What is a tourist destination? This is. The Northern Areas are one of the main tourism destinations in Pakistan both for foreign and domestic tourists. The natural beauty, some of the highest mountains in the world, the largest glaciers outside the polar region, the rich cultural heritage and the remnants of history with archaeological sites are the proud assets of the area. Thus tourism is one of the major sectors of the economy in the Northern Areas providing employment and income to a large segment of the population. The Northern Areas are considered mountaineer's and tracker’s paradise, due to its unique geography. Lets have a deep look on Northern Areas of Pakistan.
MAIN COMPONENTS OF TOURISM INDUSTRY
Northern Areas of Pakistan are spread over 72,496 square kilometres and are as fascinating as its Southern Regions. Amidst towering snow-clad peaks with heights varying from 1000 meters to 8000 meters. The cultural patterns of these regions are as interesting as its geography. The people with local costumes, folk dances, music and sports like polo and buzkashi, provide the tourists an unforgettable experience. Nowhere in the world is such a great concentration of high mountains, peaks, glaciers and passes except Pakistan. Four of the world’s greatest mountain regions, The Karakoram, Himalayas, HinduKush and Pamir Mountains meet in this area (See Appendices Figure 1). Embracing many of the planet's highest peaks, the Pamir Knot of Pakistan is the incredible confluence of these four giant ranges. Out of Fourteen peaks higher than 8000 meters 5 are in the Karakoram region, including the world’s second highest peak Karakoram-2 & the most dangerous mountain in the world, Nanga Parbat (8125 m.). Apart from those 29 peaks over 7,500 meters, 101 peaks over 7,000 meters and hundreds other over 6,000 meters are located in this region (See Appendices Table 1). The Northern Pakistan has some of the longest glaciers (See Appendices Table 2) outside polar region. This, is a great challenge for the mountaineers and mountain climbers the world over.
The Northern Areas of Pakistan has a long and turbulent history. Despite being almost cut off from the rest of the world due to its geography, the people of the area never remained isolated and were influenced by the events taking around the world. This area has been known as ‘Dardistan’ and ‘Boloristan’ in the historical words. The people of the area are descendents of the earliest Indo Aryan tribes, who migrated from Trans-Pamir region between 2000 and 1500 BC, and settled in the northern mountain valleys the present day Chitral and Northern Areas (See Appendices Figure 2).
The population of Northern Areas is as varied as its natural environment and reflects a rich legacy of cultural change, migrations and conquests over the thousands years. In Baltistan the main ethnic group the Baltis belongs to Central Asian-Asiatic stock, closely related to Tibetans and Ladakhis. Elsewhere in the Indus valley the inhabitants are of Indo-European Aryan descent. In Hunza the biggest ethnic group is Burusho of central Hunza. In Gilgit and Chilas, Shinas are the main ethnicgroup, while to the south Kohistanis and Gujjars also live in significant numbers. Other major ethnic groups in Northern Areas include: Wakhis, Dommas, and Kashmir’s.
PLACES WORTH OF VISITING
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Surrounded by mountains Gilgit is an old Buddhist centre, which offers beautiful scenery, traditional music, trout fishing, polo matches and a lot of exciting surprises. Some exciting places to see in Gilgit are the Chinar Bagh that comprises of 300-year-old trees along the banks of the Gilgit River. Kargha, a small village famous for fish hatchery and the Buddhist rock carving in the side of a mountain.
Gilgit city is a major hub on the Northern Areas for all mountaineering
expeditions of Karakoram to Himalaya peaks. The region is significantly
mountainous, lying on the foothills of the Karakoram mountains, and has an
average altitude of 1,500 m (5,000 ft). It is drained by the Indus River, which
rises in the neighboring regions of Ladakh and Baltistan.
A special area in northern Pakistan, the Hunza Valley offers spectacular scenery and the Batura Glacier. The people of the valley are famous for their long lives, which they claim is due to their isolation from modern civilization. The capital of Hunza is Karimabad, which has an intriguing bazaar, fruit orchards and excellent views of the surrounding valley and mountains. Hunza Valley connects the Khunjerab Pass on the Chinese border.
The Hunza valley is situated at an elevation of 2,438 metres (7,999 feet).
Karimabad is the main town which is a popular tourist attraction in Pakistan
because of the spectacular scenery of the surrounding mountains like Rakaposhi
7,788 m (25,551 ft), Ultar Sar (7,388m), Bojahagur Duanasir II (7,329m), Ghenta
Peak (7,090m), Hunza Peak (6,270m), Darmyani Peak (6,090m) and Bublimating
(Ladyfinger Peak) (6,000m).
This impressive region is set in the heart of the Himalaya. Kaghan Valley offers the beautiful, deep blue Lake Saiful Maluk, interesting bazaars, stunning waterfalls, glaciers, boat rides and picturesque small villages. At the southern entrance to the valley is Balakot that is famous for Syed Ahmed Shaheed Mosque and the Ismail Shaheed Brelvi shrine.
A vacation in the Kaghan Valley, the Himalayan hide-away, located north-east of the Hazara district of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, is an unforgettable experience. The Kaghan valley is named for the town of Kaghan rather than for the Kunhar River which flows to the length of the valley. The Valley extends for 155 km rising from an elevation of 2,134 metres to its highest point, the Babusar Pass, at 4,173 metres. The local population is friendly and easygoing and speaks Hindko (a language spoken by the hill people in Hazara), Pushto, and/or Urdu. The region is Alpine in geography and climate, with forests and meadows dominating the landscape below peaks that reach over 17,000 feet.
About 86 km from Balakot lies Naran, the main attraction of the Kaghan valley. This town is situated on the banks of Kunhar River at an altitude of 2498 m at a point where the valley widens. There is a very good view downstream, with some tree-covered islands in the foreground. It is a starting point for lake Saiful Maluk, Battakundi, Lalazar Plateau, lake Lulusar and Babusar Pass.
LAKE SAIFUL MULUK
It is situated at a distance of 10 km from Naran at an altitude of 3500 m. It provides an excellent view of the 5290 m high Malika Parbat (Queen of the Mountains). The lake and its surroundings have a touch of unreal about them and are breathtakingly lovely. There is a charming legend about a prince called Saiful Muluk who fell in love with a fairy of the lake. The lake is named after the prince.
Shogran, one of, the most beautiful plateaus. The whole area is situated at a distance of 33 km from Balakot via Kawai. The air is impregnated with the scent of flowers and the pine forest around. It is at an altitude of 2326 m and mighty peaks of Himalayan Ranges such as Musa ka Masalla (4419 m) and Malika Parbat (5290 m).
At Paras, 20 minutes north of Kawai, a rough track crosses the river and climbs 15Km to Sharan, in the middle of nowhere at 2,400m. From Here you can hike through the forest or trek overnight across beautiful Siran Valley, north of Mansehra
At an elevation of 2,300 m, this scenic but stark area has some of the world's highest mountains, lakes and glaciers an ideal place to trek and relax in a cool climate. Attractions include the Karpochu Fort and Lake Satpara, as well as somewhat arduous but interesting and scenic trip to the Shigar Valley, travellers who make it that far will be rewarded with a view of the Braldu Glacier, lovely fruit orchards. Near Lake Satpara is a large Buddha carved from a single rock. One of the world's most productive aquamarine mines is outside of Skardu; topaz and beautiful examples of crystal quartz are plentiful, too. Skardu is also the starting point for treks to K-2 Mountain and the Baltoro Glacier.
In the heart of the Hindukush Mountains lays the Chitral valley. The whole area is mountainous, having green valleys and the towering Trichmir Peak (7700 meters) of the Hindukush. The Chitral Fort is one of the famous monuments of the town. There is also a palace inside the fort and a beautiful mosque outside the fort.
The date for celebrating the Chitral Festival is fixed every year. The eminent feature is Shandur Polo tournament that is played on the highest polo ground in the world; some other activities include equestrian sports, wrestling, tug-of-war, colourful folk dances and music of the Kalash people with exhibition of the local handicraft.
The world famous Kalash People live in the three valleys of Birir, Bumburet and Rambur. The Kalash are an ancient tribe and have a religion and a culture of their own. They have many festivals around the year during which the men and women perform colourful dances. The major festivals are:
JOSHI OR CHILIMJUSHT
It is a festival of welcoming springheld on 14th and 15th May every year. This festival is held in spring, when girls pick first flowers of the year. The days are marked by dancing, visiting each other and exchanging flowers, milk and milk products.
It is held in mid July, it is celebrated to mark the harvest of wheat and barley. The celebration lasts for two days, which includes dancing, singing, and feasting.
It is held on 20th & 21st December, the festival is to mark the reaping of grapes and walnuts harvests.
Chowmas is a winter festival celebrated on 18th to 21st December to welcome the New Year. The entire population remains indoor. It is celebrated by feasting, drinking and merry making until the elders, who sit on hilltop watching the sun reaching the orbit, then declare the advent of the New Year. They come down from the hills, light their torches, perform their dance and sacrifice goats at the altar.
Nauroze is held on 21st of March each year. It is celebrated in ltkuh, Mastuj, Turikho & Mulkho by Ismailis, followers of His Highness Prince Karim Agha Khan. It comprises of Polo, Football, Volleyball, Hockey, Music and Folk Dances.
Northern Areas of Pakistan are well connected by road and air with rest of the country, four regional routes link the cities and towns in Chitral and the Northern Areas that both domestic and foreign tourist visit. Which are The Karakoram Highway (KKH) between Islamabad and the Khunjerab Pass via Gilgit, the Gilgit-Skardu road, the Gilgit-Chitral road over the Shandur Pass and the Peshawar-Chitral route via Dir over the Lowari Pass.
To clearly understand the concept of generating region lets consider an example of domestic tourists. All the domestic airports in Pakistan will be the generating regions that leads the domestic tourists to the tourist destinations and the generating region for the International tourists will the place/city from where they will be flying e.g. a person is going for his vacations to Northern Areas of Pakistan and he is flying from India, New Delhi then New Delhi is the GENERATING REGION, Islamabad is the TRANSIT REGION and the Northern Areas will be the TOURIST DESTINATION REGION. (See Appendices Table 3)
The transit region for Northern Areas of Pakistan for international tourists will be the international airports in Pakistan i.e. Islamabad International Airport & Peshawar International Airport as both the airport are situated at almost an equal distance. All other International Airports in Pakistan can be the transit regions for Northern Areas.
The transit region for Northern Areas of Pakistan for domestic tourists will be the Khuree Pass, as all the domestic tourists have to pass through this pass to enter the Northern Areas of Pakistan.
The Silk Route can be a Transit as well as a Generating region for International and Domestic tourists
THE SILK ROUTE:
For centuries, the silk route remained the main trading route between the South Asia and the central Asia. After the construction of Karakoram Highway (KKH) in 1982 along the same alignment, joining Pakistan with Chinese Muslim autonomous region of Xingjian, the ancient trade link has been revived. The KKH has provided a great opportunity for international travellers to explore the un-spoilt natural beauty, unique culture and ancient traditions of Northern Pakistan together with other Silk Road countries like China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The transport industry consists of both the private and public sectors, which are discussed below:
Transportation is the third major source of local economic input from tourism. Almost every town in Chitral and the Northern Areas has several privately owned transport companies which operate coaches, Car, jeeps which serve as cargo jeeps to move town residents and goods to and from regional market centres. Tourists rarely utilize this common form of local transport. In the main towns and Hunza, tourists can hire jeeps, pick-ups and taxis. Private mini-van and coach service along the KKH and the Gilgit-Skardu road is another fast-growing transport sector dependent upon tourism.
Northern Areas Transport Corporation
Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO) is the biggest provider of road transport to Northern Areas, through its fleet of busses, coaches, vans and jeeps. It offers services between Balakot-Gilgit, Gilgit-Skardu, Gilgit-Sost, Gilgit-Gakuch-Gupis, Sost-Tashkurgan, Khunjerab Pass and various routes within the Northern Areas.
PAKISTAN INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES (PIA)
Pakistan International Airlines is the only airline operating fights to Northern Areas. It operates daily flights to Gilgit, Skardu, Khuzdar & Chitral using the Fokker F-27 aircraft for its Gilgit operations, Boeing 737s for Skardu & Sikorsky helicopters for Chitral & khuzdar.
A lot more need to be done to modernise the infrastructure of Northern Areas,
as a lot of places are not easily accessible. The government should pay more
attention towards the development of these areas because Northern Areas are the
major tourist’s destination in the country. A huge amount of foreign exchange
can be earned from this industry through government’s positive and marketing
policies. As Public sector agencies that regulate tourism affect the private
sector of the tourism industry, as well as tourists and host communities. So
these problems can be over come by privatising the tourist departments.
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