Tourism On The Decline In Northern Areas
29 May 2007
The News International
Islamabad: Tourism, once a lucrative business in the scenic Northern Areas, is no longer a viable option for skilful young people of the region who now prefer to seek associations with other businesses than to remain part of this ailing industry. A series of events since Pakistan went nuclear in 1998, till the sectarian crisis cropped up in Northern Areas a couple of years back, wreaked havoc on tourism in this region, which is known in the world for its breath-taking natural beauty and towering mountain ranges. An official of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) in Gilgit told this correspondent that the number of tourists - national as well as international - visited the region is far less this year than the year before. He, however, had no exact figures of how many tourists have visited the region this year. One of the reasons for small number of tourists, he said, was the deteriorating condition of Karakoram Highway (KKH). 'It's very difficult to travel on this route now,' he said referring to the KKH condition. He appreciated government's decision to launch new aircraft service to Gilgit. The service has started about five months back after the Fokker planes were grounded. With improvement in road networks all over the country, it was expected by many that the condition of KKH, the monument of Pakistan-China friendship, will also improve. However, to the dismay of tourists and tour operators, the plight of KKH deteriorated further. Though public transport has considerably improved over the years after public and private transport companies plied new buses on the KKH, yet the condition of this route is in a shambles as landslides on a number of places have torn it into pieces. The surveillance of Frontier Works Organization (FWO) on the KKH continues unabated since it took over charge of KKH affairs, but more efforts are needed to bring it at par with a respectable route elsewhere in the country. Carved artistically about 40 years back through solid and rugged rocks, the pleasant journey on KHH that took 12 hours previously is now covered in more than 15 hours in normal circumstances. Until recently, KKH offered a 12-hour pleasant drive from Islamabad to Gilgit. However, much to the dismay of tourists, it takes 14 to 16 hours now in normal circumstances from Islamabad to Gilgit. But if one comes across a landslide, he may have to wait for hours, and sometimes for days, before reaching his destination. Mohammad Akram, who was a tour operator in Gilgit said that he shifted his business after he found that things were getting hostile in Pakistan for tourism related professions. He said foreign tourists were reluctant to visit the country, hit by sectarianism and extremism. Another tour operator said he was partially doing his tourism related businesses and partially doing some other activities to earn a respectable livelihood. He said '2007, visit Pakistan year' is just a hollow slogan, as it has nothing to do with the real issues being confronted by many in the mountainous tourism friendly areas.