Pakistan could be a tourist’s delight

Published: March 9, 2013

A beautiful view of lake Saiful Malook -- a popular tourist destination in Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

You may have heard some remarkable stories about Pakistan as a tourism hub from your parents and grandparents. The 60s and 70s, in particular, were the decades when tourism in Pakistan saw its prime.

The pictures of those days can still be found doing rounds on the internet, boasting a plethora of visitors from all around.

Those were the days when Pakistan would invariably feature in the lists of international tourist destinations. I haven’t seen that Pakistan, but I can well imagine it, owing to the accounts I’ve had from many people around. Therefore, when I came across this article titled, Pakistan tourism: a sleeping giant? in an Australian magazine, shedding light on the aspects of Pakistan as a treat for tourists, I couldn’t help add my own two cents to the topic.

The article starts off with an oft-repeated, almost clichéd line:

“It’s a part of the world that usually makes headlines for all the wrong reasons…”

Then the article goes on to indulge in the possibilities that can be drawn from Pakistan’s tourism, narrating its beauty and destinations, and no one can disagree.

In 2009, the World Economic Forum’s travel and tourism competitiveness report ranked Pakistan as one of the top 25 per cent tourist destinations for its world heritage sites. Pakistan’s rich heritage is one that outdoes many countries of the world.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has enlisted six Pakistani sites as ‘world heritage sites’. These include the magnificent Shalimar Gardens. the fort in Lahore, the Makli monuments in Sindh, the ruins of Moenjodaro also in Sindh, Rohtas Fort near Jhelum, Buddhist ruins in Takht-i-Bahi and the ancient city of Taxila. 18 other sites, including the Baltit fort in Hunza and the tomb of Shah Rukne Alam in Multan, have been classified as ‘tentative sites’ by the same.

(The Makli graveyard in Thatta famous for its architecture. PHOTO: FILE)

(The Shalimar Garden in Lahore. PHOTO: CPS/FILE)

Monuments and structures, dating back to 3300 BC can be found, and impressions from varied dynasties and time periods hold testimony to the rich historical back-drop of Pakistan.

It’s not just heritage.

Geographically, the country is as rich as it gets. From the snow-capped mountains of the north to the deserts of Thar; from the plains of Punjab to the plateau of Potohar; from the Salt range to the coast of Makran; the country comes solid on the scale of geographical diversity. Lush green fields, healthy hill stations, azure skies and clear rivers – you get all here.

(The rocky mountains of Zhob, Balochistan. PHOTO: M ASIF NAWAZ)

Then there’s the culture – the sumptuous cuisines, the multitude of languages, the flamboyant attire, the soulful music, and the genial demeanour.

(Intricate art on public buses and trucks is now a part of Pakistani culture. PHOTO: AFP)

We have cities brimming with all the progression of modern life, and villages where ‘saag’ and ‘makai ki roti’ are still devoured beneath peepal trees with stocky glasses of lassi! All this ascertains the great potential that Pakistan has as a grand tourist destination.

(Peanuts roasted in sand are a specialty in Pakistan and are sold on the street. PHOTO: ONLINE)

(Devotees performing ‘dhamaal’ to the sounds of dhol is a special sight for tourists. PHOTO: REUTERS)

But then, as this article points out, the problem here lies in the world ‘potential’.

Despite the excess of offerings that Pakistan can make to its tourists, ‘Pakistan has fallen behind neighbouring India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan’ when it comes to tourism, and that’s where the bad news begins.

Given the political instability of the country, which can be dated back to about forever, it comes off as no surprise that many international travel agencies warn their clients not to visit Pakistan. Let international tourism be; even domestic tourism has been affected unfavourably by the waves of terrorism and lack of law and order in the country.

Moreover, natural calamities such as the 2005 earthquake and 2009 floods have also added to the chagrin. Despite this, the Discovery Channel’s Insight Guides series on Pakistan begs to differ, and rather states that in spite of its dubious disposition, statistics shows that Pakistan remains an excessively safe country for tourism!

Accordingly, tourists will tour. It may be argued that it’s actually the tourism industry of Pakistan that’s keeping the tourists at bay. True, there are some places in the country that must not be recommended to travel to, but it’s due to a lack of will on part of the government that the tourism industry is on life-support even in the safer places.

Here’s a quote from the same article,

“According to an analyst at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan’s tourism sector has failed to grow due to continued mismanagement of the industry. There’s nothing new there.”

No surprises there. Accordingly, the same World Economic Forum that was all praise for our heritage in 2009, has ranked Pakistan at 122 out of 140 countries in its latest travel and tourism competitiveness report. A sorry state of policy rules and regulations has been cited by the report as the most probable hindrances to a blooming tourism industry in the country, followed by poor prioritising of travel and tourism. Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, and Zimbabwe, all have fared better than Pakistan. (Just as a consolation though, that’s three places better than where we were last year!)

It is not far from the truth though. The poor state of leisure tourism in Pakistan emanates basically from the sheer absence of any tourism facilities. A single look on the Pakistan government’s tourism website can give you a pretty clear idea of that.

Advertisements and propagation of Pakistan as a tourist destination in international media is another sorry tale. The basic services to those who visit the country are at a bare minimum. Moreover, many of the tourist spots are consistently facing gross negligence and nobody seems to be bothered.

Tourism, like every industry, needs its due investment before it’s profitable. While there’s no input, sadly, it’s only just that tourism is neither alive nor kicking in the country.

But then, on a positive and honest note, there’s one entity in Pakistan that pretty much makes up (or at least tries to) for all these fallacies, and it’s the people of the country! Nothing, perhaps, sums it up more comprehensively than what Lonely Planet has to say about Pakistan:

“Although conservative, Pakistanis are by nature a welcoming and hospitable people to foreigners, trying to get by in the face of indifference from their government and occasional hostility from the outside world… The scams and hustle you might experience in heavily travelled India are nowhere to be seen here. Instead, look forward to spontaneously offered cups of tea and conversations about cricket. You will feel like you have the country to yourself. Attractions that would have been splashed over the glossy pages of newspaper travel supplements are almost empty. While enthusiastic travel advice comes tinged with official government travel advisories, you’ll need to keep one eye on the news before booking your ticket – but once here, you’ll realise that Pakistan really is one of the world’s best-kept travel secrets.”

Therefore, the next time you’re on a break from work and wish to see all things beautiful and exciting, pack your bags and come to Pakistan. It might not be a bed of roses, but you won’t be disappointed.

And that’s the promise of Pakistan!

Read more by Asif here or follow him on Twitter @asifnz

Asif Nawaz

Asif Nawaz

Asif Nawaz is a doctor from Abbottabad who's either traveling or writing while not procrastinating. He tweets as @asifnz (twitter.com/asifnz)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Dr. Muhammad Bilal

    u r absolutely right bro, i have visited northern areas of my love , PAKISTAN, full of beauty. i couldn’t imagine that i was in this country. those who have money , they use to rush to foreign countries to see natural beauty but they used to forget that this land is full with such places. you name it,
    saif-ul-malook jheel, ansoo jheel, sri pay, and many many more..
    no one could put their hands in water for more than 30 seconds in month of June..
    now come to bad aspects. govt has really failed to flourish this dept because they don’t have idea how much our country can earn from tourism.
    hope that coming govt will try to spread awareness and revive this field….
    long live PAKISTAN. insha’ALLAH Recommend

  • Parvez

    You certainly have worked hard at putting this together.
    Tourism and Pakistan are like chalk and cheese but then I suppose there are various forms of tourism – holiday tourists, nature lover tourists, religious tourists, adventure tourists so possibly if we could sell ourselves as a ‘ Lucky-dip ‘ tourist destination, maybe………..
    Let’s be honest for tourism one needs a very basic standard of tourist infrastructure and we just don’t have it. Recommend

  • Maher

    One tourist destination which might brought Pakistan Millions of visitor was to built Osama Bin Laden’s house as tourist destination. We have seen such Monument of 1st & 2nd World War in Russia, Europe, Britain etc. I am sure many many people wanted to see OBL house and how he managed to hid in Pakistan. A GOLDEN chance is MISSED Recommend

  • Safi Farooqi

    its not the beauty or the prices that are scaring tourists off..its the law and order situation..if the governement cant protect its own citizens how can they protect foreigners? no chance..if we can ensure safety i assure despite all corruption and mal practice this country will see a quick growth and prosperity..Peace must return..Recommend

  • Interested Tourist

    I am an interested tourist. But I am scared I might commit some blasphemy and my tourist guide might cut off my head! :(Recommend

  • opler

    at first (in hurry) I read it pakistan can be a terrorist’s delight but when i read it carefully, it was ‘tourist’ shocked. . Lol!Recommend

  • cautious

    Terrorism, Kidnapping and Xenophobia are not minor hurdles to a tourist. Recommend

  • zara

    My two cents rather my whole one dollar….I was really suprised to see swarms of tourists coming out of every truck hotel in Hunza valley in summer of 2011…..Darbar hotel which shows Rakaposhi and lady finger peak had us as the only local tourists…i thought things would be different in Skardu but PTDC motel with its excellent trekking maps was heaven for bustling tourists…I was especially surprised to see so many Japanese….All were equipped with satellite phones….Aussie mountaineers told us that currently 29 expedition teams r rock climbing on different challenging peaks….Chitral to mastooj and beyond…u feel like travelling in our own Grand Canyon….Made me wonder what minerals these mountains have to give them such different hues…..and yes in kelash valley again we saw scores of tourists sitting around the fresh water springs which just run alongside roads…. the scenery …simply out of this world…However except for PTDC motels( which r excellent btw), govt contribution is almost nill but local tourist guides more then fill this void…But I have always wondered what stops this govt from projecting this surreal scenery to the world…well i can never come up with an answer…:PRecommend

  • http://16260/pakistan-could-be-a-tourists-delight Rasool Sk

    The Lahori lawyers and Lahori mob also tourists delight. We can show them live the burning of minority homes and killing by creating a fake blasphemy incident.Recommend

  • Avtar

    Pakistan is a country I can traverse without an interpreter. I am only interested in Moenhodaro, Taxila, crossing the Khyber Pass through which almost all the invaders came to the subcontinent. I would like to compare the Shalimar Gardens of Kashmir with that of Lahore.
    The extent of violence is scary to the locals, expat Pakistanis and the like. Violence can occur anywhere; in Pakistan there is no such will nor any effort being made to curb. Most expats visit their homeland because of family ties.
    It definitely is a Mecca for Jihadi youth from many parts of the world.Recommend

  • Kashmiri

    Well, just to be level headed, Pakistan is about as beautiful as her neighbors. No more no less. The himalayas know no nationality are just as beautiful in Nepal, Bhutan and India. The problem is not Pakistan but the Pakistani. As a Muslim from a minority Sect,I just prefer my head to be attached to the rest of my body!Recommend

  • Ali Rizvi

    kashmiri

    Well said. I am from Patna. I would have liked to visit Karachi some day. No more. I can find all the beauty I need in the Himalayas.Recommend

  • jules

    Asif bro great arrticle youve written and you correctly explore the opportunity lost and reasons why that is for Pakistan. Writing from Toronto I can tell you that when people from the West want to spend their money on travel they want to do so in countries that have minimal personal security issues…this is the # 1 determining factor….and so we head to Paris and Rome or Orlando or even Varadero and these cities are examples that receive millions of dollars in tourist revenue. The reality is we have many options to spend our money. Egypt prior to the fall of Mubarak was the recipient of millions of tourists from the West and the emerging Asian Tiger nations. Today due to the escalation of crime and collapse in security in Egypt, tourism has fallen off to about 10% of what it received before. The implications are huge for every Egyptian family that was dependent on tourism to live and with Youth unemployment in Egypt near 30% the country cannot afford to keep tourists away…the loss in hard dollar earnings for Egypt is staggering. On the side the Canadian government has an advisory to its citizens much like our American neighbours to the south against travel to Pakistan. Recommend

  • gp65

    “Pakistan’s rich heritage is one that outdoes many countries of the world.”

    But since a lot of the heritage is from its pre-Islamic period, Pakistan does not own it and work to maintain it. http://tribune.com.pk/story/517744/the-maharajas-residence/Recommend

  • 3rdRockFromTheSun

    Sure, and Lindsay Lohan could win an Oscar! The question here is “What is?” not “What could be?”!Recommend

  • locks

    As a Pakistani born and bred in Australia, I have been told many times by my family that Pakistan is a country full on natural beauty.
    I’ve only travelled to Karachi to visit my extended family every few years, but sadly due to the “dangerous” situation in Pakistani, have not been able to travel any where else in the country.
    And Karachi isnt exactly a city you would go to for the scenery…Although the shopping and cuisine is amazing.
    I just hope one day the situation in Pakistan can settle, so i can travel every inch of the country, and show my Australian husband what a beautiful country my roots are from.Recommend

  • rahim jan

    Baltit Fort is in Hunza not Humza :)Recommend

  • Usman

    @Kashmiri: No more or less? How about ‘Yes More’? The geographical diversity in such a small landmass cannot be found any where in the world. Pakistan can easily become a tourism super power if manager properly. And yes, the people are the problem, but that is not true for 90% of Pakistanis, it is a mob that has take the rest of the country hostage and that mob will be dealt with very soon.Recommend

  • wellwisher

    ooopss i read tourist as terrorist.. in context of pak terrorist suits more than tourist. Recommend

  • http://gilgit SJ

    i still recall my childhood memories when our area (Hunza) used to swarm with tourists and exodus expeditions from around the world and our garden camp site get crowded and we had to send upcoming expeditions to other places as no space was left to accommodate them. the rate of tourist influx was so high that new tourists find it difficult to get rooms in hotels, motels and space for camping. now those golden days are gone, occasionally few tourists from Japan or Germany came to visit risking their lives. Recommend

  • FU

    Pakistan is already a TERRORIST’s delightRecommend

  • Gratgy

    I guess It must be pretty hard to notice the natural beauty when your head is detached from your bodyRecommend

  • mind control

    statistics shows that Pakistan remains an excessively safe country for tourism!

    Excessively Safe?

    Hmmmm, as excess of anything is not good, some remedial measures are required.Recommend

  • Waqas Abbasi

    True that! But at the end it is the people’s fault, we have chosen the leaders ourselves.Recommend

  • Irony

    @gp65 If Pakistan doesn’t own its current heritage sites because of their pre-Islamic era’s originartion, then a whole lot of sites in the world over should be disowned from their current country’s books. Taj Mahal comes to mind.Recommend

  • Zeta

    Quite a lot of posts from bunch of jealous indians. I can smell themRecommend

  • Humaira

    Quite frankly we could have Snatched Victory from the jaws of defeat by turning Osama’s house into a major tourist attraction. Especially with zero dark thirty and the Osama brand name the house would have been a major world wide Crowd puller!! Plus we Could have had special enactments , memorabilia, branding , exclusive rights, etc. And T- shirts : “Be bad in Abbotabad” . All said ,Easily worth billions of dollars. Think of out the box, folks. After all money earned which ever way has the same Color. At least we earn not borrow. Recommend

  • cut

    Few more tourist destinations:-
    1]Karachi——–Live aerial shootings,blasts that rock buildings and blockades are novel for westerners.
    2]FATA———–Opportunity to witness live suicide bombings.
    3]Rural Punjab—–Can interact with Talibanis and see ruined and bombed Sufi shrines.
    4]Balochistan——Unique place 18 th century settings,no development,no roads,no electricity,must see for researchers how human beings lived 200 years ago.Recommend

  • Stranger

    My own list of places to visit in Pak
    – Jhang ( where Heer Ranjha was written)
    – Murree( Fuelled by watching 60s and 70s movies of Waheed murad )
    – Kashmir ( on both sides of the border its very pretty.)
    – Our Hindu temples some as old as 5000 years all over Pak.
    – Deserts of balouch.
    – Lahore ( the hot bed of Mughal empire).Recommend

  • Bharat

    There is no doubt that Pakistan has many things to offer.

    However,the biggest problem is that security situation is getting out of control.

    Until and unless,things are completely brought under control,things will not improveRecommend

  • adil

    the reason tourists cannot come here is not because they are worried about security. it is because of the attitudes of those in charge of handing out visa permits to foreigners to come here. the rule governing what a tourist needs to show to come to pakistan are absurd – and flies in the face of visa regulations to places like the uk and the us. it is far, far easier for a pakistani to go to those countries than it is for a foreigner to come here. until foreigners are welcomed here once again, they will not come. it is easier for them to go to india, or nepal, than come here and see the same sites but in an unspoilt environment. if we do not let them access pakistan more easily, we will lose the money they bring in to show off and preserve our heritage.Recommend

  • http://maldivesexclusive.com/ pradeep

    I had never heard of this either, but it looks like amazing to attend. Thanks!Recommend