Fishing in the lakes is prohibited, just as hunting of birds and other animals around. Recreational boating is also not allowed, as the leaky outboard motors are known to spill too much toxic oil in the lake. At Uchali Lake, we met a local volunteer conservationist who owns a small boat. He told us that poaching is rife and influentials still fish and hunt discretely. “If I was as a wildlife guard, I guarantee that up to fifty violators would be caught every month, instead of the two or three who are prosecuted presently,” he said. We were not sure if he was offering his credentials as a job-seeker or was a serious conservationist!
For history and archaeology buffs, the outing would be incomplete without a visit to Amb, where the ruins of a 10th century (AD) temple hark back to the heydays of the Hindu Shahi dynasty. The temple is one of a series of monastery-like complexes that include Malot, Ketas and Nandna that stud the Salt Range. The road to Amb is somewhat circuitous, as one has to first proceed to Quaidabad, about 45-km west of Khushab, thence north to Amb, over a 25km bone-jarring stretch that is best negotiated by a four-wheel drive vehicle. On our way back, we were surprised to see a wedding motorcade of about 40 cars – all white Toyota Corollas, interestingly – and several buses, loaded with revellers of all ages heading towards Khushab, over some of the roughest Salt Range terrain.
The hills here, as in much of the Salt Range, are laced with ferrous oxides giving them a reddish hue. Depending on the time of the day, colours can range from pastel pinks to muddy maroons, which are magnificently contrasted by the varied greens of kao or wild olives (Olea cuspidata), phullai (Acacia modesta) and sanatha (Dodonea burmaniana) that swathe the hills aplenty. Higher up on Sakesar top, pine cones litter the ground under a dense canopy of chir (Pinus longifolia).
PAF authorities have done a creditable job at forestation and fruit cultivation at Sakesar. In addition to caring for the trees and shrubs that grow in the wild, we were shown luscious orchards of apricots, apples, cherries, grapes, loquats, olives, pears, persimmon and, even a few walnut trees that have been tenderly maintained.