Is the wicked game of Chinese Whispers destroying Pakistan’s beauty?

Published: March 12, 2015

Kaghan Valley - Green and serene, this is one of the best tourist spots in Pakistan. PHOTO: IRUM NAZ

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, Talibanisationbombings 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 KeranShardaKail 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”.

Photo: Sana Dadabhoy

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.”

Photo: Sana Dadabhoy

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.

Photo: Sana Dadabhoy

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.

Photo: Sana Dadabhoy

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.

Photo: Sana Dadabhoy

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.)

Photo: Sana Dadabhoy

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.

Sana Dadabhoy

Sana Dadabhoy

The author is a graduate of University of Houston and is a banker. She blogs at

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

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    What an excellent article ! A travelogue indeed. However some of the dangers
    are very very evident. Kidnapping for ransom, sectarian violence ARE there.
    But they would be more applicable to a man or men traveling.Recommend

  • islooboy

    locals support chinese investmentRecommend

  • Indian Guest

    This is a note to the author about a factual error in the article. The author shows a picture of a ruin and describes it as a “1000 year-old monastery.” The ruin is Sharda Peeth. You can find the Wiki article and almost the same picture on

    Sharada Peeth was a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Sarasvati also known as Sharada. Kashmir of old was often referred to as “Sharada Desh” The temple was sacked and destroyed by Muslim invaders. The temple and its surrounding regions were famous for learning, and included and ancient Sanskrit university. Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist scholars came here to debate and discourse. The temple is an important part of Indian and Pakistani history, and lies neglected and ruined much like other similar structures in Pakistan.

    The architecture does not change as “you get closer to China”. It changes because you are getting closer to India. Its located on the Line of Control on the Pakistan side. The place has nothing to do with China. It is a great tragedy that Pakistanis know so little about their past, and are filled with misinformation.Recommend

  • Rashid

    Excellent article…Recommend

  • Farooq

    Gilgit-Baltitstan and parts of Northern Azad-Kashmir is known as little Tibet so its heritage comes from there rather than India or even China for that matter.Recommend

  • Queen

    Very nice blog, Great that the author had an amazing experience. Hope to visit these places myself one day :)Recommend

  • Viki Raghuvanshi

    genius person, Sharada Peeth wasnt constructed by Chinese, it was done by Hindus. Everyone tries to claim they are Arab Turk Mongol Uzbek Persian or Afghan origin. Adi Shankaracharya visited this temple. Lalitaditya was the ruler of Kashmir. Read up Rajtarangini first before you sell out our land and our heritage to your Chinese mastersRecommend

  • Farooq

    “our land and our heritage”
    I myself am a Kashmiri (of the Bhatt tribe)… it is my land and heritage (as well as my Kashmiri brethren including Pundits) not yours.

    Besides aren’t you the ones who have given around 10 times more land to China by way of Asaki Chin?Recommend

  • Tahr Trot

    and you lost half of yours…:)Recommend

  • Suleman maniya

    Great article however I would like to ask the author: The places you describe are not only out of reach but also difficult to go to. The people over there can just turn against us at any instant and they are armed to their teeth! Did you encounter any?
    Does it really make sense to risk it all to go these places or are we better placed to enjoy this scenery out of Pakistan? I have not really been to the North of Pakistan but from my interaction with people hailing from there not only are they aggressive but also hot tempered and can turn over within a very short time. Am better off enjoying my vacation at a place which gives peace of mind then only good views.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Pretty goodRecommend

  • Prashant

    “Besides aren’t you the ones who have given around 10 times more land to China by way of Asaki Chin?”

    Farooq, first of all, it is not Asaki Chin but it is Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin is territory which is originally a part of the province of J&K according to India but the Chinese dispute this and have the control over this territory. India has not conceded a single inch of territory to the Chinese, it was simply taken from us after we lost the war in 1962. It was Pakistan which has surrendered territory to the Chinese.

  • Prashant

    “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.”

    Was the author expecting all the natural beauty of Pakistan to vanish because of terrorist attacks?

    If the author says, hey we have terrorists but we also have beautiful places, that is true but how does that change anyones perception of Pakistan?Recommend

  • Hypocrisy?

    “India has not conceded a single inch of territory to the Chinese,”
    By that logic Pakistan has not conceded a single inch of territory to India in Kashmir.

    You frequently say no country is willing to hand over its territory. Does that not apply to India’s rivals as well? At the end of the day
    Aksai Chin is Chinese territory and the chances of it returning to India are as high or low as Pakistan’s own positions.

    You bash Pakistan for having unrealistic expectations but prefer to keep them yourself?Recommend

  • Virendra Kaul

    The area under the riyasat of J&K called Shaksgam valley was gifted away but not a whisper of protest from people like Farooq?Recommend

  • Prashant

    “By that logic Pakistan has not conceded a single inch of territory to India in Kashmir.”

    You never had Kashmir, what you have is because of the tribals whom you sent in 1948 so there is no question of you conceding territory. India got Kashmir through the accession agreement.

    “You frequently say no country is willing to hand over its territory. Does that not apply to India’s rivals as well?”

    Yes it does. India does not expect the Chinese to handover what we are asking for on a platter, we will continue to insist upon what we believe is ours just like the Chinese do but neither countries will send armed mercenaries across the border.

    “You bash Pakistan for having unrealistic expectations but prefer to keep them yourself?”

    Yes, blame me for being a hypocrite again, afterall that is your job by your own admission but before you do that, let me know what is your new assumption of me.Recommend

  • Sana Dadabhoy

    This article was not meant to be political in nature, however for arguments sake do consider the following:

    Firstly, there is limited information about Sharda University at the site of the ruins and history tends to take on various versions depending on which side of the border you stand. The temple as the Indian Guest rightly pointed out is an important part of our mutual history, however one cannot take away from the breathtaking views.

    Also interestingly, the origin of the people of Kashmir is a complex issue but do note some notable settlers may have been, IndoAryans, Gujrat, Rajasthan, Dravidians as well as the Burusu people.

    The Burusu people included proto-Tibetan, proto-Chinese, Chechen among many others (ORIGINS OF PEOPLES OF THE KARAKORAM HIMALAYAS by Charles Graves). Against the backdrop of those facts, my friends comments were not completely unfounded.

    Lastly, everyone is entitled to their opinions, however I feel I must point out that Northern Pakistan is a vast area and any negative perceptions or news cannot speak for such a vast region. Many tourists travel up North every year and you will find those are not “difficult to reach” places. To each their own but I highly encourage you to go see it for yourself.

    Also stay tuned to my blog to my Kaghan Valley Tour (mid-April).Recommend

  • Muhammad Ali

    Sana, I think primaily its the media and the black sheeps in the face of media which are playing havoc with this country. they leave no opportunity in maligning the image of this country to the domestic and international community by portraying the negative image all the time. they keep on finding such bad news only and never show the better side of our society..secondly as our people are not into the habit of digging out the truth by making their own research, so they are more into the habit of making drawing room whispers..i strongly believe what this dirty media is doing with this nation is no doubt the part of the international conspiracy against this country. Otherwise this country is blessed with the beautiful people all over and they are so innocent and pure.

  • Dr. Misbah

    Beautifully written. But Ms. Sana dadabhoy I cannot understand the meaning of , ”danger of Chinese whispers” ?. Perhaps I would be very glad if you throw a light on your statement.Recommend

  • Sana Dadabhoy

    Thank your Dr. Misbah.

    The danger of Chinese Whispers is about examining your perceptions of a place or an incident and questioning it. I felt that due to the problem of internalization in our society, we have perceptions which we readily accept. I became aware of this when I met resistance from friends and questions about security when I discussed travel plans (regarding Pakistan). This article attempts to counter these negative perceptions.Recommend

  • Dr. Misbah

    Welcome. So you mean people in far north are anti-China and they consider Chinese as Whisperers same like a Satanic Whispers?
    Yes I think society must be a broad minded and open heart not just remains in a nut shell. I think northern part of Pakistan till Silk road to China is one of the largest tourist spot in World. I appreciate your effort of promoting Northern area’s of Pakistan but also astonished of you quoting again Chinese as whisperers but not telling the description of it.Recommend

  • Sana Dadabhoy

    Chinese whispers the term itself refers to the a game which has been used as an analogy. It has nothing to do with anti Chinese sentiments or satanic whispers. In no part this article, there is any such implication.