REALISING the significance of tourism as a means of generating foreign exchange, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying to promote it in Pakistan. Tourism has contributed significantly to accelerate economic growth in some other countries. Besides being a source of earning foreign exchange, tourism helps the host country to promote its culture and values. With the number of tourists rising recently, Pakistan must try to harness its economic potential and avail the opportunity to project its image as a moderate Muslim nation, infused with Islamic values of religious tolerance and respect for the followers of other faiths, by adopting the strategies that have helped other countries to attract tourists.
Despite its moderate size, Pakistan is gifted with unique geographical features and climatic conditions. The country is bounded by the Arabian Sea in the south and the Hindu Kush and Himalaya mountain ranges in the north. While the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan are draped in the fascinating beauty of sea beeches and vast deserts, the landscapes of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Kashmir and Northern Areas are decked with the lush green plains, plateaus, valleys, snow clad mountains, unscaled mountain peaks, network of rivers, awe-inspiring waterfalls and lakes. The Karakorum Highway, constructed jointly by the engineers and workers of China and Pakistan to link both the countries through the most challenging route that was carved through the killer mountain ranges, is considered an engineering wonder of the modern times. In addition to its natural beauty, Pakistan is the proud custodian of the archaeological sites and historical places. The ruins of the world’s oldest Indus Valley and Gandhra Civilizations at Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Taxila, and historical places such as Makli, the largest necropolis located near Karachi, Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque, Jehangir’s Tomb and Shalimar Garden, in Lahore, are the rare jewels of the past, preserved for the posterity and tourists having interest in history and architectural splendor. In May 1978, after taking MA English final examination, when I was waiting for my result, I was offered to accompany a French linguist to the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Being very fond of aimless wandering, and not having seen these areas, I decided to grab the opportunity, which had so many intriguing prospects for me. Living with a totally unknown foreigner, in equally unfamiliar areas, and other such unforeseen eventualities, were some of the incentives that motivated me not to entertain any apprehensions.
On the next available opportunity, I met the French linguist who had desired to take me to the places, which may not be known to the majority of Pakistanis even today. He was staying at the erstwhile Mrs. Davis’ Motel, Rawalpindi. Our first meeting was as extraordinary as our subsequent stay together proved to be. His name was Etienne Tiffou, a Frenchman who taught Latin at the Montréal University, Canada. It was his second visit to Pakistan. He was doing research on “Burushaski”, a language spoken in three of the valleys in the Northern Areas, namely; Yasin, Hunza and Nagar.
It was the month of May 1978, when I left for Gilgit by a PIA Fokker plane to join Tiffou, who had already left for Gilgit. On arrival at the PTDC Motel, I learned that he had left for Yasin after waiting for me for a few days. When intimation about my arrival was conveyed to Tiffou, it took him a couple of days to reach Gilgit, which afforded me an opportunity to explore one of the most beautiful towns in my own country. I also had a chance to interact with tourists and mountaineers from all over the world, who were staying in the same Motel. Tiffou reached Gilgit before I had started getting jittery.
Right from Islamabad to Yasin, it was simply breathtaking experience. Flying in a Fokker between the Nangaparbat and other snow clad mountains, staying at PTDC Motel in the company of adventure seeking tourists, travelling on a jeepable shingle track along the gushing tributary of Indus River, from Gilgit to Yasin, was no less than a journey into the undiscovered lands and times. After about a week, another French linguist, Charles Yves Morin, who taught Linguistics at the Montreal University, joined us. A little more than a month that followed the arrival of Morin in Pakistan remained filled with truly fruitful pursuits. Right from Yasin to Rawalpindi I enjoyed the company of tourists from different parts of the world. I virtually became their guide. I took them to the restaurants where they could find dishes and drinks of their choice, and to the cinema halls, which showed Pakistani classics, Punjabi and Pashto movies.
During my interaction with the tourists from all over the world, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they considered Pakistan one of the world’s preferred destinations for the tourists, because of its geographical beauty, cultural diversity, places of archaeological significance and friendly population. They were quite concerned about the radicalisation of Pakistani society that had been initiated since 1977 in the name of Islamization. They were also disappointed for not having the opportunity to witness local festivals, cultural programmes and sports events during their stay in Pakistan.
In addition to its economic dividends, tourism can help us reintroduce Pakistan to the world as a peace-loving and forward-looking Muslim nation. However, this objective cannot be achieved unless realistic and practicable strategies, which have enabled other countries to promote tourism, are adopted. In addition to the recently launched liberal visa policy, security, upkeep of tourists’ sites, provision of hygienically safe accommodation and food to the tourists need to be accorded due attention. Hiring internationally reputed marketing agencies and event organisers to arrange food, fashion, cultural, music and sports galas, may help attract tourists from all over the world.
— The writer, a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.