Tourism in northern areas of Pakistan is increasing annually. Over 50 million domestic tourists are forecast by Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC).
It manifests a lot of potential in the industry. According to World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the tourism industry contributed 5.9% to national GDP creating 3.9 million jobs in 2019.
If the tourism industry develops to the level of China, its contribution rate to GDP will increase by 5.1% to 11%.
Additional 2.37 million jobs will be created. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has proven itself the Asian giant. Along with other benefits, it will usher in a new era of tourism.
In the past, Pakistan did not attract international tourist arrivals. CPEC has changed the scenario.
Pakistan received a 37 % increase in tourist visa applications due to CPEC in previous years.
Northern areas of the country are unmatchable in beauty.
Kashmir is known as an earthly paradise.
It embodies the poetry of nature, which no human language can interpret in words.
Northern areas of Pakistan are a hub of tourism. Unique landscape, pristine nature, and the world’s most famous mountain ranges are there.
The Himalayas, Karakorum & the Hindukush. Whereas, the K2 world’s second-highest peak also lies here.
There are 5 over 8000 Meters of Peaks, 101 over 7000 Meters, and 5100 Glaciers are located here.
It carries 2200 Sq. Miles of Snow Covered area and 119 Lakes.
High altitude forests, 4 national parks, 09 game reserves, 3 wildlife sanctuaries, 230 species of Birds, 54 Species of mammals, 20 species of freshwater fish, 23 species of reptiles, 6 of amphibians, 6592 Sq. KM of Forests.
It constitutes 9.1 % of the total area of Gilgit Baltistan. It offers 20 species of freshwater fish, 5 ethnic groups, and 5 ethnic languages with 36 dialects.
It tenders 7 Asia Pacific Heritage Conservation, UNESCO, and British Airways award-winning Historical Sites, 23 historical forts, and 75 polo grounds.
Similarly, 65 archeological sites, more than 39,000 plus rock carvings, and inscriptions are awaiting tourists from all over the globe.
Year-long festivals in GB, indigenous music, the centuries-old culture of hospitality, and acceptance of visitors are fascinations for tourists.
There is much more than mentioned for tourists in Northern areas.
Annually, more than 1.5 million tourists visit AJK.
It has more than 100 heritage and archaeological sites based on the footprints of Dogra, Sikh, Buddhist, and Mughal.
Religious tourism can be promoted if infrastructure bottlenecks are removed. Azad Tourism App and Tourism Smart Card have been introduced for tourists by AJK. Two museums in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur are underway.
The CPEC provides an opportunity to connect AJK and GB to the outside world. AJK has been designated 5 projects under CPEC.
M4 under CPEC will increase the connectivity within Azad Kashmir and will open avenues for the diasporas to invest in AJK.
A highway connecting Gwadar with Xinjiang passes through four provinces of Pakistan, GB, and AJK.
It will be the shortest route from Central Punjab to CPEC, through AJK, shortening the existing route by 50 km and saving around 4 to 6 hr travel.
Tourism will lead to industrial development by contributing to the economic development of Kashmir. Lack of infrastructure development and insufficient structures hinder tourism potential.
CPEC will further reduce the distances and develop tourism through its various projects.
AJK and GB will be equally linked to international trade, local and international tourists, and the local market will also be brought into the mainstream.
Local mining, wood, food, fruits, herbs, mountaineering, and cottage industries will flourish. Railway link between Dina, Jhelum, and Mirpur under CPEC is under consideration which will boost tourism in Mirpur and linking districts.
The new route via the Khunjerab pass would be around 350km shorter than the existing one. It would pass through the Shigar, Skardu and Astor districts of GB and connect to AJK capital.
This route can be linked with Neelum Valley (AJK) via Shonter.
An ‘Industrial zone’ like Mirpur is also under consideration for AJK capital. It will help tourism in the linked valleys of the capital.
Shonter Tunnel is another natural route to GB via the Neelum valley. It must be completed under the CPEC umbrella. Neelum Valley runs parallel to the Kaghan Valley. Both the valleys can be linked Under CPEC via local routes.
A part of Nanga Parbat Massif falls in Neelum Valley which is dominated by “Sarwaali Peak” (6326 meters) the high mountain in Azad Kashmir. We can link Baboon Top to Patlian and Rati-Gali Lake of Neelum Valley via mule-track.
It will not only reduce the existing distance but also create jobs for local people. We can also link Rati-Gali Lake to Naran Kagan valley via mule-Track. From Rati, Gali tourists can move to Kaghan valley and vice versa.
Through local routes, we can offer a triple package to tourists from Naran Kaghan To Neelum Valley via Rati-Gali and then from Neelum to GB via Shonter pass. Shounter Tunnel will not only reduce the distance between GB.
The route is also significant for trade and defense. The journey to GB via Neelum Valley, Shounter Pass is shorter than Via Rawalpindi. Sharda is the historical and cultural hub of tourism. Opposite to it is Surgan Nullah along which a track leads to Kaghan Valley.
Via this route, the visitors can also move to Naran Kagan after visiting Neelum Valley or vice versa.
Kel is also a base camp for mountaineering activities up to “Sarwaali Peak” and “Sarwaali Glacier” (about 25 Kms long) which is said to be the highest peak and biggest glacier of Azad Kashmir.
Guris valley is also situated very close to the Burzil pass which leads into Astore district of the GB.
The Burzil pass is another natural route to link AJK to GB under CPEC projects.
Muzaffarabad industrial zone under CPEC will boost tourism in the linking valley.
The Chikar town is 46 Km from Muzaffarabad. We can promote tourism through the newly born Zilzaal Lake.
Kotli is linked with Mirpur Industrial zone and M4 under CPEC. Pearl Valley of Poonch is linked with Azad Pattan, where a hydro project under CPEC is finalized.
It is also linked with Muzaffarabad, the expected industrial zone under CPEC will benefit Ponch dually. Rawalakot, Banjosa lake, and Toli peer can be linked to CPEC via Azad Patan.
Mangla Lake, Ramkot Fort, and link districts and valleys are directly linked to Mirpur Industrial Zone under CPEC which will boost tourism.
Prof. Abdul Shakoor Shah is an academician and freelance columnist, based in Lahore, Pakistan.