Northern Areas in Pakistan

Written by Muhammad Hamza Sharif 11:47 am Articles, Pakistan, Published Content

The Tourism Potential of the Northern Areas in Pakistan

Pakistan is home to 5 out of the top 14 peaks of the world, including K2 –the second-highest mountain on Earth. The vast and beautiful mountain ranges of Pakistan attract local and foreign tourists to the state. The northern areas of Pakistan, in particular, draw the attention of mountaineers and hiking enthusiasts. The author, Muhammad Hamza Sharif, notes that although the northern areas of Pakistan hold great tourism potential, the state’s tourism industry has failed to recognize it. Where states like Oman, Nepal, Switzerland, and the UAE have utilized their mountain ranges to generate a large amount of revenue, Pakistan has not developed its northern areas enough to take on a massive number of tourists – foreign or local. Keeping in mind the problems faced by Pakistan’s tourism sector, the author suggests ways to not only improve tourism in Pakistan but also to generate revenue from it
About the Author(s)
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Hamza Sharif is currently studying mechanical engineering at HITEC University Taxila. His areas of interest are geopolitics, current affairs, and astrophysics.

The Mountain Ranges in Pakistan

Pakistan has some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, particularly in its northern areas. These ranges possess immense benefits for the tourism industry of Pakistan. The mountain ranges in Pakistan include:

  • The Karakoram mountains
  • The Himalayas
  • The Hindu Kush mountains,
  • The Hindu Raj range
  • The Salt range (located in Punjab province)
  • The Makran range
  • The Suleiman mountain ranges
  • The Kirthar ranges (located in the Baluchistan province)
  • The Kiran range
  • The Margalla Hills (located in the capital, Islambad)

These mountain ranges in Pakistan hold great potential for tourism in the state and abroad as well. For mountaineers who love a challenge, the mountain ranges of K2, Trich Mir, Nanga Parbat, Takhtai Sulaimani, Broad Peak, Khyber Pass, Rakaposhi, and many more, in Pakistan have a lot to offer. Pakistan hosts 5 out of the world’s 14 top peaks and around 108 peaks over 7,000 and 6,000 meters, respectively, providing the ideal space and field for all types of mountainous sports.  

Nanga Parbat
Nanga Parbat: The Killer Mountain” by Tahsin Anwar Ali is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

It is very unfortunate that this sector of tourism has not been arrayed and explored due to a lack of proper attention. Our governments in the past could’ve generated huge revenue through the utilization of this gift from God. If used properly, the mountain ranges in Pakistan would not only help the Pakistani economy but also directly or indirectly help the locals of the area, either by providing jobs or enhancing business opportunities. Currently, somewhat improvised and jerry-built efforts have been made but without any plan, objectives, and placement of resources.

States Generating Revenue from Their Mountain Ranges

If we take into account Nepal and its utilization of its vast mountain range, we can see that it has done tremendous work with its tourism sector. Nepal has been able to profit off of expeditions on Mount Everest drastically. About a million people in Nepal rely upon tourism linked to mountaineering. The revenue generated due to tourism was estimated to be over 700 million USD. From this amount, Mount Everest is almost responsible for 4 million USD in only permit fees.

Another country that benefits from its mountain ranges in Switzerland. Its turnover from hiking and other mountaineering activities is colossal. First of all, it has systematically organized its mountaineering services for the local and foreign tourists. Switzerland can generate a revenue of up to 2.7 billion USD, only from the hiking trips. From this amount, 550 million USD is earned from the hotels and tuck shops that are on the routes for hikers.

Surprisingly, the desert countries of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman have converted their mountain ranges—Jebel Hafeet, Al-Hajar and Hatta, and Salalah—into tourist spots. They attract a large number of people interested in trekking and hiking, thus, earning billions of dollars through the tourism industry.

In 2016, the tourism industry in UAE earned $18 billion and in December 2019 this amount increased to $38 billion. It included the revenue generated from trekking, rock climbing, and hiking as well.

The Problem with the Tourism Industry of Pakistan

Pakistan, on the other hand, does earn quite a lot from its tourism sector but this amount can definitely be enhanced. The tourism industry of Pakistan contributes about 7.2% to the GDP. However, this number does not represent the revenue generated only through the northern area’s tourism but rather the amount generated from tourism all across Pakistan.

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The main highlight of Pakistan for people from abroad is the mountain ranges in Pakistan, particularly the northern areas. However, the northern areas in Pakistan have not been developed properly by the government to take on large amounts of tourists from Pakistan and across the globe. The poor road networks leading to the northern areas limit the number of people that can visit the breathtaking mountain ranges. Though airports have been built to assist people while traveling, most of the time due to bad weather, flights are canceled.

The road networks in the northern areas themselves are very poorly maintained, which allow stagnant movement of traffic. With the arrival of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), some road networks have been improved, and that has allowed for an upgrade in the experience of the northern areas. Yet, it still requires further attention.

The infrastructure of roads in such areas is usually destroyed due to landslides, so maintenance is key to keeping the traffic moving. The roads in tourist-prone areas should be all-weather roads with all of the safety measures present everywhere and all the time. If we compare with those in Europe, the mountain ranges in Pakistan are wider, more challenging, adventurous, and capable of hosting all types of activities related to mountainous terrain. Unfortunately, they lack road management and affiliated services. On the other hand, countries like Switzerland have very matchlessly built road networks leading to each picnic spot.

Apart from that, the people of Pakistan with an interest in mountain sports or mountaineering, like Ali Sadpara, either lack the appropriate gear or safety insurance. There are no proper government clubs/institutes to cater to their interest and teach them the basics.

Coming onto the services, parts of the northern areas like Gilgit and Skardu still do not have access to sufficient electricity and water. This is another major shortcoming that the government needs to look into. If electricity is not available, then many of the already existing businesses, and those that are yet to be established to cater to the tourism needs, will not be able to function properly and to their full potential.

Hydroelectricity: A Necessity for the Northern Areas

It is understood that Pakistan’s northern areas are a bit out of reach from the center, hence, it is vital that these areas be made self-sufficient. Alternative power generation projects should be introduced, so at least the power shortages of the areas are reduced. The northern areas of Pakistan have the potential of producing 40,000-60,000 MW of hydroelectricity. However, in 2019, the amount of hydroelectricity produced by the Gilgit-Baltistan region was close to

It is very unfortunate that we have not been able to exploit the riches the northern areas have for our power and energy sector. These hydroelectric projects will not only sufficiently power the northern areas but will also be able to contribute, to some extent, to the rest of Pakistan. Recently, work has started on a few projects. Their completion can help boost the tourism industry of Pakistan, which has the potential to earn more than 10 billion dollars in revenue.

India started hydroelectricity generation even when the trend for this kind of power generation was diminishing. It took initiative and continued despite the objections to the construction of such projects. In the recent past, it has pumped in billions of dollars invested in the tourism industry. Unfortunately, Pakistan has remained oblivious to these benefits and the potential of its own people and mountain ranges.

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Ali Sadpara

On 28 July Sajid Sadpara, laid his father Ali Sadpara, the national hero and “snow leopard” of Pakistan, to rest along with the other honored mountaineers, John Snorri and Juan Pablo Mohr, who were accompanying Ali Sadpara in his daring ascent.

Without oxygen, attempting to summit K2 is not a task for the faint-hearted. The trio climbing the K2 knew the consequences of the ferocity possessed by the mountain nicknamed the “Savage Mountain“. Ali Sadpara was a daring mountaineer who had a lavish amount of experience in high-altitude mountain trekking. Early in his brooding career, people from abroad would come to climb the peaks in Pakistan, and Ali Sadpara would assist them as a porter with zest, fulfilling his aim of being a legendary mountaineer one day.

Due to his resilience and cheerful temperament, he was someone you’d always want on your team. With inadequate equipment, nonetheless, he would climb the high mountains with them as good company. It was his natural passion to climb, so even with inadequate mountaineering gadgetry, he would ascend the highest and hostile mountains. He serves as a prime example of selflessness, courage, and unwavering determination.

In the year 2019 alone, he had successfully climbed three mountains each with an elevation of more than 8,000 meters. In total, he has climbed 8 out of the top 14 peaks in the world. He was also hoping to climb Mount Everest in the winter of the year 2022. No matter how much praise and tributes we honor him with, there will not be enough words to glorify his triumphs.

The current condition of the tourism industry of Pakistan has not only led to the neglect of the full potential of the state’s mountain ranges but also of the talent that could achieve something great, if nurtured properly.

 Recommendations

Ali Sadpara and all other Pakistani mountaineers who have climbed mountains with various expeditions serve as examples of the tremendous potential for mountaineering in the northern areas of Pakistan. Pakistan was able to generate 40 million PKR (250,000 USD) profit from only permit fees for climbing the various challenging mountains in the year 2019. It is a peanut rather than a crumb when compared with the other countries with such mountainous sites.

It could be a huge source of earnings for Pakistan if the government focuses on developing more opportunities for mountaineers in the state. The government should chalk out a consummate blueprint for the development of this area by inviting foreign investment as well. The locals should be backed by easy loans to start small or medium enterprises, with full support and guidance from the government.

Infrastructure Development and Security Precautions

Hotels, motels, tuck/souvenir shops, and restaurants should be built in various parts of the northern areas. This will not only produce revenue but it will attract the tourist business from all over the world. Various adventure clubs should be opened for mountaineers not only for those who come from abroad but also from within Pakistan. Setting up of clubs by professionals will certainly enhance mountaineering sports in Pakistan.

One point which needs more emphasis is that these clubs/organizations should have the capabilities to host and manage the whole package with a complete flawless safety cover, especially for the porters who assist and accompany mountaineers from abroad in climbing and help build up the confidence of the visitors to come again for adventures with new mountaineering players.

In 1954, an Italian K2 expedition team played with the life of a Pakistani porter. Amir Mehdi (the porter) was left for the night on K2 without a tent, enduring temperatures below -50°C. Fortunately, he survived the night and descended the following morning. He had frostbites and all ten of his toes had to be amputated. So keeping in view this incident, the government must make sure a comprehensive policy for security and insurance which include all the facilities required for mountaineers.

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Adequate Gear

For athletes, there should be all sorts of gear available to be purchased or even rented. Most importantly, the trekking ropes on some of the challenging mountains such as K2 should be maintained and also renewed within due time, so fatal accidents do not occur due to technical errors.

K2
K2” by Maria Ly is licensed under CC BY 2.0

According to Elia Saikaly—the accompanying filmmaker of Ali Sadpara and his team’s ascent to the K2 in winter—at K2, there are several old ropes that are not functional. Due to them also being present, it is difficult for climbers to distinguish between the new functioning ropes and the old non-functioning ones.

Mountain climbers have to attach their carabiner hook to the rope during ascent and descent. With old ropes acting as dummy supports, if a climber, out of confusion, attaches his hook to them, he could plummet to his death. The government must make sure that all safety precautions are provided to the climbers and there are no loose ends left unattended from the services provided.

Environmental Protection

Another very important factor is the cleanliness and environmental issues. Where ever there are people, there is bound to be trash. It is vital that people who visit these natural sanctuaries are advised to not litter. The government should enforce these laws through fines but also make sure that trash cans are available.

Apart from giving the people the responsibility to clean up after themselves, the government should also deploy cleaners to make sure there are no plastic bags, tin foils, and other domestic waste flying and rolling around.

Advertisement

The government should focus on advertising the opportunities the northern areas of Pakistan have to offer to the world. Like other countries, Pakistan should also roll out commercials to different international media outlets, highlighting the significance and the beauty of Pakistan’s northern areas. It should get in touch with travel agencies all over the globe and offer them good packages on easy terms, so the masses can flow into Pakistan from all over the world.

This will greatly boost the activity in business sectors like the traveling, hoteling, and recreational sectors. This is how the other countries with mountainous attractions are earning billions of dollars through their tourism industry.

Pakistan needs to epitomize and cherish its heroes like Ali Sadpara. It can construct mountaineering training schools and academies and give awards, etc., dedicated to them for the motivation of Pakistan’s local youth who have tremendous potential to excel in sports.

Conclusion

Pakistan has all the right tools to leading in mountain games and be a prosperous nation. The magnificent northern areas of Pakistan are just one part of it. It has all the resources required, and most importantly it has people like the legendary Ali Sadpara and other unsung heroes, who were never afraid of the challenges and difficulties and gave their 101% for a cause they believed in for their nation. To fully utilize the true potential of its mountain ranges, only a bit of attention from the government is required. Once given, in due course, it will all bear its fruits for generations to come.


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