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Friday February 23, 2024

Responsible tourism

July 28, 2023

A video clip of a family that went on a tour to the northern regions of the country has gone viral on social media. In the middle of the night, these travellers faced massive landslides for many hours and were desperately struggling to save themselves.

Unfortunately, due to lack of resources, severe weather, blocked roads and unavailability of mobile network, they were deprived of timely rescue and finally lost their precious lives. According to media reports, only one man and his friend survived while his spouse, two daughters and a grandson died in the accident.

This was one unfortunate family whose story came to limelight and succeeded in attracting the attention of the media. Apart from that, nobody knows how many other people go up north for the sake of tourism and suffer tragic accidents due to bad infrastructure and negligence.

I remember that last Wednesday, July 19, when I was returning to Islamabad after visiting the Bhamala Stupa Khanpur Dam, I received a phone call from a family on a tour to Gilgit-Baltistan, and facing landslides on the way. They were scared. I reassured them, asking them to try to clear the road on their own with the help of other travellers nearby. However, I was surprised to know that there was only one specific organization allowed to clear the road.

When I contacted the higher management there, they also apologized and told me that under the SOP the road can only be cleared in the morning. I did not understand this logic that the lives of innocent people are in danger but those responsible for protecting public lives and property are knowingly leaving them at the mercy of circumstances in the dark of night. If their fortune is good, they will leave in the morning, otherwise they will be declared unlucky.

However, I did not give up and continued asking higher officials of various organizations. Finally my tireless efforts paid off and the local organization rescued the tourists and provided them with a shelter place to spend the night temporarily. In the morning they were safely sent forward to their destination. While I was happy that God had enabled me to save the lives of innocent passengers, I wonder how a common person would be able to ensure their safety without any influence in this country.

After assuming charge as chairman of the Prime Minister's Task Force for Gandhara Tourism, I identified the ancient rock art of thousands of years in the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan most significant for promotion of Buddhist tourism. In this regard, a trip to Gilgit-Baltistan along with different diplomats and media persons was also under consideration, but the news of the recent tragic accident has spread a wave of panic not only around me but also in diplomatic circles.

In my view, the most critical challenge in the promotion of tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan is the upgrading of existing infrastructure and the unavailability of rescue services. Relevant institutions need to issue proper and accurate travel advisories for tourists visiting northern regions after assessing the weather conditions. Further, professional training for rescue operations and provision of modern equipment should be ensured so that if any tourist is in trouble, they can be helped timely.

Similarly, there should be a police post every two kilometers so that immediate action can be taken in any emergency situation. If there is a risk of landslides, it is the responsibility of the concerned authorities to close the road in advance as a precaution, just like the motorways during foggy conditions.

Taking notice of the recent accident, I have decided to bring all the stakeholders of the tourism sector in the northern regions on one page to determine the causes and prevention of such accidents.

The writer is a member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani