Why Astola Island is a hidden gem of Pakistan

Everyone is familiar with the beauty of Pakistan’s northern areas, but few have taken the time to discover the mesmerising charm of the country’s coast in the south.

I had never thought of exploring the coast either, until I met the famous British adventurer Tracy Curtin-Taylor who told me that she had never witnessed a coastline this beautiful.

I planned a trip with my friends to Astola Island, one of the many hidden gems of the part of the Arabian Sea that touches Balochistan.

We set off on our journey on a cool, November morning on a boat from Pasni, a fishing town 35km away from Astola. As we sailed and gained some distance, I looked back at the town: the Jabl-e-Zareen (Beautiful Mountain) was overlooking the pristine beach and the small buildings surrounded by golden sand dunes resembled something straight out of the Arabian Nights.

The golden sand dunes of Pasni in the distance as we were on our way to Astola.
The golden sand dunes of Pasni in the distance as we were on our way to Astola.

The boat captain told us that the sea is calm during the winter season, making it the perfect time to visit the island.

Once we were in the open sea, we were welcomed by seagulls calmly flying above our heads and a fishing boat nearby, where a man was pulling up his net. The seagulls were silently observing, waiting for the right moment to dive in and steal a fish or two. A few of them succeeded, and it was exciting to see.

As we sailed further ahead, I saw larger fishing boats passing by. My friend Bakhshi, who works at the fishery department, told us that these boats are called “launches”.

Each boat is operated by a team of 15 to 20 men, who catch fish the whole day. The fish caught on the shores of Pasni is famous and is also exported.

As we neared Astola, my first sight of the island was of a tall, oddly-shaped rock standing in the middle of the sea. But as we inched closer, the crystal clear, turquoise water took my breath away and I had to remind myself that I was still in Pakistan and not at a beach on the Mediterranean.

A stunning range of blues as seen from the hills of Astola.
A stunning range of blues as seen from the hills of Astola.

Astola is also known as Jezira Haft Talar (Island of the Seven Hills) because of the small, rocky mountains that stretch across the 15sq km island.

The reason why the island’s exquisite beauty has remained untarnished is because of its remote location. From Karachi, it is a seven-hour drive to reach Pasni, from where you have to take a three-hour boat ride to Astola.

Once we reached the island, I wanted to see it from a height and so I hiked up one of the hills. The climb was tricky since the mud was soft and the rocks slippery.

After some struggle, I found a well-treaded path. The view was worth it when we reached the top as the island and its shores were even more alluring from above.

It was a thrilling experience climbing up and seeing this amazing view.
It was a thrilling experience climbing up and seeing this amazing view.

The colour of the water and pattern of the beach changes throughout the day depending upon the tide. The seabed is visible to about the depth of 20 feet .

There is no standing structure on the island except for the remnants of a lighthouse the government had built in 1983.

After a few hours on the hills, we climbed down and got on the boat to explore the other sides of the island. I found every side of the island to be different and more beautiful than the other. The southern side did not have a beach.

We went snorkeling and it was startling to see so many multi-coloured fish. When we went back on the boat, the fishermen showed us some of the fish they had just caught.

The fish that the fishermen on our boat caught while we were snorkelling.
The fish that the fishermen on our boat caught while we were snorkelling.

Since there are no facilities on the island, we had to pack everything from water, food, to camping supplies. We had lunch on our boat with jellyfish swimming around with their tentacles floating behind them.

One of my friends got stung and was in pain for the next 10 hours. People who are visiting for the first time should be aware that jellyfish only look pretty.

Vegetation on the island is sparse and consists of shrubs and large bushes that come to life when it rains. The island has no source of fresh water of its own. Keekar is the only tree which can survive the harsh conditions.

Astola is a tough yet popular destination for camping and eco-tourism. People usually set up camp at the beach and go snorkeling, deep sea diving and even hunt fish under water.

As Astola receives more recognition, the number of tourists will increase. Let’s hope that this doesn’t damage the island’s beauty.

It felt calm and peaceful by the sea in the afternoon.
It felt calm and peaceful by the sea in the afternoon.
The sunset was breathtaking from the seven hills of the island.
The sunset was breathtaking from the seven hills of the island.
One of the boats of campers visiting Astola island.
One of the boats of campers visiting Astola island.
Fishermen throw in their nets in the sea.
Fishermen throw in their nets in the sea.
A view of the island from our boat.
A view of the island from our boat.
The climb up the hill was worth the struggle; the bird's eye view of the island was beautiful.
The climb up the hill was worth the struggle; the bird’s eye view of the island was beautiful.
There is limited greenery and vegetation on the island.
There is limited greenery and vegetation on the island.
The strange rock formations I saw as we reached Astola.
The strange rock formations I saw as we reached Astola.
The crystal clear, turquoise water appeared to be a darker colour from a distance.
The crystal clear, turquoise water appeared to be a darker colour from a distance.
The beach on the island is incredibly clean, unlike other parts of Pakistan.
The beach on the island is incredibly clean, unlike other parts of Pakistan.
We had to bring our own supplies and cook our own food while camping on the island.
We had to bring our own supplies and cook our own food while camping on the island.
There were many seagulls hovering closely above us in search of fish as we were on our way.
There were many seagulls hovering closely above us in search of fish as we were on our way.
The hills were of many different shapes, each of them unique.
The hills were of many different shapes, each of them unique.
A picturesque view from the hill we climbed, with fishing boats in the distance.
A picturesque view from the hill we climbed, with fishing boats in the distance.
The reflection on the water of the golden sunlight in the evening was beautiful.
The reflection on the water of the golden sunlight in the evening was beautiful.
There were many different seashells scattered on the beach.
There were many different seashells scattered on the beach.
The magnificent sunset on the beach.
The magnificent sunset on the beach.


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The writer is an aeronautical engineer by profession, a traveler and a hobbyist photographer. You can follow him on Instagram @abbasalitoor.

Shahroz Sabzwari and Sarish Khan will lead Syed Noor’s Chein Aey Na

For his comeback venture Chein Aey Na, Syed Noor’s shown he has a nose for fresh talent.

The veteran director has cast Miss Pakistan USA 2015 Sarish Khan and Shahroz Sabzwari in the lead of a cast full of veterans, including Atiqa Odho, Behroz Sabzwari, Mustafa Qureshi and Nadeem Baig. Adil Murad, son of legendary actor Waheed Murad, is also in the film.

Chein Aey Na is “pure romance”, Shahroz tells Images. “There are seven to eight songs in the movie, so it’s obvious that it’s romantic.”

The lead actors say they are excited to work with Syed Noor for their first films.

“It is such an honour working with Syed Noor. I’m so thrilled!” Sarish said.

“It was just meant to be,” she reveals. “Noor Uncle and my family go way back. He recently discovered that I am entering the world of entertainment and we were both excited at the thought of working together. After reading the story I was immediately on board.”

Shahroz has been itching to work with Syed Noor for a long time too.

“Noor sahab and me have been talking for five years. I was very adamant that I want to do a film with Syed Noor sahab because he’s a perfect filmmaker. I read like two or three scripts but they didn’t click with me, and no other film director was working on a script that I’d feel invested in. With my family background, we’ve been watching films being made for so long, and I mean good films, and in that, Noor sahab has a good history. I got a call from him and he said ‘Shahroz, I think I’ve finally written something that’s perfect for you,’ and I instantly said yes. I have blind faith in him.”

Still, Shahroz is a tad nervous about the film.

He says, “We’re starting shooting from next week. I know that expectations are very high, because it’s a Syed Noor film and after a long time there’s a romantic film in the making, that too with new people, so yeah, that is a little scary for me. But we’re in safe hands.”

Sarish chips in, “I’m overjoyed that he chose me out of everyone to be his heroine. And I sure will put in every effort to exceed his expectations. Ab toh sahi mai Chein Aey Na!”

The film is likely to come out on Eid next year.

‘Federal, provincial govts exert tight control over expenditure’

ISLAMABAD: The federal and provincial governments continued to exert tight control over recurring expenditures and slowly utilised development funds to contain the country’s consolidated fiscal deficit at 4.6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) last year.

This was reported to parliament jointly by the five governments – federal and four provinces – under article 9(3) of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award of 2009.

The federal and provincial governments said they generally followed the policy of austerity to limit fiscal deficit to 4.6pc of GDP, although the budgeted target of 4.5pc was missed by a small margin.

Based on a similar policy, the Centre and the provinces would limit fiscal deficit to 3.8pc of GDP this fiscal year.


‘Prudent spending and austerity measures help contain fiscal deficit at 4.6pc of GDP’


The federal government said it restricted current and development expenditure (net after austerity) at the level of 20pc of budget allocation for first and second quarters and at the level of 30pc each for third and fourth quarters respectively of 2015-16, except that releases on account of salaries and pension were made at 25pc of budget estimates for each quarter.

The revenue collection and expenditure were monitored on a monthly basis, said the federal government, adding that it also monitored revenues and expenditures of the provincial governments on monthly basis.

The finance ministry said the federal government also kept a complete ban on purchase of all types of vehicles from both current as well as development budget except operational vehicles of the law enforcing agencies. Likewise, the creation of new posts was banned except those required for development projects and approved by the competent authority while no re-appropriations were made from heads of budget relating to employees related expenditure and utilities allocation.

The Punjab government said it followed “strict austerity measures to reduce expenditure on purchase of durable goods”. All such purchases were subject to clearance by a high-level austerity committee led by the provincial finance minister.

Also, Punjab is focusing on improvement of agriculture income tax through assistance of the World Bank and is in the process of automation of stamp papers (e-stamping) to revamp stamp duty collection.

The provincial government said it had established four commissionerates of the Punjab Revenue Authority (PRA) at Multan, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi and a camp office at Murree to enhance sales tax collection on services. Also, it had launched restaurant invoice monitoring scheme linked with a lottery scheme to encourage customers to demand sales tax invoices.

The Sindh government said it had contained its budget deficit through effective and efficient financial management, leading to declining trend and improves cash balance position and was now monitoring on daily basis its cash balance with the State Bank of Pakistan.

The KP government reported putting in place a release policy for current and development expenditure and was able to keep cash balance in its Account No. 1 for more than six months.

The Balochistan government said it was monitoring its cash balance with SBP on a daily basis to ensure that the cash position remained within limit. Also, it had also maintained the revenue surplus under a decision of the Council of Common Interest and was now working with the World Bank for reviewing overall provincial tax governance mechanism and had undertaken public financial management project financed by the European Union to review the financial management system.

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance Ishaq Dar reviewed half-yearly economic performance on Monday and noted GDP growth on upward trajectory and steady inflation below 4pc in December 2016 and in first six months of the current fiscal year, reflecting continued price stability.

The minister said 7pc growth posted by the FBR in first six months ended in December 2016, reflected catching up of the shortfall experienced in the initial months, largely on account of giving relief to consumers on petroleum prices together with sales tax refunds of Rs45 billions.

On the expenditure side, the performance was on track as expenditure was allowed in a prudent manner in accordance with budget, and keeping in view the revenue growth. He said economic activities were picking up, investments were taking place, particularly in CPEC-related projects which would further accelerate after the recent understanding with Chinese authorities to further expand the scope of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor by including water security, Karachi Circular Railway, mass transit programme for Balochistan, projects for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and rehabilitation of Railways-related project.

Hurry-up Warner delivers in record fashion

David Warner’s contribution to Australia’s first innings in the third test against Pakistan on Tuesday lasted just two hours and 21 minutes but that was more than sufficient time for the opener to do something no batsman had for 40 years.

The 30-year-old’s ability to score runs quickly is well documented but no Australian since Donald Bradman in 1930, and no batsman since Pakistan’s Majid Khan in 1976, had managed to construct a century in the first session of a test.

In 78 balls and with 17 fours, Warner stamped his authority on a dead rubber match and further disheartened a touring team still reeling from a batting collapse in Melbourne that cost them the second test and the series.

There was no rashness to the innings, however, none of the wild lashes at the ball that have cost him his wicket throughout his career and once led some to question his suitability to play the longest form of the game.

The vicious cuts and crisp drives were from the textbook and he reached the milestone courtesy of three runs to backward point with the help of a misfield.

Warner said he was unaware that he was about to join Victor Trumper, Charles Macartney, Bradman and Majid as only the fifth batsman to notch up a ton so early in a test.

On the previous delivery, another misfield had offered a third run but, with lunch just five balls away, he waved away batting partner Matt Renshaw to retain the strike on 97.

“It wasn’t nerve-racking. I told the youngster with a couple of minutes to go that we just needed to knuckle down and get through to lunch and be patient,” Warner said.

“But obviously as a batsman when the adrenaline is pumping and you know it’s (a century) just around the corner you are probably going to have a dib.

“It’s an honour and privilege to be amongst the greats of the game. It wasn’t something in the back of my mind to go out and score a 100 in a session. It was about going out there with intent and batting positive.”

Warner’s century was his second in consecutive tests after a 144 in Melbourne last week, when he broke a drought going back to last January against West Indies at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

That Sydney century had taken him 82 balls, a ground record that fell to his quickfire innings on Tuesday. “Hopefully, I can keep continuing that great start and positive approach,” Warner added.

“We have a few tests in India and then we have the Ashes at home. I’m looking forward to that challenge and I’m just going to keep riding that wave of form.”

Elder Statesman

Now an elder statesman of the side, Warner was also delighted at the form of his opening partner Matt Renshaw, who he described as looking like “a million dollars” in the middle.

Renshaw came into the side after Australia lost the first two tests against South Africa in November.

The 20-year-old’s approach to opening is the chalk to Warner’s cheese and it took him 123 more balls to secure his maiden test century in the final session.

Despite some criticism of his strike rate from former players, Renshaw’s approach to his batting suits Warner just fine.

“He copped a bit of flak for one of his shots in Melbourne and I think he made a comment about trying to keep up with me,” Warner said.

“I think a lot of the guys told him just to play his own game.”

North Korea’s claim on ICBM test plausible: experts

SEOUL: North Korea has been working through 2016 on developing components for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), making the isolated nation’s claim that it was close to a test-launch plausible, international weapons experts said on Monday.

North Korea has been testing rocket engines and heat-shields for an ICBM while developing the technology to guide a missile after re-entry into the atmosphere following a lift-off, the experts said.

While Pyongyang is close to a test, it is likely to take some years to perfect the weapon.

Once fully developed, a North Korean ICBM could threaten the continental United States, which is around 9,000 km from the North. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 km, but some are designed to travel 10,000 km or further.

North Korea’s state media regularly threatens the United States with a nuclear strike, but before 2016 Pyongyang had been assumed to be a long way from being capable of doing so.

“The bottom line is Pyongyang is much further along in their missile development than most people realise,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the US-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.

She said the North’s test in April of a large liquid-fuel engine that could propel an ICBM was a major development. “The liquid engine test was astounding,” Hanham said.

“For years, we knew that North Korea had a Soviet R-27 missile engine design. They re-engineered the design of that engine to double its propulsion”.

North Korea has said it is capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile but it claims to be able to miniaturise a nuclear device have never been independently verified.

The isolated nation has achieved this progress despite UN Security Council imposed sanctions for its nuclear tests and long-range rocket launches dating back to 2006. The sanctions ban arms trade and money flows that can fund the country’s arms programme.

North Korea has enough uranium for six bombs a year and much of what it needs for its nuclear and missile programmes relies on Soviet-era design and technology. Labour is virtually free.

It can produce much of its missile parts domestically and invested heavily in its missile development infrastructure last year, funded by small arms sales and by taxing wealthy traders in its unofficial market economy.

Throughout the year, North Korean state media showed images of numerous missile component tests, some of which revealed close-up details of engines and heat shields designed to protect a rocket upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

The propaganda offensive may have revealed some military secrets, but it may have also been a bid to silence outside analysts, many of whom had remained sceptical of the North’s missile programme.