Dying tourism in Pakistan presents itself as a tempting opportunity for businesses. Despite all the baleful poverty, the bloody terrorism, the sad literacy rate and the crippled economy, ours is a country so blessed with sights, both natural and man-made, that if you could ask all 190 million residents for their favourites and expect different answers, you surely won’t be disappointed with the tourism of a country that has received the title “the next big thing” from Lonely Planet magazine. Pakistan is home to some of the world’s most beautiful places. To add to this, man himself has created so much in the name of recreation that you never fall short of the places you love or would visit, giving you the perfect excuse to escape from the drab, mind-numbing monotony of our quotidian routines. Following is an account of the places that I’ve been to, places that I’ve loved and places that will always be on top of my list:-
1. Fairy Meadows, very appositely referred to as Heaven on Earth, lies at the base camp of Nanga Parbat a.k.a. Killer mountain (ninth highest peak in the world and second highest in Pakistan) of the Himalayan family. This marvel of nature provides an ultimate experience of the breath-taking exotic beauty of Northern Pakistan. The not uncommon hoteling and dining and the lush green alpine pastures, amidst a pine forest, are spectacular and attractive. The high altitude of 3,306m takes you to the top of the world – literally! Fairy Meadows attracts all sorts of people from all over the world; climbers, trekkers, photographers, backpackers, geologists as well as those who come here merely to fancy nature in its most virgin avatar. This is incontestably one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth, offering even polo aloft, amidst deadly peaks and untouched glaciers, thick meadow grass and a very rich biodiversity, unarguably making it the place to go!
2. 540km from Fairy Meadows lies Karakoram highway, connecting China’s Xinjiang to Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and is possibly the best man-made addition to nature’s marvels, being the highest paved road in the world. This is not only another lock into the friendly ties between the two allies but is also proudly the highest paved international road in the world. This highway takes you between China and Pakistan, passing through the deadly Karakoram range, the Khunjerab pass, the beatific peaks that get snow-capped as you go higher and higher, glaciers, the twisting rivers, scenic lakes and the rock art and impressive petroglyphs make your journey down the road a lifetime experience and make the road itself the ninth wonder of the world. You dare not blink your eyes for a single second! The highway is a perfect tourist attraction, inviting cyclists and mountaineers, trekkers and hikers. As this venturesome journey on the road meanders through the mountains, it also gives you a glimpse of the cultures and languages of the many different people living there, making it a must-travel to China by road! As an added advantage, the highway intersects the Europe-Asian and Indian plates being at a radius of 250km from China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
3. Other than being home to the emerald green River Swat, the beautiful Swat Valley also feeds many hidden lakes, adding to Swat’s beauty. These lakes, undiscovered from the eyes of the common people, require several hours of tiresome trekking to reach them. One of these, known commonly as Dhamaka Jheel is quite peculiar amongst the others, not just because of the whacky name but because the rushing water appears deadly with white fumes. Dhamaka Jheel is in Kalam, the largest town in Swat, with sky-high glacial peaks, horribly bad roads, thick forests, rich wildlife, famous Manji hotels (an irresistible tourist attraction) serving trout and chapli kabab and the Chashma-e-Shifa whose water is supposed to have healing powers. I’m not sure what that means but it does have clean, clear and freezing cold water! The wind there just never stops blowing! The Swat Valley is also famous for the high Himalayan peaks, lost into clouds, the Swat palace, the sparkling streams, numerous waterfalls of Bahrain and so many suspension bridges – the latter being the scary part of Swat Valley!
4. All must agree that this piece of writing is incomplete without mention of the smirch-less, unsurpassed beauty of Lake Saif ul Mulook, the 5th best place to be in Pakistan, according to The Guardian. This small body of water is located at the Northern end of the Kaghan Valley near Naran. This lake is known for the many colours it reflects at the same time. Added to this is being surrounded by many snow-capped peaks, making it purely enchanting. Once you set your eyes on it, you fall in love with it before you say Jack Robinson. There are more than a couple of stories associated to this lake. I found one of these rather interesting: natives tell that fairies come to dance on the water on full-moon nights. The crown prince of Persia fell in love with one of these fairies. This lake then became the rendezvous for the prince and the fairy. The story goes on but once you have seen the magic of this place, it is not very difficult to believe in the weirdest of folklore. This lake that fascinates fairies is amongst the world’s highest and most scenic lakes and a body of green crocheted into blue! The lake has attracted hotels only recently, after the 2005 devastation.
5. After the adventure through the snow-clad peaks, the indigo rivers, the flowery meadows and the slight waterfalls, let’s come back and make our lives a bit more happening. Next on list is the god of food, the utmost savoury, M. M. Alam Road of Gulberg, Lahore – the home to irresistible aromas and appetising cuisine! It is undoubtedly the perfect place to glut the insatiable appetites of Lahoris for food and festivity alike. This road is home to so many restaurants, each one better than the one in its neighbourhood. From the mouth-watering finger fish of Freddy’s to the unlimited coke at Hardees, from the delish Hyderabadi chicken at Dhaba to the fried batair at Village, from the creamy pasta at Tabaq to the black pepper chicken at Mirchi, from the dainty cakes at Masoom’s to the hi-teas and buffets.. it’s all so palatable, so tantalisingly scrumptious! The prices seem so trifling in comparison to the dancing taste buds and a churning stomach.
6. The very salty Khewra Mines are next. Located in the Jhelum district, the world’s second largest salt mines have attracted people from all parts of the world. Salt has been mined there since times immemorial. The salt is of many colours and the mine has many storeys. A tunnel has been made inside the mine for the tourists. One of the attractions inside the main hall is a beautiful mosque called the Badshahi Mosque made exquisite with the use of different coloured salt bricks and with lights illuminating them. Water ponds connected through bridges, reflector lights illuminating the interior walls of the mine, a souvenir shop, an electric train ride to give you the perfect tour makes the place all more irresistible. Sheesh Mahal, the Great Wall of China and Minar-e-Pakistan are the other beautiful additions but the best thing about Khewra mines is the mere acknowledgment of being inside a mountain!
Endless beautiful sights, matchless natural resources and rich biodiversity are threatened by forests being cleared and beautiful landscapes being marred off by pollution, alas! The northern areas are being stripped of their greenery. The growing level of tourism promotes carbon di oxide levels and garbage all around the virgin place. The tourism industry is an asset we posses that is needlessly being slaughtered. Furthermore, the 2008 World Economic forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked Pakistan as low as 21 places from the bottom out of 124 countries! After all we have! The government must realise that marketing a product and supplying it properly both go hand in hand. The security situation and declining commodities in Pakistan make it difficult for the country to be welcoming, despite being home to many blessings. This must be addressed, if such blessings are to be tapped before it is too late.
In the present scenario, when the other industries of the country are facing a rapid decline, tourism can serve as a potential industry and save us from this crisis. Radical steps need to be taken for the preservation of such hidden treasures, which is our responsibility and its promotion, our honour.