March 31, 2016 Sophee Smiles at Attabad Lake Hunza

Gilgit-Baltistan: The Forgotten Land

I probably shouldn’t say this but Pakistan certainly took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting anything half as handsome as what it turned out to be. The Northern Areas of Pakistan, specifically Gilgit-Baltistan, are majestic. If you happen to visit Gilgit-Baltistan, you could easily compare it to Switzerland we often gawk at during Yash Chopra movie sessions.

Before 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan was apparently a part of Ladakh. When you look back even further, this was in fact, Little Tibet. People in this region essentially have their own language, which is also widely spoken; they write books in their native lingo too. But, I didn’t know that. Only after hefty research, I discovered that the literacy rate of the Hunza valley is believed to be more than 90 per cent — virtually, every child of the new generation, studies up to at least high school level. Many pursue advanced education from prestigious colleges and universities of Pakistan and abroad. But why did I have to extensively make enquiries to come up with these particulars? Why don’t Pakistanis promote the “forgotten land”? Why don’t we craft advertisements to attract tourists to visit these stately sites? Why don’t we invest in billboards that educate people like me, who had no intimation that such exquisiteness exists in this nation? Why isn’t there any focus on tourism and the splendours of the Northern areas? I fail to comprehend why the government of Pakistan is failing to acknowledge the benefits and remunerations, the tourism industry could bring to the nation that is sadly, termed as third-world.

As romantic as it sounds, the Karakoram Highway offers a treacherous, yet thrilling journey to the highest ranges of the planet. The extreme height and the structure of the mountains is simply grandiose; the weather, too, is unpredictable and perfect for Pakistanis who dream of visiting Canada to witness their first-ever snowfall. Due to its inaccessibility and extremely high altitude, the valleys and its surrounding alpine forests have remained natural and pristine, unadulterated by urban-human encroachment — providing a picture-perfect getaway for urbanites and health freaks who are desperate to get some untainted air into their systems.

As much as the valley boasts magnificence, the people of the Northern areas like Hunza are noted for their pleasantness and hospitality. The local languages spoken are unreservedly soulful — Balti, being my favourite. Saving grace — most natives understand Urdu!

If you wish to acquire a complex undertone of life, the Northern areas of Pakistan could impart volumes. Be it photography, nature, mountains, astronomy or travelling — this is the place to patrol and it shouldn’t be me, but the government, enlightening the world of the noteworthy locale.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2016.

Photo: Sophee Smiles at Attabad Lake Hunza

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