Tourism and the future of Gilgit-Baltistan

Umair Salik Balti

Gilgit-Baltistan is a vast mountanous region surrounded by beautiful valleys, sky-touching mountains, coldest deserts, rivers, talismanic lakes, lush green meadows and three great mountain ranges of the world; The Karakuram, The Hindukash and The Himalayan. The second largest glacier of the world, Siachen, the roof of the world, Deosai plain, which is 14000 feet above the sea level, the pride of Pakistan K2, and the 8th wonder, Karakoram highway that has been made by carving the mountains, are aslo situated in Gilgit Baltistan.

It is a diverse, multicultural, enamored natural zone also known as the heaven on Earth. GB’s unique culture and ancient traditions are scattered from Khunjarab top to Chorbat Valley. Indeed this region is a model of natural beauty and a masterpiece of nature’s craftsmanship where an individual feels as closer to the nature as he gets lost in. Little wonder, then, that human beings from various corners of the globe have been attracted towards it from the eternity.

In summers, nature tourism is always on its peak. Domestic tourists from different cities as well as foriegn tourists arrive in droves to spend some memorable time in the natural environment and to purify their souls in the lap of nature. They enjoy the indeginious lifestyle, organic foods and local cultural festivals such as ‘Jashn-e-Noroz’, summer festival like ‘Sarfaranga Cold Desert Jeep Rally’ and the miraclous beauties of nature for instance: Hunza Valley, Khunjarab, Ata Abad Lake, Deosai meadows, Fairy meadows, Astor Valley, Skardu Valley, Sadpara Lake, Shangrilla, Sarfaranga cold desert, Kharfocho fort, Shigar Valley, K2 base camp, Khamosh Waterfall, Manthokha Waterfall, Shila Valley, ancient Khaplu fort, Siachan Valley, Balghar meadows, Thaley Valley, Sogha Valley and the organic Machulo Valley etc.

Apart from summer tourism there is a vast ground for promotion of cultural and winter tourism. The region’s cultural and historical heritage is diverse, influence by Chinese, Tibetan, Greeko-Bactarian, Scythian, Mauryian and Taxilian, civilizations and empires. Indo-Aryan, Tibetan, Indo-Iranian and other civilizations are deeply reflected in the region’s varoius cultural groups. People of the region share culturla and lingual similarities with neighboring communities, in South and Central Asian countries. There are archeological remains of Budhism everywhere in Gilgit Baltistan.

Winter tourism has its own significance. Recently, the people of Baltistan Division have celeberated the most famous traditional event ‘Losar Bzangmo’ (New Year’s Eve) on 21st of December. The inhabitants have been celeberating this day with great enthusiasm for hundreds of years. It is narrated that the months of winter are so hard for the residents to survive as the temperature goes to blood-curdling cold; minus twenty-two. In such a situation, everyone wishes that how if winter would pass as soon as possible and then life would return to the normal track. The night of 21st December is the longest night in Tibaten calender, from this time the night starts to get shorter and the days longer. It means that the night of 21st December brings a good news that now the harsh cold contion has started to shorten and they welcome the upcoming spring. The inhabitants from Baltistan Division as well as Nepal, Butan, Himanchal Pardaish, Kargil and Ladakh celebrate this ancient festival with fireworks. This mutual traditional festival incourages to fulfill the long-lasting dreams of hundreds of the families from both sides of the boarder, i.e. Baltistan and Kalgil that had been fell apart after the irrepareable incident of 71, Kargil War. Tourism alone can play a role of bridge between those families whom family members are seperated across the boarders.

Furthermore, there are initiatives being made by non local organisations like AKRSP in collaboration of district administration, to promote winter tourism such as ‘The Winter Festival’ in district Ghanche. It is a wonderful initiative that provides the opportunity to explore the tradition of last the district of Gilgit-Baltistan. Every dimension of tourism is a key arsenal to boost the economy of the region. It provides job oppertunities to the youth which can also decrease the unemployment rate. The youth of GB tend to start personal bussinesses; Hoteling, Moteling and Guest Houses are common. If they maintain the organic taste in their foods it will be better for the indigenous identity because tourists seek food according to the tradition of specific land like ‘Zap Thung Cafe in Skardu’, a representative of all traditional foods. There are some reservations in the light of emerging tourism hub: it affects the indigenious culture and a shade of hibridity can be seen in the society, trash putting culture at natural tourist spots makes the soothing environment polluted, and the religious norms and customs are also affecting due to the unlimited liberty of non-locals in such places. The administration must have to make an organised infrastructure and promote ecotourism with zeal and zest so that the future of GB would be bright and Gilgit-Baltistan will be a soothing tourist hub.

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