Kumrat has recently become known to many people in Pakistan and abroad after a helicopter visit by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan in May this year. A large crowd of locals had gathered on hearing the news of his arrival.
“You have to save these forests and I will make a system to ensure protection of your future. We will construct a new road and promote tourism so that you will all make your livelihoods from it,” Imran Khan told the crowd.
Since Imran Khan’s visit, thousands of tourists from all parts of Pakistan, especially Punjab have visited Kumrat. The tourists find it a must to visit a waterfall now commonly referred to as “Imran Khan Abshaar” because the PTI chief visited it.
The Kumrat valley, located 8,100 feet above sea level in the Dir-Kohistan region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is one of the most scenic yet least explored alpine valleys in Pakistan.
It offers hilly landscape, green meadows, streams, snow-covered mountains and, more importantly, thick pine forests and the welcoming local Kohistani people to vacationers interested in finding peace away from the noisy and crowded city life.
The valley can be accessed by a frequented but un-metalled road from Lower Dir district in the south, and a virtually unknown jeepable trek between Thal, a town near Kumrat, and Swat’s Utror and Kalam in the east. Chitral district lies to the north-west of Kumrat.
Most of the tourists flocking to the valley use the road from Upper Dir. Though construction work on the approximately 78-km-long road from N45 Dir-Chitral road has been ongoing for the past six years, it is in a dilapidated condition. Drivers with exceptional skills, such as Gul Wali Khan, are tested on this road. He takes passengers in his 4×4 Land Cruiser to and from Kumrat to Upper Dir twice a day.
It took Gul Wali nearly six hours to reach Kumrat with a 15 minutes stop midway at Sheringal on my recent visit there. From Sheringal onwards, the patches of the newly constructed road provided a relief from the bone-crushing journey on the broken road.
“It’s not a risky road to drive. The turns and the heights aren’t scary but it breaks the bones of the passengers, particularly those sitting in the back seats,” Gul Wali remarked.
Amazingly, two things are unique about the people of Kumrat. “You pay full fare if you get onboard a vehicle from the bus stop. However, you don’t pay a single rupee if you get on a vehicle on your way to any village in this part of the world,” Gul Wali explained as he regaled his passengers with local stories.
The other quality of the locals is that they love to host guests known or unknown to them. “Everyone you see will ask you for food or tea even if it’s an odd time. They also offer a free night stay to any guest,” he adds.
Apples, pears, walnuts and persimmon are common in Kumrat. Villagers and even small kids, while walking on the narrow track besides lush green fields of cauliflower and potato, offered me free juicy apples and pears.
“In August a person from Punjab suffered severe head injury after being hit by a wood plank while taking bath under the Imran Khan Abshaar. It is just one of the countless waterfalls in Kumrat but people love it because Imran Khan visited it,” said Abdul Sher, who owns a tented hotel just a few hundred meters away from the waterfall.
Abdul Sher had a fantastic summer as his hotel operated at its full capacity. “All my tents were occupied by families and boys coming here in groups. A tent with capacity for nine persons was rented out at Rs5,000 per night,” he added.
The exact figure of tourists who visited Kumrat this summer is not known. However, estimates by local police and hoteliers showed that more than 20,000 persons visited the area between June and September 2016. Local hoteliers expect the number to rise manifold in the coming years, especially when construction work on the new road is completed.
“In 10 years we will be competing with Kalam and Naran in terms of tourist influx. Kumrat will offer more tourist attractions than most tourist locations of Pakistan,” Abdul Sher added.
Tourists get to see scenic places like Patrak, Kalkot, Lamutai, Seri and Thal on their way to Kumrat. Other tourist spots that attract visitors in Kumrat are Jahaz Banda, Kundal Lake and Shahzor Lake.
Muhammad Suleman had come to Kumrat with friends from Quetta and dared the four hour uphill trek to reach Kundal Lake. “Getting to the lake was very challenging but you get to see unmatched natural beauty once you are there. If this place is developed and a road is built to Kundal, I bet it will attract more tourists than Saif-ul-Malook Lake in Naran,” an excited Suleman exclaimed.
One of the most important reasons for the natural beauty of Kumrat is its thick deodar forests. The total forested area is estimated to be between 50 to 60 kilometres and it is considered as one of the finest wood in the country. Cheer, pine, kail, fir spruce, oak, walnut and chilghoza are the other species of trees found in abundance. Locals claim that the forests have deodar trees that are 400 years old. However the average age of the trees in Kumrat is said to be more than 200.
The forests and snow-clad mountains are also home to a variety of wildlife, including snow leopards, markhor, ibex, musk deer, brown bears, monkeys, Monal pheasants and jackals.
“A deodar tree reaches its adult age in at least 60 years when its thickness is less than three feet. Imagine a tree with a trunk so thick that eight persons could offer prayers on it together. That is more than 10 feet in diameter. We have one such trunk in a forest near Thal,” a local community leader Bawar Khan claimed.
However, the locals are concerned about Imran Khan’s announcement of making Kumrat a national park. “These forests are our property since ages. We have been protecting these trees all our lives. But our demand for 80 per cent royalty on the sale of timber like rest of Malakand division has not been met,” Tajbar Khan, Tehsil Nazim Kalkot argued.
“All 10 major tribes of Kohistan have rejected the Forest Ordinance 2002. The government has unlawfully snatched nearly 70 per cent of our forests and meadows and now the remaining 30 per cent will also be lost to the proposed national park,” added Haji Gul Sher, President of the Tahaffuz-e-Kohistan Committee.
The committee of jirga elders complained that the ban imposed by the authorities on the cutting of forests had made it difficult for locals to even bring firewood for their household use. “Life is very difficult in Kumrat in winters as snow restricts everyday life to the minimum. We need stock of firewood for six months but it is hard to get the wood from forests,” Gul Sher said.
Despite the ban on cutting of precious trees that cover large areas of forests in Kumrat, many people are illegally cutting trees. These people have the backing of influential political figures of the area as well as the timber mafia.
The wood choppers don’t utilise the countless number of trees that have fallen due to strong winds or the river water that often leave the mighty trees weak by cutting soil and exposing roots.
“The authorities do not allow people to utilise the fallen trees. Such trees are getting wasted as time, rains and heavy snow in the winters make these unusable,” said a local villager Kameen Gul.