By Fakhar Alam
AYUBIA, Aug 16 (APP):Feature Pakistan -a country with geographical and ethnic diversity has the scenic beauty that is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
Pakistan is a unique country having five tallest mountains peaks of over 8,000 meters
including the world’s second highest K2 (8, 611meters), Nanga Parbat also known as a killer mountain (8126m), Gasherbrum–I ( 8,068m), Broad Peak (8047m), and Broad Peak Middle (8,016m) out of the total 14 peaks of above 8,000 meters height found on earth. The country was also blessed with160 mountain peaks of above 7,000 meters and around 700 peaks of above 6,000 meters height, attracting mountaineers, adventurers and trekkers from worldwide to explore.
Major northern cities of Pakistan in mountains ranges of Hindukush, Karakoram and Hamaliya especially Chilas, Gilgit, Hunza, Skardu, Astore in Gilgit Baltistan, Chitral, Dir, Kohistan, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Malakand, Bajaur, Torghar and Kalam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Murree in Punjab and Azad Kashmir was most suitable for mountaineering, rocks climbing, trekking and adventure sports.
Likewise, Rivers Chitral, Punjkora, Indus, Swat, Hunza, Kunar and Neelam was ideal for rivers rafting, Malam Jabba for skiing and jeep safaris, Thar and Cholistan for camel safaris, Karachi for parasailing, Deosai plains, Malakand, Hazara and Kurram for trout fishing and Islamabad for paragliding.
The northern areas including Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and KP had attracted over two million adventure and mountain lovers last year courtesy to online visa policy and improved safety measures of PTI Government.
The upsurge in tourism in the past few years has been aided by the government of Pakistan’s pragmatic policies for foreign tourists seeking to visit certain parts of the country.
It merits a mention here that the monsoon season of hovering clouds with an erratic rainfalls over the lush green mountains of Ayubia has started attracting influx of tourists to explore its birds chanting valleys, colonial era walking trails and thick chir pine forests besides a chairlift ride full of thrill and excitement after reopening of tourism by Govt in the wake of significant reduction of coronavirus cases in Pakistan.
Situated in a five-kilometer distance east of Nathiagali on an altitude of 8,000 feet on Abbottabad-Murree Road in Hamaliya region, Ayubia was witnessing great hustle and bustle of mountaineers, trekkers and adventure sports lovers these days enjoying its breathtaking natural beauty, spectacular landscapes, rich wildlife & biodiversity and pleasant weather with cool breeze capturing visitors’ attention.
From a single room to a five star hotel, charpai (bed) to guest houses, tents to motels, rest houses to cottages and zigzag hiking to mountains trekking trails at scenic Ayubia, Changagali, Thandiani, Khanspoor, Harnoi, Nathiagali, Jhika Gali, Khanaspoor, Kalabagh and Bagnotar were flooded with nature and adventure sports lovers mostly arrived from KP and Punjab to explore the lush green valleys and mountains of Galiyat.
Tourists along with families were seen enjoying five kilometers long ride on Ayubia chairlift full of fun and excitement while passing over the thick chir pine forests before landing at picturesque Mukeshpuri.
The four-kilometer walk òn colonial era Ayubia-Nathiagali trail mostly supervised by local guides, horse and camel ridings besides fast moving swings become a great source of entertainment.
Famous Mukshpuri Top and Dunga Gali-Ayubia-Miranjani hiking trails between Nathiagali and Donga Gali on 9,500 feet height were the main centre of attraction for tourists from where the breathtaking natural beauty of Azad Kashmir, Galiyat, Rivers Harnoi and Jehlum could been seen after passing in thick vegetations and chir pine forests.
Tourists could see around 203 species of birds including Golden Eagle, falcons, pheasants Koklas and Kaleej, 104 types of plants including national tree Deodar and 35 species of plants wildlife and mammals including Indian origin leopards, fox, monkeys and tigers in famous Ayubia National Park besides the birds chanting lush green valleys of Khanuspoor, Nathiagali, Donga Gali, Changagali, Bagnotar, Baragali, Harnai, Jhika Gali, Kalabagh and Thandiani clad in thick chir pine forests in a single day trip.
The stunning beauty of Galiyat could be seen from colonial era luxury Governor House, Chief Minister House, Karnak House commonly known as Himalaya House, Speaker House and IGP House at Nathiagali opened by KP Government for general public and tourists last year.
“I came to Ayubia to enjoy its amazing natural beauty, British era walking trails, and unique chairlift ride. I waited for this day with great patience after spending five months at home due to fear of COVID-19,” said Ehtisham Qaiser (25), lecturer of Urdu Literature and a resident of Nowshera while talking to APP.
“The stunning natural beauty of Galiyat especially Ayubia has always attracted me to spend few weeks of hot summer in this spectacular hilly tourists resort of Pakistan,” Ehtisham said, adding it was his sixth consecutive visit since 2014 to this this hilly station named after President General Ayub Khan.
“Its chairlift ride takes me to a new level of thrill and excitement besides adding colour to this beautiful tourist resort of Pakistan,” he said.
Prof Ehtisham said Pakistan could have attracted millions of foreign and domestic tourists this year after an award-winning UK-based travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler listed the country as a top adventure travels site among 20 holiday destinations across the world for 2020 besides the successful visit of British royal couple, had COVID-19 not struck in March this year.
“Pakistan is the most attractive tourist destination for adventure and mountain sports lovers and we need to properly showcase these hidden treasures before the world through digital technologies and social media,” said Abu Zafar Sadiq, President Alpine Club Pakistan (ACP), Islamabad while talking to APP.
The ACP President informed that northern areas including Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and KP had attracted over two million adventure and mountain lovers last year courtesy to online visa policy and improved safety measures by PTI Government.
He said this unique mountain’s wealth could be used for revitalization of COVID-19 hit economy, alleviation of poverty and generation of employment opportunities in northern Pakistan.
Sadiq said, “dozens of domestic and foreign expedition tours parties, who had cancelled bookings due to coronavirus pandemic, were now re-approaching seeking its restoration to explore the lofty mountains of Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and KP.”
He said most of tourists guides, hotels waiters, horse and camel riders, balloon shooters, coffee machine vendors, roadside cabins, photographers and chairlift workers whom lost jobs during COVID-19 lockdown were being readjusted by financially sound tours operating companies.
He said tours operating companies will take time to fully recover financially and Govt. help was required for revival of their business in the post COVID-19 era.
Latifur Rehman, Spokesperson of Tourism, Sports, Archeology, Museums and Youth Affairs Department told APP that KP Government has announced a mega relief package for revival of tourism industry by waiving off registration of unregistered hotels and restaurants and the license fee for all registered and non-registered travels agencies, tour operators, hotels and restaurants for a period of one year with an immediate effect.
He said the KP Government has decided to launch the world’s longest and highest 14 kilometers long cable car project (CCP) to connect scenic Kumrat valley Dir Upper with Madaklasht valley Lower Chitral to promote adventure tourism. The project upon completion would attract around eight million tourists to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa every year.
The concerned departments have been directed by CM KP for carrying out detailed feasibility study and engineering design of CCP to be completed with an estimated cost of Rs 32 billion. Its feasibility study would be completed in six months as the proposed project was feasible, environment friendly and no land acquisition process was involved therein.
The project will have car parking facilities on both sides of the stations as well as food restaurant and other allied facilities. At least 10 tourists would travel in a cable car by paying only Rs500 fare from both sides for a 38 minutes adventure trip.
The spokesperson said the 3rd Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting of World Bank assisted KP Integrated Tourism Development (KITE) project has recently approved feasibility studies of four tourists roads include expansion of 24 kilometers Thandiani road, 23 kilometers Mankyal to Bada Serai road, 45 kilometers Shishikoh to Madaklasht roads and 35 kilometers Supat Valley road to open up these scenic areas for tourism.
Feasibility studies of eight new tourist sites have been approved by PSC to reduce pressure on existing tourist resorts including Galiyat, Kalam, Malam Jabba, Kumrat and Ayubia.
The inclusion of Kumrat and Bin Shahi tourist areas in ADP has been approved and the decision to establish Development Authority for Dir Lower and Dir Upper districts was taken.
An autonomous Authority and Special Tourists Zone (ASTZ) at Kumrat was under consideration besides Rs20 million for Kumrat road and Rs10 million for RCC link roads were approved.
Similarly, an Expressway from Chakdara-Rabat Lower Dir has been approved that would be completed with an estimated cost of Rs10.5 billion to promote trade, business and adventure tourism in Dir Lower, Dir Upper, Chitral and Bajaur districts besides strengthening regional connectivity.
The expressway’s feasibility study would be completed with an estimated cost of Rs25 million on which work was started. A five kilometers tunnel would also be constructed that would reduce distance between Chakdara and Rabat by 25 kilometers.
Latifur Rehman said provincial development working party (PDWP) has approved Rs3billion project to construct two approach roads to Sheikh Badin National Park including 14.3 kilometers from Pezo Lakki Marwat and 16 kilometers from Panyala DI Khan to promote adventure and mountains tourism in southern districts of the province.
To provide quality and affordable accommodation facilities to tourists, he said the management along with human resources of 168 rest houses of different Govt departments including 55 C&W, 20 Irrigation, 21 Local Government, two police and 70 of Forest department have been transferred to the Tourism department by the KP Government.
Similarly, Rescue 1122 stations for Kumrat, Kalash, Thandiani and Galiyat under the KITE project have been established to provide quick services to tourists during times of emergencies.