Come summer and the buzz about travelling to the country’s North starts. North here is a hyperbolic description for everything from Murree to Kaghan to Swat to Gilgit Baltistan to Azad Kashmir and a lot else.
In the last few years, the number of local tourists who venture up North has multiplied manifold and the media can’t stop boasting about this. Yet the true potential of these unique wondrous charms remains unrealised and unexplored. Foreign tourist, the real backbone that adds real financial value to the sector, is crucially missing from the scene.
Tourism as an industry has been an unfulfilled dream for a variety of reasons.
Clearly, there are reasons which seem beyond control, like the image of Pakistan abroad as a country, with huge law and order issues and a security nightmare for a foreign tourist. As the foreigners pay heed to the travel advisories issued by their own countries, there is nothing much being done from our side to counter it at the diplomatic level and sell the raw beauty of these mountains, rivers and valleys.
There is no dearth of policy papers on Pakistan’s tourism potential and problems. But there is very little on ground to match it with. To start with, there is a difficult visa regime which is now compounded with a requirement of prior application for No Objection Certificates from the government, in both AJK and Gilgit Baltistan (GB).
To be fair, there is a steady traffic of trekkers and mountaineers from abroad to GB that has some of the world’s tallest mountains and large glaciers. Nor should one underestimate the number of local tourists to the Northern areas. They are helping the local economies and state of tourism in general.
So, obviously, the foremost concern is provision of the right infrastructure.
Read also: A tour guide to the North
Beyond infrastructure, what is needed is an appreciation of the history and culture that informs these places. An understanding along these lines, and not just seeking the raw physical beauty of a place or its cool clime, will automatically lead to eco-friendly tourism.
The real gems, the pristine spots, lie much behind the main roads and towns. A break from urban connected lives must entail going beyond all this, breathing in the silence and exploring one’s adventurous side. The promise lies Northwards.