Is the wicked game of Chinese Whispers destroying Pakistan’s beauty?
Pakistan’s current political situation discussed in dining rooms, gatherings and media is beginning to resemble an advanced version of Chinese Whispers; a popular game played worldwide in which entertainment is derived from the errors in retelling a message through a series of shared whispers.
Regardless of the authenticity of the source, people are increasingly discussing the deteriorating law and order situation, Talibanisation, bombings and violent street clashes in Pakistan, all of which paint a disturbing picture of what is actually happening in the country.
Despite the dismal pictures being painted and reinforced by my surroundings, I wanted to go explore my country and see it for myself. Thus, along with a group of nine people, I embarked on a New Year’s Trip to Azad Kashmir.
Almost everyone I encountered prior to leaving Karachi questioned my decision and asked about the safety of the trip. Given that December 16, 2014 was marked as a Black Day for Pakistan, due to the unfortunate Peshawar Attack, perhaps it was my immunity to violence or a positive mind-set which emanated from my successful trip to Shogran (Kaghan Valley Tour) that I did not waver.
We flew from Karachi to Islamabad and then onward to Muzaffarabad by road to begin our adventure. The trip was planned by our tour guide, The Trekkerz, so that we spent every night at a new location and woke up to a different view. What remained consistent was the bonfire we sat around every night due to the near zero degree (plus or minus a few) temperature.
The destinations included Keran, Sharda, Kail or Kel, Upper Neelum and Kutton. The rest houses offered stunning views and basic amenities. This entire region was closed off for tourism prior to 2006 when a cease fire was signed between India and Pakistan. Should you decide to go on this tour, this will explain the numerous checkpoints and signs which read “No Photography”.
As we passed through Sharda, we stopped to visit the remains of a 1000-year-old monastery. You can still make out the pillars and a little bit of the architecture. It makes you envy the monks for the views they enjoyed while studying, and explains how they managed to be so positive and peaceful as well. It was there at a local tea house that I took a picture, on which my friend would later comment and say,
“It’s interesting how when you get closer to China, the architecture changes.”
The locals were quite inquisitive as they huddled around us, and in turn, we were just as inquisitive about them, attempting to make conversation about their everyday lives. Every night when the bonfire was lit, our group was joined by a few locals who engaged in conversations about politics, food, developmental organisations, traveling stories, amongst various other topics, including famous rubies found in Kashmir that are contracted to a Swiss company, which was my personal favourite.
You may have heard that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly warm and hospitable; however, the level of humanity, kindness and friendliness of the people in Azad Kashmir was enough to make one fall in love with not just the landscape but the people as well. Everyone we encountered wanted to make our stay as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
To think that the people there have had generations grow up in war-like conditions amid tensions between Pakistan and India, one cannot imagine how they are so cheerful and warm against the backdrop of that history.
Looking out of the van, we saw some of the most beautiful people walking on rough terrain with such fluidity that their level of fitness also left us in awe.
Among other moving images, there were inspirational signs that read,
“Darakht zameen ka zevar hai”
(The earth adorns itself with trees)
“Humaray kudrati vasail aanay wali nasloon ki amanat hai”
(Our natural resources belong to our future generations, or rather, we have a moral responsibility to leave the world in a better condition for our future generations.)
This type of free-spirited and original thinking does not seem too coherent with the “backward” image projected. In fact, we can probably take that a step further and say that the tourists who visit the Northern areas should value their own natural resources and avoid littering as a civic responsibility.
Furthermore, companies engaged in the production of food and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG’s) frequently highlight “distribution” as a part of their successful company strategy. Therefore, they should share the responsibility as well and conduct sustainability workshops as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives in such areas. Tourism, development or distribution should not be at the cost of increased littering or pollution.
Upon returning to Karachi, safe and sound, one must question the image problem internally. Is the media partly responsible for spreading despondency and negativity or are we the culprits who feed the negativity and spread it when we share unconfirmed rumours?
Is there a way to challenge the portrayal of Pakistan, at least on a national scale, if not internationally? There is no doubt that terrorism is a reality in Pakistan and one cannot be completely oblivious to the security situation. However, as a nation, we must challenge existing perceptions and take responsibility for the tone and news we choose to share to avoid the dangers of Chinese Whispers.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.