As the weather turns pleasant, tourists flock to Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) after a harsh winter this year. The rising mercury coupled with extended hours of loadshedding compels families to break away from the humdrum of routine and breathe afresh in the hilly areas.
“We are very happy to be here and Skardu is next up, on our list,” said Sultan, a teenager visiting Gilgit with his family this week.
The deteriorating condition of Karakoram Highway (KKH) connecting G-B with rest of country and the cloudy weather have been the major irritants, resulting in comparatively lesser inflow of tourists. Bad weather has caused suspension of PIA flights to Gilgit this month, leaving a number of passengers stranded at airports.
At times, landslides on the KKH cause suspension of traffic for days, forcing passengers to call off their journey.
However, the impediment seemed to have less affected the second main town of Skardu in Baltistan. The major tourist spots in Baltistan, including Sadpara Lake, Shigar and Deosai the highest plateau, have reportedly had a generous turnover of tourists and families, enjoying the fresh and icy water, melting from the glaciers.
“This year, we decided to go to Skardu at all costs,” said Abdul Karim, a resident of Jhelum, travelling back from Skardu along with his friends.
“We really wanted some time off in a serene environment, having grown sick of prolonged power outages amid scorching heat in our town,” he said.
Despite violence and terrorism threats in the country, the tourism has not been affected thus far, said Yaqoob, a transporter from Gilgit. “We could expect the worst of it for reasons of social and political unrest in the country, but its not so bad yet,” he added.
Officials in G-B’s tourism department are optimistic that the inflow of domestic tourists to the area will be higher this year, as they have put in sufficient efforts to attract them.
“We participated in a number of exhibitions held in other cities and put up stalls of our cultural traditions to have them introduced there,” the Tourism and Youth Affairs Deputy Director, Yasir Hussain told the Express Tribune. He added the feedback they received was encouraging as a number of families have expressed interest in visiting the region this year.
He further said, about 9,000 foreign tourists visited G-B in 2010. “Of them there were nearly 134 trekking and 48 expedition groups,” he explained, adding that one trekking party consisted of 7-10 members and almost the same number of members in an expedition group.
Hussain said that the trekking parties trek below 6,500 metres altitude mountains, while the expedition teams try to scale mountains like K2, the second highest peak in the world, Broad Peak, Gasharbrum and many more in Baltistan, Nanga Parbat in Diamer and Rakaposhi in Nagar.
A total of 65,000 domestic tourists visited G-B in 2010 but his department does not have statistics of how many tourists had travelled to his region.
“I have no idea of how many tourists might have come to this region, so far this year. We receive the figures by the end of the year,” he added. Moreover, the official said they did not have statistics of how much revenue the country earned last year from tourism, adding it was the subject of Ministry of Tourism at federal level.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2011.
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