Originally published at PakVoices Gwadar website in Urdu
Translated by Salman Latif
Gwadar city is a peninsula, surrounded on three by the sea and connected to the mainland through a narrow strip. If one was to take an aerial view of Gwadar, it would appear like the head of a hammer portruding at the end of mainland and into the sea.
The city is 10 kilometers long and its width varies from 2 kilometers to six kilometers. One of the most prominent land-features of Gwadar is the hill called ‘Koh-e-Bateel‘ (the Bateel Hill). If you are coming to Gwadar via sea, you will spot the hill from miles away, shaped like a boat with sails. That is also how the hill got so named, the ‘Bateel’ in its name derived from the Balochi word ‘Batteel’ which means a small boat.
Among the ancient residents of Gwadar, it was a custom to do fishing all week long but take Friday off. The tradition continues to this day. On Thursday night, fishermen clean their boats and polish and paint them. Then on the morning of Friday, they set off for Koh-e-Bateel to spend the day there. The hill station is a popular site among youth who spend their Friday evenings strolling along the heights.
On the south-west side of the hill are paths leading down from the hill to secluded fishing spots by the sea. These paths are frequented by those who want to indulge in occasional fishing. Called Kaspi, this area is host to certain species of turtles who lay their eggs in the sand by the sea.
There is also an old dam by Koh-e-Bateel which is presently in the ownership of the Gwadar Municipal Committee. During rains, the dam is filled with water which makes it possible to do cultivation in the surrounding land. Some cultivators permanently live in the area and grow dates and some other fruits and crops. Given that this is the rather scenic part of the hill, Gwadar Municipal Committe has now built some sunshades for the visitors.
The highest point of Koh-e-Bateel has a height of 600 to 800 feet. From this point, one can see the hills of Pushkan and Jeevani. When Portuguese attacked and conquered Gwadar in <>, they set up huge guns on the hill and carved barricates in the rocks. The guns have been lost over the years but signs of the barricades remain.
Koh-e-Bateel also has a long history of being a popular festival site. Every year, a festival on the second day of Eid is celebrated here. This festival has been taking place since hundreds of years and is one of the oldest surviving traditions today. In the past, it was harder to climb the hill given its steep structure. So people rode on camels, donkeys and horses to make the journey. Now, thanks to a metalled road, it is a lot easier for people to reach the top. This new road passes by the recently constructed Pearl Continentl Hotel as well as Pak Navy Camp and Mehr Jan Hotel.
On the second day of Eid, people in thousands from all over the Makran region head for Koh-e-Bateel. They come on motorcycles, buses and cars. Those living nearby head for the hill with their families on foot. During the festival, shopkeers from Gwadar city set up their stall on the hill, temporary hotels spring up and chai-khaanas (tea houses) can be found all over the hill.
Years ago, the festival included poetry contests and music events. Today it includes music, dramas, stunts of different sorts, quiz competitions and more. Winners of quiz competitions are awarded prizes by an Eid Committee which is set up every year. The Committee organizes the festival voluntarily and the expenses of the events are borne by the local merchants.
Sadly, things have considerably changed over the last few years. Due to the security measures of the law enforcement agencies, it is increasingly difficult to head for the hill on regular days. Despite that, youngsters still spend their Sundays and occasional holidays at the hill. This also has to do with the fact that in contrast to Gwadar’s harsh weather in summers, the weather on the hill is pleasant and cool. To add to it, the blue view of the sea all around and the cool winds from this sea makes it a perfect picnic spot.
In the past, whenever a sea storm has hit Gwadar city, people have fled to the Bateel hill to take refuge. The height of the hill makes it a perfectly safe refuge at such times.
Bateel hill guards the city in yet another way. It intercepts high-speed winds from the sea before they could hit the port. This, in turn, makes East Bay and West Bay very safe for ships to anchor in. East Bay is also the area where Gwadar port is located, being the second end of the long Pak-China Economic Corridor project.
At some distance from Gwadar is the international sea route through the Strait of Hormuz. To alert any large ships about their direction, the Bateel Hill hosts a light house which keeps the alight during the night.
In the midst o Koh-e-Bateel is also an old graveyard where the shrine of Hazrat Ghaus-e-Azam is located. People come from afar to pay their respects at the shrine which hosts a Sema ceremoney every once in a while.
In contrast to this spiritual aspect of the hill is the famous ‘Singaar Housin Scheme.’ The housing scheme was launched in the days of Pervez Musharraf when Gwadar witnessed a huge boom in property values and purchases. Singaar Housing Scheme took the crown for being the most expensive housing scheme in Gwadar, and probably all over Pakistan. It is rumored that everyone from politicians to retired military officers and civilian beaurucrats have plots in the scheme.
At one hand, Koh-e-Bateel is the grand reminder of the centuries-old traditions and ways of the people of Gwadar, as well as a reflection of their culture. At the other hand, it is also the changing face of the hill which reflects the rapidly change that is overtaking the city. But the big question that every Gwadar resident wants to ask is: do the people of Gwadar have a role to play in this change and will they be rightfully receive any benefits from this change?