The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government recently announced the transfer of 15 resthouses belonging to 13 provincial departments in Galiyat, Abbottabad district to the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the first phase under its commercialisation policy.
Soon afterwards, 11 out of the said 15 residences were handed over to the Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) to be put up for commercial use by the general public. Chief Secretary, Amjad Ali Khan became the first government official to handover the famous Retreat House in Nathiagali to the TCKP. The luxurious rest house had been in use of the chief secretaries of the province since long.
The second building voluntarily offered to the TCKP was the well-known Raees Khana, also in Nathiagali. It was handed over by the Secretary, Communication and Works Department in a ceremony on October 17, attended by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman, Imran Khan.
Speaking at the ceremony, Imran Khan said that the decision taken by the provincial government may seem insignificant, but in reality the philosophy behind it will pave the way for making a ‘new Pakistan’ through generation of taxes. “Rs20 million per year were spent on these rest houses from the provincial exchequer. Now these rest houses will generate money,” he declared on the occasion.
The properties notified for transfer in the first phase include the Retreat House, Karnak House, Police Rest House, Vendiya Cottage, Pine Rest House, Additional Cottage and Forest Cottage all sited in Nathiagali, Forest Rest House in Thandiani, Forest Rest House in Dungagali, Forest Rest House in Barian, TCKP Rest House in Thandiani, European Cottages number 1, 29 and 30, and the Inspection Bungalow in Murree.
Essa Khan, Tourism Officer Establishment and Property told The News on Sunday (TNS) that the TCKP took charge of the resthouses in July and 10 bungalows became operational on July 25. “The bungalows have already generated more than Rs 4 million since being opened up for public use after Eid-ul-Fitr,” he says.
According to Essa Khan, three resthouses were still not ready for commercial use as the TCKP was busy in renovation work. “The Forest Rest House in Barian on the border of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab has an access issue as the road is not in a good shape. The Forest Rest House in Thandiani needs renovation. These will be ready for commercial use next season,” he adds.
The transfer of four much-valued properties that is the Police House, Karnak House, Blue Pine Cottage and Shimla House is still in process.
The six-bedroom Police Rest House and the eight-bedroom Karnak House (both located in Nathiagali), are still in the possession of the Police department and the Governor’s office, respectively, as they have reservations about giving these fine properties to the tourism department.
The Police Rest House is an impressive structure built on 16 kanal of land at a prime location in Nathiagali. Built before independence of Pakistan, the rest house has three deluxe rooms and three double bedrooms used as an office. It was initially called Rockingham House. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, it became the IGP House and later it was renamed as Police Rest House.
The resthouse was used by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) along with other high-ranking police officials of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, other provinces and the federal police.
According to Essa Khan, the police department filed a case in the session courts in Abbottabad to keep the possession of the Police Rest House. “The initial decision has gone in favour of TCKP as the judge ruled that the resthouse should go to the tourism department as per the orders of the chief executive of the province,” he says.
According to a well informed source in Nathiagali, the police department does not wish to let go of the resthouse mainly due to the expenses it bore on the construction and maintenance of the property. “The land in Nathiagali is very expensive. One marla of land can cost up to Rs2 million. The construction cost of the posh building of the resthouse was also very high. It is a luxurious property with a three-bed cottage reserved for the use of the Inspector General of Police,” a source says on condition of anonymity.
“Also, the police want to keep it with them as it is used for security purposes during VVIP movements to the Nathiagali hill station. Recently, the Police department displayed a signboard outside the resthouse. It reads office of the Deputy Superintendent of Police Nathiagali. Previously, the DSP had no proper office in Nathiagali,” the source adds.
The Karnak House is owned by the Governor’s office, which has been arguing that it cannot be handed over to the TCKP as it belonged to the federal government.
Whatever the outcome of the issue of possession of these two well-appointed rest houses, it is the first time that expensive government resthouses are now available to the general public for use. Until now these were for the exclusive use of the VVIPs and the expenses were being borne by the government.
The TCKP hopes to get another 13 resthouses in the second phase of the transfer. These include seven resthouses in Nathiagali including the Speaker House, Fan House, C&W House, Inspection Bungalow, Blue Pine Cottage, Shimla House and Dak Bungalow. The remaining six resthouses are the C&W Rest House in Changlagali, C&W Rest House in Thandiani, Dugree Inspection Hut, Birangali Forest Rest House, Changlagali Rest House and GDA Rest House in Khanaspur.
It is believed that the other government resthouses in Hazara division including those at Kaghan and Naran and those in Malakand division such as the ones in Miandam and Kalam in Swat and some in Chitral would also be handed over to the TCKP in the third phase of the commercialisation process.
Meanwhile, the TCKP is keen to get the best out of the newly acquired properties. It intends to setup an independent authority that would manage these resthouses.
TCKP’s Essa Khan says the corporation has launched a web portal for managing the resthouses and enabling the public to make bookings. “It will be used for online bookings. Anyone can book a room and pay online from anywhere in the world. One can book a luxury room at the Retreat House for the competitive rate of Rs8,000 per night during summer. We have special offers for winter and off season booking,” he explains.
“The website will also provide tour guides. Details about every resthouse and its history in text and photographs can be viewed online. Information about nearby scenic places and tourist attractions will also be put up on the website,” Essa Khan informs.
He added that TCKP is also in talks with a mobile service provider to establish a way of accepting money for reservations of rooms at any rest house.