…….||| A write-up by Dr M Ali Hamza, explaining the Magnificence of Pakistan ||| .…….

Giving boost to the tourism of Pakistan was one of an election campaign promises by the present government. It was a lucky promise that never faced any U-turn. Though the previous government back in 2013 to 2018, tried a bit to revive tourism industry but  Imran Khan-led government began working-out plans to take tourism industry of Pakistan to the next level by establishing resorts each year, encouraging all possible forms of tourism from leisure to religious tourism,  and business to eco-tourism. These efforts ranked Pakistan amongst the Best Holiday Destination for 2020, and the country is also declared the third-highest potential adventure destination in the world for 2020. Earlier the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan as its top travel destination for 2018, and Forbes termed it “one of the coolest countries to visit”.  In first two years of the present government the tourism increased by more than 300%. To offer ease and convenience online visa services were launched for 175 countries and 50 countries were offered visa on arrival. The country greeted an influx of travel vloggers, who showed the beauty and cultural profundity of Pakistan.  World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) forecasted the country’s tourism sector to grow to over $39.8 billion within a decade from $22 billion. Then COVID-19 happened.

Before COVID-19 tourism had become the world’s major economic sectors. It is the third-largest export category (after fuels and chemicals) and in 2019 accounted for 10% of global GDP and offers more than 320 million jobs worldwide. Global pandemic, the first of its scale in a new era of interconnectedness, has put 100 million jobs at risk, many in micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises that employ a high share of women, who represent 54 percent of the tourism workforce, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The tourism industry in Pakistan was not an exception thus the acceleration of tourism development in the country forced to go down.

The question is what makes Pakistan as one among the top choices for tourists. Let us have a quick look.

In 60s of the last century Pakistan was part of famous “hippy trail” stretched from Europe to Asia. Such attractive tourism disappeared with disappearance of liberal face of Pakistan back in 1970’s, subsequent  Taliban and al-Qaeda 9/11 , foreigners became a target of local branches of the terror outfits. Even domestic tourism came to halt due to terrorism which has taken lives of more than 80,000 Pakistanis since 2001. In 2013 the military campaign Zarb-e-Azab initiated and successfully brought back security to the country and Rud-Ul-Fisad is a continuing effort to curb any chances of future terrorism. The combine political and military endeavors have opened up the door to tourist. Therefore in last few years we witnessed a boost in the tourism economy.  Let us have a swift overview of the splendid tourist attractions in Pakistan.

Moving from north, the first spot is Gilgit-Baltistan, that includes some of the highest peaks in the world, including K2; the world’s second-highest summit. Gilgit Baltistan’s land decorated with mountains, lakes, glaciers and valleys.  K2 Basecamp, Deosai, Naltar, Fairy Meadows Bagrot Valley and Hushe valley are common tourist destinations in the province. The area is also prominent for its landmarks, culture, history and hospitality of the local.  Moving downward, Jamgarh Peak of 4,734 metres, Sarwali peak in the Neelum Valley and Ganga Choti (peak) in Bagh are some attractions in AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir). AJK is situated in nort-east of Pakistan, encompasses the lower part of the Himalayas. The area is fertile, green and mountainous. Moving to north-west takes us to KPK (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa); a province that is popular among adventurers and explorers. Beside several mountain passes, important economic routes, varied scenic landscape, the province is having number of Buddhist archaeological sites from the Gandhara civilization such as Takht Bhai and Pushkalavati, and other Buddhist and Hindu archaeological sites including Bala Hisar Fort, Butkara Stupa, Kanishka stupa, Chakdara, Panjkora Valley and Sehri Bahlol. Peshawar; the capital city of KPK is connected by the Karakoram Highway, which ends in China. Along the route, there are several stops including the Kaghan Valley, Balakot, Naran, Shogran, Lake Saiful Mulook and Babusar Top. There are also several other sites that attract a large number of tourist every year including Ayubia, Batkhela, Chakdara, Saidu Sharif, Kalam Valley and Hindu Kush mountain range in Chitral. Theses all captivating sites call-in tourist to spend some time to experience the brilliance of Mother Nature. People of KPK are hospitable, local products are special, cultural dances are enthralling, folk music is cheerful and native cuisines are lip-smacking.

In south of KPK, you enter into Punjab, the second-largest province in Pakistan, known for its ancient cultural heritage and its religious diversity. If you love sighting historical places, Punjab is your place.  The Gandhara civilization was also dominant at the site of Taxila in the north of Punjab. Several other civilizations such as Greeks, Central Asians and Persians ruled Punjab, leaving a number of sites that still exist today. In Narowal district, Kartarpur town; it is said to have been founded by the first guru of Sikhism ‘Guru Nanak’ where he established the first Sikh commune. A newly built Kartarpur Corridor has pulled in thousands of domestic and international tourists in last two years. A must visit place. Lahore; the capital city of Punjab alone is rich enough to invite hundreds of thousands tourists. Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens; recognized World Heritage Sites, the Walled City of Lahore, Badshahi Mosque, Wazir Khan Mosque, Tomb of Jahangir and Nur Jahan, Tomb of Asaf Khan, Chauburji and plenty of other major sites introduce you to the history of last 700 years. The Indus Valley civilization once ruled the region and a significant archaeological find was discovered at the ancient city of Harrapa. The province’s southward is known for its mausoleums of saints and Sufi-pirs. People of Punjab are warm, local products are worth buying, cultural dances are mesmerizing, folk music is upbeat, and cuisines are yummy and scrumptious.

The largest province by area ‘Balochistan’ is home to one of the oldest Neolithic (7000 BC to c. 2500 BC) sites in archaeology. Ancient sites dating back 800 years are the Nausherwani tombs at Qila Ladgasht. There was an ancient port at the site of Oraea that was used during the Hellenistic civilization. Ziarat is famous for having the world’s largest and oldest juniper forests. The Jirga Hall in Sibi has a collection of pieces that were found at the archaeological sites of Mehrgarh, Nasshero and Pirak. The annual Sibi Festival includes a Horse and Cattle Show. Gawadar port is a future business hub and going to be the finest tourism attraction in near future. People of Balochistan are welcoming, cultural dances are enticing, folk music is relaxing, and cuisines; especially ‘Sujji’ are mouthwatering.  

The Sindh province in south-east is known for its religious heritage. Mohenjo-daro near the city of Larkana is one of the largest city-settlements in Sindh, and is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chaukhandi tombs and ancient city Aror represent ancient Sindhi heritage. The ancient Buddhist stupa at Kahu-Jo-Darro near Mirpurkhas welcomes the discoverers.  Tombs of Talpur Mirs, Faiz Mahal in Khairpur, Qasim fort, Pacco Qillo, Kot Diji Fort and the Ranikot Fort are among the biggest tourists attractions spots in Sindh. Moreover, Sindh has a number of cultural shrines and mausoleums including Thatta, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Lal Shahbaz Qalander, Shahjahan Mosque, Mazar-e-Quaid, Minar-e-Mir Masum Shah, Bhambore and Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, where you can find wonderful gatherings filled with ecstasy and spiritual sparkle.  Karachi is the provincial capital of Sindh and largest city of Pakistan. It is home to the founder of the nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah, whose tomb at Mazar-e-Quaid is the most iconic mausoleum in Pakistan. Karachi has lovely beaches, and beautiful ports. The scenic view of deserts in the Sindh is also unmatchable. The Great Rann of Kutch has two wildlife sanctuaries; Rann of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary and the Nara Desert Wildlife Sanctuary. People of Sindh are simple, friendly and welcoming, cultural dances are appealing, folk music is soothing, and cuisines are flavorsome. 

In the end of first wave of COVID-19, Mr. Imran Khan lifted the restriction on domestic tourism and attracted very few from abroad. Second and third wave of the pandemic has badly affected the opportunity to pull-in domestic as well as international tourists. It is not going to remain same permanently. Might be with little unexpected delay, but the course of human activity will resume. People will travel, tourists will buckle up, and adventurers will relive. You are cordially welcome to Pakistan.