The North is calling you, but is it also calling its demise?

Saif ul Muluk

Picture Credits: Twitter 

Summer has finally taken reigns throughout the country, and as usual, the sun is being especially generous in the central and southern parts of Pakistan. The thing that commences alongside the scorching season is the wave of local tourists hiring coaches and vans, packing bags and making their way to the pleasant North.

I too belong to the ever-so-sweltering center of Pakistan and trust me I know, nothing beats the heat better than a good ole trip to the beautiful valleys of Naran, Kaghan, Gilgit, and the Galis near Murree. From the last decade or so, these places have seen a surge in local tourists mainly due to the improvement in law and order situation, more than a million tourists vacation in the northern areas of Pakistan every year.

Last summer I planned to take a trip up north, mustered up like-minded family members and hit the road. Our destination was the Naran valley with a bonus visit to the beautiful lake Saiful Muluk, a place that I only saw in pictures and desktop backgrounds of some bragging friends who’ve already been there.

Winding our way through scenic roads and taking quite a bumpy ride uphill to the lake site, I finally got to see the legendary Saiful Muluk comfortably sitting at the foot of the great Malika Parbat. But wait! There is more… Hundreds of colorful jeeps with their diesel gusting engines were carelessly parked all around, and as I started moving closer to the lake (as if in a mystery movie) the horrible sight started taking shape.

The whole periphery of the lakeside was lined with plastic wrappers, fruit peels, cellophane cups, used teabags, and (I still can’t believe it) dirty diapers. The sight was breathtaking, obviously not because of its beauty, but due to the heaps of garbage that dotted the area. One of the highest lakes in the world, and the source of innumerable striking photographs was just helplessly lying there being the dumping spot of careless local tourists, who are absolutely indifferent to preserving its beauty.

Coming back to the present time, I was discussing this very sad reality the other day with a friend from Gilgit-Baltistan with whom I recently made an acquaintance. Her face changed to the deepest color of gloom when she told me about the similar behavior of local tourists in those tourist destinations.

According to her, GB had always been a tourism hotspot for international tourists, but these people came with a great sense of responsibility towards environmental preservation, and with highest respect for the nature. However, from last two to three years, local tourists seemed to have developed great fondness for sites in GB and Hunza valley, and with them came the filth and uncleanliness.

She also referred me to a video request that an international tourist made to the local tourists coming to GB, urging them to stop throwing garbage all over the area. Think about it, an outsider telling you to keep your house clean, stemming from the fact that they care about it more than you do, that’s just downright embarrassing.

Though, KPK government may also be working on disciplining the local tourists and making them aware of their duties as responsible visitors (in fact, they should start it immediately if they’re not doing it already), the government of GB is all sleeves-rolled-up and into the task of educating local tourists about the significance of keeping the environment clean, according to this piece of news.

I am one of the biggest advocates of traveling and tourism, and I believe that taking to the road can add weeks to your life. However, touristry at the expense of causing danger to some of the most exotic places in the world that our country has been blessed with is absolutely out of question.

So, next time you feel like the North is calling you, add ‘responsible tourism’ to your list of the itinerary.

Happy traveling!

Author’s Bio: Writer, mother and an avid traveller, Arfa Mirza is the Senior Editor at Hongkiat.com. Having travelled through Europe she aims to explore Morocco, Japan and all the lands in between.

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