The Margalla Hills—the foothills of the Himalayas—are a series of small-elevation hills located north of Islamabad, Pakistan. Margalla Range has an area of 12,605 hectares. The hill range nestles between an elevation of 685 meters at the western end and 1,604 meters on its east.
Two different legends describe the origin of the word 'Margalla'. According to the first legend, these hills have always been known as an abode of snakes. Mar means 'snake' in Persian and galla means 'herd', therefore Margalla means a place with a lot of snakes.
According to the second legend, the word 'Margalla' was derived from Mar Galla, meaning 'to strangulate'. Mar means 'hit' and Galla means 'neck'. It is believed that there were lots of bandits and robbers who used these hills as a sanctuary and would strangle travelers in order to rob them.
Flora and Fauna
The vegetation of the southern slopes is short and stunted, comprising deciduous and evergreen trees with diverse shrub growth. In the north stand pines, Eucalyptus, Peepal trees (Ficus religiosa), Paper Mulberry and groves of oak.
The Margalla Hills are home to various species of wildlife, including monkeys, exotic birds and carnivores such as the rare and presently endangered Margalla leopard.
Commonly found animals in the Margallas include Rhesus monkeys, jackals (often heard cackling at night near the hills), wild boars, porcupines, mongoose and the pangolin or scaly anteater. The wild boar in particular can be seen at some of the least expected places in the city. While they generally stay close to the hills, occasionally (particularly in winter when the hills are cold) they can be seen quite far from the Margallas. Often the boars will have small hideouts in the green belts in and around the city. The increasing practice of throwing litter near the hills also attracts both monkeys and wild boar to come and forage through the rubbish. The wild boars can be quite large, very solidly built and usually travel in large groups.
Less common are Margalla leopards, which usually remain high up in the hills. Even more rare are the elusive snow leopards. These beautiful animals confine themselves to the highest ridges of the range.
There is another group of animals that deserves mention: the snakes of Margalla Hills. There are a number of species of poisonous snakes in the area, including cobras, Russell's Vipers and kraits—known in local parlance as the half-minute killer. The snakes hibernate in the winter months; but tread carefully in the hotter months and particularly the monsoon months, when snakes abound. While they are to be found mainly in and around the hills, occasionally an overgrown garden can prove the ideal home.
Hiking and trekking
The Margallas are excellent for hiking and cater to both the regular serious hikers and the less serious occasional enthusiasts.
For foreigners, it is advisable to go for hiking in a group, because a few incidents of mugging have been reported in the last few years. The safest and most frequented hike path is from the ZOO park to Daman-e-Koh. The best season for hiking is from February to April, when there is less rain and the weather is extremely pleasant.
Asian Study Group (a community service organization) conducts hikes from October to April. Details about hiking trails and further information can be found in the latest edition of the book called Hiking in and around Islamabad, available at select book shops in F-7 Markaz and Kohsar Market, published by Asian Study Group for the Islamabad community.