with four well furnished warm one-room cottages with attached modern bathrooms, and a large dinning hall cum TV lounge. The thatched roofs of these cottages blend seamlessly with the nearby fishermen’s village on Keenjhar Lake, and is a welcome adding up to the dilapidated, well designed but hopelessly managed Keenjhar Lake Recreational Complex (KLRC) which is under the supervision of Sindh Tourism Development Corporation. The army cottages are called Desert Hawks Resort, even if the name makes no reference to the huge body of water right under its feet.
It was a great relief for the caged and isolated inhabitants of the mega-city of Karachi, where going out of town for a short overnight stay is an alien concept (unless, of course, you can afford to fly to Islamabad or Dubai).
Back then, when KLRC was inaugurated, it looked like a promising beginning of a chain of weekend resorts a couple of hours drive from Karachi. sMiserably, it degenerated into a derelict concrete structure with broken windowpanes and stray dogs. Part of the reason for the decay was the political unrest during the late 80s and early 90s, accompanied by rampant highway robberies and kidnappings throughout the Sindh province. The other part of the explanation is the typical management style with which government services are run.
The Desert Hawks Resort is more gifted and safe. With some self-sponsored security activities, the vast Keenjhar Lake, which is a valuable source of fresh water for Karachi, offers a truly peaceful and relaxing weekend sojourn away from busy Karachi. Efforts are being made to restore the lakeside ‘cabanas’, as they are called, and the restaurant building which is part of the complex. The banks of the lake have been reinforced, and motorboats, as well as colourful paddleboats have been introduced to make the place more lively and interesting.
During winter months the lake attracts several species of wandering birds. Although hunting is barred officially, it is quite common. I found the method of hunting rather cruel. Fast motorboats take the hunters profound into the lake, close to the mini islets around which flocks of birds assemble. Then as soon as the boats sneak near enough to the birds, pointed stones are hurled at them, which wound or kill some. The ‘casualties’ are then collected by the hunting party and brought to the shore. Some of these hunted birds are sold in the nearby Thatta village.
At an attitude of over 5,000 ft (5,866 ft to be exact), it is to be found in Dadu district, a few hours drive from Karachi. Benazir Bhutto took a helicopter ride to this cool plateau dotted with wild olive trees when she was prime minister, to invest the Gorakh Hills Development Plan. Typically, the event amounted to nothing more than copy on the Khabarnama for the politicians and the bureaucrats.