Connecting Islamabad to Northern Areas
14 November 2006
The Daily Times
Islamabad: The Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO) plans to launch a VIP Express Bus Service this month connecting Islamabad to five destinations, including Gilgit and Skardu. Syed Sharfuddin Kazmi, NATCOs Islamabad manager, told Daily Times on Tuesday that a fleet of 10 coasters had been procured for almost Rs 40 million and the non-stop service would ply from Islamabad to Chilas, Ghizer and Astore. The service is likely to start in next 10 days and will facilitate not only foreign tourists but those air-travellers whose flights are cancelled because of the bad weather, he said. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights to Gilgit and Skardu are often cancelled causing great inconvenience to passengers. The problems were compounded further after the airlines grounded its Fokker planes replacing them with C130s on these routes some months ago. NATCO has specifically scheduled its departures to Gilgit and Skardu at 8am so that such passengers could come straight to the bus stand from the airport and head for their destinations. It will help people avoid wasting time in case their flight is cancelled again the next day, Kazmi said. The new service will also help cut down the travel time to Gilgit from the current 16 hours to 13. The buses will make only three specified stops. We have hired educated staff to man these vehicles and I assure you that all of them will be well mannered, said Kazmi who added that a new counter and a passenger lounge had also been set up at the NATCO station, located close to the Pirwidhai Bus Stand. The NATCOs air-conditioned non-stop buses already operate from Islamabad to Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu, Astore, Karachi and Chilas, a destination that was added to its network only this month. But the coasters will be a welcome addition after an earlier fleet of six given to the corporation by late Gen Ziaul Haq years ago came to a halt. Kazmi said that among its existing fleet, 15 buses and 10 coasters were new while other old ones were gradually being replaced. The tariff for the new VIP Express Service has been fixed with those travelling to Skardu having to pay Rs 1200 one-way while the fare for Ghizer will be Rs 1100. A trip to Astore and Gilgit will cost Rs 1000 with the ticket to Chilas being Rs 800. Kazmi outlined plans for starting a service to Peshawar and Lahore besides adding more vehicles on the Karachi sector. We are focusing on Karachi because a lot of people of the Northern Areas live there, he said. The NATCO recently began a service connecting Karachi and Kashgar. We are extending our network especially to the Northern Areas to do our bit for tourism, Kazmi said.