The North Remembers: A Message To Pakistani Domestic Tourists

The North Remembers: A Message To Pakistani Domestic Tourists
With the increasing heat, and an increasing population in the cities, many people wish to spend a few days away from the commotion, heatwaves, daily stress and dirt of Pakistani cities. Obviously, for them northern Pakistan becomes the destination. And so, the ones who can afford the journey and a few nights of stay tend to visit the various touristic places in north Pakistan. Among these places, some cost less because of lesser travel by road. It is also interesting to note that several of the elite Pakistanis go to Europe or North America to spend their summer while the lower strata of our society make it to any of the touristic spots in North Pakistan. By North Pakistan here it is meant upper Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan. In other words, the valleys in the Hindu Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges.

While non-locals visit these famous tourist destinations, many of the locals make it to the highland pastures, lakes, passes and meadows. Pastures and meadows which would have been visited by the shepherds and herders just a few years back are now frequently visited by many people from the lower valleys.

The government and army have also been holding some kind of ‘festivals’ in some well-known spots in the north. Recently they have held the ShandurFestival. Such smaller scale festivals have also been held in Kalam, Kumrat, MalamJabba, Madakhlast, Kaklasht et al.

A few of the tourists and locals can venture to hike across passes to various districts and provinces. In Gilgit-Baltistan, trekking, hiking and summiting high peaks is a great sport whereas in areas like Swat, Chitral, Dir, and to a lesser extent in Kohistan, trekking and hiking is not that common – and yet many people usually trek to areas above the alpine lines and to the pasturelands to see the lakes, pastures, glaciers and small peaks.

A number of issues have been noticed with this increased influx of road tourists, trekkers and hikers. Perhaps the major issue is destroying the environment. 15 years back, Mahudand in Kalam, Swat used to be very pristine. The same was the case with Kumrat valley in upper Dir. And the same is true for Shandur on the border of Chitral and Ghizer. With the increased flow of tourists and, of course, with the festivals, these places have now literally been turned into large dustbins. MahudandLake presents a sad picture. The same is true for the white foamy water of the streams and forests in Kumrat. Shandur is full of trash now as well.
Worse yet, many of these domestic tourists do activities in certain public places which make the lives of local women difficult

Chugail pasture in the lap of the Koshojan peak up in the Mankiyal valley in Bahrain, Swat used to be the cleanest meadow a few years back. This meadow has more than 100 huts of herders. They have a local code which does not allow any herder to go to the pasture with their cattle until a certain time in summer, the end of June. When this ban is lifted, all the herders go there with their herds and flocks. When Chukail was presented to the internet users a few years back, people rushed to this piece of paradise. And now it is also filled with trash.

The famous deodar forests between Kalam town and Ushu is visited by all and sundry. And now this forest makes me sick because it is full of trash spread everywhere.

In 2015 when we first visited Kumrat, there were a couple of tent hotels – very clean and safe. After that, we visited it almost every year and many clumsy constructions were erected, and the forests got full of trash. One can see the same at Badgoi top and the so-called Dasht-i-Laila nearby.

During Eid holidays, the road from Mingora to Mahudand via Madyan, Bahrain and Kalam is virtually made a trash line. In fact, piles of trash are spread on both of its sides. The Swat River is getting more and more rubbish every year.

Moreover, many domestic tourists come to these areas with a specific mindset. While living in the cities, these people have developed a certain kind of superiority syndrome even though we all know the general conditions of our big cities, which usually stand first in the pollution race, besides the burgeoning levels of street and other crime. Still, cities are considered ‘civilised’ whereas people living in Hunza and Phasu are regarded otherwise. These tourists come to the mountains but have some stereotypical thinking about the people living in these mountains.

During the peak days of tourism in Swat and in Hunza, we often see tourists and locals fighting. While going about Hunza and Kalashdesh, these tourists have their own mindset, which tells them that these people are very open, infidels, producers of wine and rum with no norms and values. And for the mountain people of Swat and Dir, the domestic tourists of Pakistan have the notion that these people are savages and uncivilised. Such stupid kinds of tourists, and we have many, make strange demands in the Kalashdesh and Hunza, which obviously irritate the locals – and when the latter resist, the tourists shout at them, demeaning their whole tribes. This results in fighting, wherein the tourists get bitter lessons for insulting the whole population.

The same is done with other mountain people. Tourists create some issue with a single local but abuse the whole population and resultantly get a dose.

Worse yet, many of these domestic tourists do activities in certain public places which make the lives of local women difficult. These tourists often enter houses in the Kalash valleys without any prior consent of the households and make issues for the women. Many people who visit Swat and Dir usually do not care about the sanctity of a house while having fun in front of these houses or bathing in the streams and rivers there. Trekkers usually go to the pasturelands, for example, to Chukail, after the annual ban is lifted and the huts there are inhabited by families. The women there have to bring water or care for the younglings of their cattle outside the houses and the presence of tourists makes trouble for them.

Finally, there must be a few tourists who actually want to learn about the different languages and cultures in these areas. Many vloggers from the cities come and do vlogs without any knowledge about the local people, their languages and cultures. A number of vloggers behave exactly like the old colonisers and present distorted facts about these people and languages.

Some of our good friends in Pakistan and abroad usually get uneasy when we post an image of a pasture or lake. They ask us to keep these places hidden from the “trashers”—they call these domestic tourists “trashers.”

We can only appeal. And this appeal can go to very few. The larger herd of tourists—the trashers and teasers—will still behave the same, whatever we call for.

We would love everybody to visit us in the mountains, but with the little piece of advice:

Leave nothing here except your footprints,

And take nothing from here except photographs and fond memories!