By: Kamran Shigri
Gilgit-Baltistan is situated in the extreme north of Pakistan bordering China, India and Afghanistan. The region has an area of 72,971 Sq. Kms. and a population of about 2.5 millions. Gilgit Baltistan is considered to be the most spectacular region of the country due to its diverse natural beauty. The region attracts tourists not only from all parts of Pakistan but also the whole world. Attractive landscapes, evergreen forests, cold deserts, snowcapped mountains and great cultural heritage are the attractions because of which thousands of people from various parts of the world visit this area. The region has always been a paradise for mountaineers, trekkers and landscape loving people.
Because of whopping exposure on social, print and electronic media by the locals and some renowned celebrities, an improved infrastructure in terms of roads, hotels and tourism spots, and a temptation for pleasant weather in summers, the number of tourists visiting Gilgit-Baltistan has increased exponentially during the past few years and it is still on a rise. As a result an ostentatious improvement has been seen in the tourism and hospitality industry of Gilgit-Baltistan. According to a report published in Express tribune, more than 600,000 tourists visited Gilgit-Baltistan in 2015 alone, a great number indeed. These include tourists of all types like climbers, trekkers, hikers, photographers, site visitors, geo-tourists, cultural tourists, trophy hunters etc. The numbers are expected to increase definitely in 2016. The increased number of visitors will have a great socio-economic impact on the region and lifestyle of the people living in far flung areas is going to be changed.
But there are a few things which need a great part of our attention if we want both the beauty and tourism in our region to sustain for long. And the most important of them is the preservation of natural beauty and the biodiversity. Places which were completely uninhibited during past have now become crowded picnic spots. Lakes, streams and meadows in mountains far away have now become accessible through roads and tracks. Lush green plateaus in different valleys can now be seen littered with wrappers, shopping bags, etc. Pollution is increasing day by day even at those places which were in the purest form of nature a few years ago. Forests are being cut down for construction of resorts, hotels and restaurants. Cultural and heritage sites have now become nothing more than eating spots. Natural meadows, which are good sources for feeding cattle are now criss-crossed with jeep trails and signs of human presence can be seen everywhere. Due to such practices the whole environment is being effected to a large extant. Many rare species of wildlife are now endangered, forests are reducing day by day, grazing grounds are becoming more and more restricted and overall climate is also being changed due to these factors. Preservation of nature has become the least priority of the people which will harm our lives as well as the tourism industry when it is saturated.
Just to quote an example, there is a lake situated in Shigar valley named “Jarba-xo” (Blind Lake). Although it is situated near to Skardu-Shigar road, yet it was not visited often by people previously except the fishermen and the herdsmen or a few who really enjoyed the serenity of the place. But during the past few years the number of visitors to the place increased manifold. And now whenever someone visits the place he can see plastic bags and other rubbish floating in the lake and hundreds of people around it making every possible effort to litter the area. A few days later a local newspaper reported a shocking news that the aquatic life in the lake is endangered. This is only one out of hundreds of examples. The environment of our region is degrading drastically and sudden preventive measures need to be taken by everyone of us.
It is suggested that apart from promoting tourism we must also educate the tourists about the importance of preservation of nature. The most effective way to do this is the social media which is now being used by almost everyone. An integrated effort may be made by the locales of Gilgit-Baltistan and the department of tourism for ensuring the cleanliness of picnic spots and resorts. Another suggestion is to make volunteer teams comprising of university students who go back to Gilgit-Baltistan during summer vacations. These teams can be equipped to visit various tourism spots and they can start cleanliness campaigns in collaboration with the municipal committees of respective regions and the local populace. These teams can also educate the tourists and the uneducated locals about the importance of clean and pleasant environment. Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency (GB-EPA), a government run agency, is also doing its earnest efforts to ensure a pollution free and clean environment in Gilgit-Baltistan. The young people may also take part in different project undertaken by the voluntarily and fulfill their share of responsibility in ensuring the environmental preservation of our region. Tour operators and other tourism companies must put an emphasis on cleanliness of camping sites, meadows, plateaus etc and they should also make their clients aware of their responsibilities to keep the tourist destinations clean. A few forests, meadows, lakes and glaciers which serve as a lifeline for the local population should be kept away from human access as much as possible because it is not only the tourism which serves for the development of our region. Some places need to be kept isolated from tourism industry.
Environmental preservation and prevention from all types of pollution is our collective responsibility and every one of us should act in his/her capacity to save our region from being a victim of pollution and environmental decay. While boasting of the beauty of our homeland we should also caution other people about the hazards of pollution and importance of cleanliness.