KARACHI: Rubail and her friends have been trying to plan a class trip outside Karachi but their options are limited.
“Our security-conscious teachers completely rejected the idea of the Northern Areas of Pakistan and the foreign tours were just too expensive for us school girls,” said the class X student. “The idea of going to Manghopir or to the sea for crabbing for half a day just dashed all our hopes,” she added.
Most schools in the city offer class trips to the graduating class and many students look forward to a holiday with their friends at least once in their school life. The problem is that parents are worried for their safety within Pakistan and students hardly have enough money to afford an international trip.
Students from Karachi feel particularly “alienated” since their counterparts in Islamabad and Lahore are able to travel to the Northern Areas with much more ease. The shrines and old architecture at Makli, Moenjodaro and other parts of Sindh “are just too boring and educational”, said Aayaan, an O’ Levels student. “No, we don’t want any more museums, historical sites or dry land. The idea of travel is relaxing in good weather with lots of lip-smacking food and fun.”
Aayaan said that while Karachi may be “a port city opening out to the rest of the world”, the options for “cheap and meaningful travel” for its residents are limited.
For their part, Karachi University, NED and other private institutions make an effort to arrange trips to the Northern Areas every summer for their students and offer an escape from the dry, hot weather.
But as a student of Iqra University, Ali put it, local tours have become very expensive and students can no longer afford them.
Ali’s class was planning to go to Skardu last year and the expenses were coming close to Rs25,000 per student. The security situation acted as the last blow and the trip was cancelled.
A tour operator, Travel and Culture Services, arranges hassle-free trips for student groups. Jamal Panwar, the owner, agreed that costs have increased over time but that they can go down if the number of people in the group is increased. Gwadar has also become a new famous spot for a short holiday since it is closer to Karachi and offers the beautiful sea, dry land scenery and water sports at the Pearl Continental hotel. Sana went to Gwadar earlier this year with her friends for a school reunion and thought that it was “more fun” than Bhurban.
For those who have a little extra cash in their pockets, international travel is also an option.
An official from Shirazi Travels said that students from Karachi frequently visit Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lanka. These locations are close to Pakistan, have cheaper air fares, favourable exchange rates and travel-friendly visa policies, he said.
A week-long tour costs around Rs50,000 to Rs60,000 per person and it includes boarding, lodging and breakfast, said an official from Travel On, Faheem Akhtar. Some schools are arranging tours for classes every year for up to 60 students, he said. Countries in Europe, the Middle East and America, are least popular because they are very expensive and have very strict visa regulations, he added. “Pakistanis hardly get the visa and the documentation process is very long and complex.”
Noorali, a student, has travelled to places within Pakistan, to Singapore and Malaysia with his friends, insisted that getting a travel tour is an all-in-one package. “You get to party, spend time with friends, learn and experience, and meet new people. Plus it’s cheap.” His Pakistan tour, with nearly 30 more students, cost him only Rs7,000 in 2008 and his foreign trips have never cost more than Rs60,000. “So if you have a little bit of time and money, the world isn’t that bad even for us poor students,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2010.