The tourism industry has contributed $7.6 trillion to the global economy, which is 10.2% of the global GDP. It generated 292 million jobs some years back. Tourism in Northern areas is increasing annually. Over 50 million domestic tourists are forecasted by Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC). It manifests a lot of potential in the industry.
According to World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the tourism industry contributed 5.9% to national GDP creating 3.9 million jobs in 2019. If the tourism industry develops to the level of China, its contribution rate to GDP will increase by 5.1% to 11%, and an additional 2.37 million jobs will be created.
Read more: 2019 – Year of Tourism Success in Pakistan
CPEC has proven itself the Asian Giant. Along with other benefits, it will usher in a new era of tourism. In the past, Pakistan did not attract too many international tourist arrivals but CPEC has changed the scenario. Pakistan received a 37 % increase in tourist visa applications due to CPEC alone in previous years.
An abundance of beauty
The beauty of Pakistan’s northern areas is unmatched. Kashmir is known as an earthly paradise. It embodies the poetry of nature, which no human language can interpret in words. The northern areas of Pakistan are a hub of tourism as unique landscape, pristine nature, and the world’s most famous mountain ranges are there, including the Himalayas, Karakorum, the Hindukush, and K2, which is the world’s second-highest peak.
In addition, five over 8000 meters peaks, 101 over 7000 meters, and 5100 glaciers are located here. It carries 2200 Sq. miles of snow-covered areas and 119 lakes. High altitude forests, 4 national parks, 9 game reserves, 3 wildlife sanctuaries, 230 species of birds, 54 species of mammals, 20 species of freshwater fish, 23 species of reptiles, 6 of amphibians, 6592 Sq. KM of forests, which constitutes 9.1 % of the total area of GB, all prevail in Pakistan.
It offers 20 species of freshwater fish, 5 ethnic groups, and 5 ethnic languages with 36 dialects. It tenders 7 Asia Pacific Heritage Conservation, UNESCO, and British Airways award-winning Historical Sites, 23 historical forts, and 75 polo grounds.
65 archeological sites, more than 39,000 plus rock carvings, and inscriptions are awaiting tourists from all over the globe. Year-long festivals in GB, indigenous music, the centuries-old culture of hospitality, and acceptance of visitors are fascinations for tourists. There is much more than mentioned for tourists in the northern areas.
Promoting tourism in AJK
Annually, more than 1.5 million tourists visit AJK. It has more than 100 heritage and archaeological sites based on the footprints of Dogra, Sikh, Buddhist, and the Mughals. Religious tourism can be promoted if infrastructure bottlenecks are removed. Azad Tourism App and Tourism Smart Card have been introduced for tourists by AJK. Two museums in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur are underway.
CPEC provides an opportunity to connect AJK and GB to the outside world. AJK has been designated 5 projects under CPEC. M4 under CPEC will increase the connectivity within Azad Kashmir and will open avenues for the diasporas to invest in AJK.
Read more: Kashmir lockdown reduces tourism to zero
A highway connecting Gwadar with Xinjiang passes through four provinces of Pakistan, GB, and AJK. It will be the shortest route from Central Punjab to CPEC, through AJK, shortening the existing route by 50 km and saving around 4 to 6 hours of travel. Tourism will lead to industrial development by contributing to the economic development of Kashmir, as a lack of infrastructure development and insufficient structures hinder tourism potential.
CPEC will further reduce the distances and develop tourism through its various projects. AJK and GB will be equally linked to international trade, local and international tourists, and the local market will also be brought into the mainstream.
Local mining, wood, food, fruits, herbs, mountaineering, and cottage industries will flourish. The Railway link between Dina, Jhelum, and Mirpur under CPEC is under consideration which will boost tourism in Mirpur and nearby districts.
The new route via the Khunjerab pass would be around 350km shorter than the existing one. It would pass through the Shigar, Skardu, and Astore districts of GB and connect to AJK capital. This route can be linked with Neelum Valley (AJK) via Shounter. An ‘Industrial zone’ like Mirpur is also under consideration for AJK capital. It will help tourism in the linked valleys of the capital.
The Shounter Tunnel is another natural route to GB via the Neelum valley. It must be completed under the CPEC umbrella. Neelum Valley runs parallel to the Kaghan Valley. Both the valleys can be linked Under CPEC via local routes.
A part of Nanga Parbat Massif falls in Neelum Valley which is dominated by “Sarwaali Peak” (6326 meters) the high mountain in Azad Kashmir. We can link Baboon Top to Patlian and Rati-Gali Lake of Neelum Valley via mule-track. It will not only reduce the existing distance but also create jobs for local people.
We can also link Rati-Gali Lake to Naran Kaghan valley via mule-Track. From Rati Gali tourists can move to Kaghan valley and vice versa. Through local routes, we can offer a triple package to tourists from Naran Kaghan To Neelum Valley via Rati-Gali and then from Neelum to GB via Shonter pass. Shounter Tunnel will not only reduce the distance between GB but can also be used for trade and defense.
The journey to GB via Neelum Valley, Shounter Pass is shorter than Via Rawalpindi. Sharda is the historical and cultural hub of tourism. Opposite to it is Surgan Nullah along which a track leads to Kaghan Valley. Via this route, the visitors can also move to Naran Kaghan after visiting Neelum Valley or vice versa.
Read more: Pakistan’s New Tourism Story
Kel is also a base camp for mountaineering activities up to “Sarwaali Peak” and “Sarwaali Glacier” (about 25 Kms long) which is said to be the highest peak and biggest glacier of Azad Kashmir.
Guris valley is situated very close to the Burzil pass which leads into Astore district of the GB. Burzil pass is another natural route to link AJK to GB under CPEC projects. Muzaffarabad industrial zone under CPEC will boost tourism in the linking valley. Chikar is 46 Km from Muzaffarabad, and tourism can be promoted through the newly born Zilzaal Lake.
Kotli is linked with Mirpur Industrial zone and M4 under CPEC. Pearl Valley of Poonch is linked with Azad Pattan, where a hydro project under CPEC is finalized. It is also linked with Muzaffarabad, the expected industrial zone under CPEC will benefit Poonch dually.
Rawalakot, Banjosa lake, and Toli Peer can be linked to CPEC via Azad Pathan. Mangla Lake, Ramkot Fort, and linking districts and valleys are directly linked to Mirpur Industrial Zone under CPEC which will boost tourism.
The writer is an English Professor and freelance columnist, based in Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at Prof.firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in the article do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Global Village Space.