Tourism Infrastructure by Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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After the hectic parliamentary schedule and other activities, I am currently visiting the northern areas to celebrate Independence Day. I have visited various parts of the world but there is no doubt that we have been blessed with all kinds of gifts of nature – geographically, historically, socially, culturally and in other aspects.

Three of the world’s major mountain ranges – the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush – are connected to each other here in the Naran valley. The second highest peak K2 is also located here.The queen of mountains, Malika Parbat, is about a few kilometres south of Lake Saiful Muluk and near Ansoo Lake. The Kunhar River, famous for its crystal clear water and delicious trout fish, originates from Lulusar Lake from the Naran valley and flows throughout the entire Kaghan and Balakot.

Like other ancient places, there are also many folk tales associated with the Kaghan valley. Saiful Muluk, a mountainous lake located near the town of Naran, is named after a legendary prince who fell in love with a beautiful fairy. The folk tale, written by renowned Sufi poet Mian Muhammad Bakhsh, gave the lake worldwide fame. Even today, it is believed that fairies used to dance here each full moon night. Similarly, Aansu Lake is linked with the tears of the prince, who once wept here in pain of separation from the fairy.

During my tour, I also visited the most beautiful valley of Hunza situated in Gilgit-Baltistan. The Attabad Lake, created nine years ago as a result of land-slides, is one of the popular tourist attractions offering many recreational activities such as: boating, jet skiing, swimming, and fishing.

Promoting tourism is part of the current government ‘s priorities and PM Imran Khan has also expressed his commitment on various occasions. But during my recent tour what I observed is that we need to take concrete steps for improving the basic infrastructure of tourist destinations on a priority basis. The key to the success of any international tourist attraction is easy access. Unfortunately, the condition of various roads is miserable here. Finding public washrooms is not less than a nightmare for tourists. In today’s digital era, unavailability of internet and wi-fi facilities is another disappointment.

During my three-day tour, I stayed at the PTDC motels which were located at very beautiful places. The motels, managed by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, are playing a pivotal role for attracting tourists. However, reports about a possible handover of control to provinces in the near future is not only creating panic among PTDC employees but also affecting performance. There is a dire need to define a solid strategy for its effective and efficient operation. In addition, there are dozens of other privately-owned hotels and restaurants throughout the area but due to lack of proper check and balance, many tourists face genuine issues.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is one of the biggest mega projects of this century and has the potential to uplift us socio-economically. In my view, this mega project can also have a positive impact on tourism. Various development projects under CPEC are directly or indirectly linked with the tourism industry. Therefore, we must also consider establishing a National Tourism Development Authority at the federal level.

The proposed tourism authority must be given the task to define the national vision for tourism and must be responsible for keeping a check and balance and handle all kinds of tourism affairs across the country. The authority, having representation from each province, must allocate tourism funds to elected representatives of the respective destination. The authority must open membership for domestic and international tourists who are interested in visiting Pakistan. The authority may also provide facilities such as ensuring quality standards, tourism directory, registration of hotels and tour guides, ranking of tourist destinations, and emergency rescue support, etc.

I believe that this will also be beneficial to tackle the economic crisis in terms of securing foreign exchange reserves. Instead of going abroad, many tourists, like myself, would prefer to spend quality time in our own beloved country. Similarly, foreign tourists would also visit Pakistan and return with good memories. This will boost our soft image in the eyes of the international community.

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of the

Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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