By Fakhar Alam
PESHAWAR, Jul 12 (APP):Known as a home to six highest mountains peaks of above 8,000 meters height including the world second tallest K2 (8,611meter), 786 types of wildlife species and 12 ecological climate zones, Pakistan is a unique country offering breathtaking natural beauty most suited for ecotourism.
The eco diverse Pakistan where the world three mighty mountains ranges of Koh-e-Hindokush, Karakoram and Hamaliya meet besides a dozen of forests climate zones having famous national Deodar tree found in high pasture areas of Hazara, Malakand, Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Kashmir and around 786 types of wildlife species including 186 reptiles and 173 mammals including national animal Markhor in Chitral, Kohistan and GB, has made it a highly attractive country for mountaineers, adventurers and ecotourism lovers.
Similarly, great scope of ecotourism exist in biodiverse Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bestowed with around 4,500 varieties of plants, 98 mammals, 456 birds and 43 reptiles besides six national parks including Saiful Mulk and Lalusir in Mansehra, Nathiagali and Ayubia in Abbottabad and Chitral Gol in Chitral.
KP’s ecological-rich Galiyat, Thandiani, Bagnotar, Dongagali, Harnoi, Ayubia, Kaghan, Naran, Sogran, Kalam, Bahrain, Madain, Malam Jabba, Komrat and Chitral where a record three million tourists arrived last year, has a great potential to become hub of ecotourism.
The tourists’ influx to these scenic resorts continued in the first two months of this year where they enjoyed moderate to heavy snowfall over its hills but unfortunately,these were closed for indefinite period after substantial numbers of coronavirus cases were detected during March in KP.
It was in1980 when the concept of ecotourism was first introduced by Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, who was a special adviser on ecotourism to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Director of Programme Consultancy on Ecotourism.
“Ecotourism is a responsible travel to natural areas without disturbing the forests, aquatic and wildlife species besides ensuring economic well-being of local communities,” “said Muhammad Tehmasip Khan, Project Director, 10 Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) while talking to APP.
“Ecotourism needs less investment as compared to other fields of tourism, but requires an active community involvement for forest conservation vital to strengthen rural economies and combat climate change challenges,” he maintained.
Nathiagali, Dongali, Thandiani, Ayubia, Naran, Kaghan, Shogran, Kalam, Madain, Malam Jabba, Kumrat and Chitral are ideally suited for making investment in ecotourism.
BTAP PD said ecotourism could become a leading source of income generation for rural communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the wake of whopping plantations of over 1.20 billion plants including 600 million on 306,983 hectares through forest enclosures, 200 million on 263,213 hectares manmade and 200 million through farm forestry achieved in the first phase of Billion Trees Afforestation Project (BTAP) during 2014-17.
As a result, KP’s forest covered areas has been enhanced to record 26.3pc in 2018 from 20.3pc in 2013, registering six percent increase and efforts were underway to further augment it up to 30pc in the next three years under ‘Plant of Pakistan’ initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
He said 10 new small and big jungles were raised in different KP districts including Ghari Chandan in Peshawar where over 3.2million plants on 32,000 hectares land were planted under BTAP and the plants have achieved about 15 to 20 feet height.
“Ghari Chandan forest is bigger than Changa Manga and can become a hub of ecotourism for Peshawarites in near future,” Tehmasip said.
“I love ecotourism and whenever get an opportunity, visit Galiyat especially on weekend to enjoy its breathtaking natural beauty, waterfalls, thick forests, pollution free environment, and colonial era walking trails,” said Khurshid Alam, Manager, Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC) while talking to APP.
Recalling his last year trip experience to Galiyat, he said the ride in Ayubia chairlift was full of fun and laughter besides walking on Ayubia-Nathiagali trail, horse and camel ridings were still refreshing his mind.
“I am eagerly waiting for reopening of Galiyat’s resorts to visit my dream place Nathiagali and Ayubia again on the upcoming Eidul Azha,” Khurshid, who visited Galiyat for three consecutive years, said.
He said, “families and registered tours operators may be allowed to explore the natural beauty of these hill stations and national parks under anti COVID-19 SOPs besides spending some time in a pollution free and pleasant atmosphere.”
By allowing ecotourism, he said communities living near tourist resorts and national parks would be financially empowered and consequently, they would help protect the green gold for their future generation.
Syed Ishtiaq Urmar, Provincial Minister for Environment, Wildlife and Forests said promotion of tourism, wildlife and forests was a cornerstone of PTI Government policy.
He said six national parks were established including Saiful Mulk and Lalusir in Mansehra, Nathia Gali and Ayubia in Abbottabad and Chitral Gol in Chitral to promote biodiversity, forests and ecotourism.
Five national wildlife parks were being established at Kumrat, Ansoo Lake, Satara Nand in Mansehra and Palas Kohistan.
The Minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently announced establishment of 15 national parks under the Protected Areas Initiative Project (PAIP) in next three years that would make Pakistan a land of wildlife and ecotourism.
“KP Govt was ready to extend all out cooperation to the Federal Government for execution of this mega project in the province,” he said.
According to official sources, the cost of PAIP was about Rs .4 billion under which nine new state-of-the-art national parks would be set up in the country and six others would be strengthened and equipped with all modern facilities.
The mega project would help increase protected areas from existing 12pc to 15pc in the country and efforts were on to increase forest cover areas up to 30pc by 2023 in KP.
A National Park Service (NPS) would be set up under PAIP and 5,000 green jobs would be created mostly for youth residing in the vicinity of these national parks to bolster rural economy and ecotourism through national parks.
Tourism Corporation KP (TCKP), Managing Director Junaid Khan told APP that tourism industry was a major source of revenue generation for the province, especially for people living near tourists’ sites and efforts was being made to start controlled tourism in KP to strengthen economy and alleviate poverty on one hand and prevent spread of COVID-19 on the other.
“KP’s tourism was hit hard by coronavirus and as per initial assessment survey reports, nearly Rs. 4 billion losses were incurred to this key sector during the last five months,” said MD TCKP.
He said camping pods were set up at scenic Bishigram in Swat, Sharan in Kaghan, Thandiani in Abbottabad, Yakh Tangay in Shangla and Sheikh Badin in Lakki Marwat that attracted substantial number of foreign and domestic tourists last year due to its affordable charges.
Approximately, Rs .250 million would be spent on development of camping pods sites and rest houses during the current fiscal year. A total of Rs1093.501 million were allocated for 27 tourism and sports projects including 21 ongoing with allocation of Rs788.501 million and six new schemes worth Rs305 million in budget 2020-21.
Famous Mahodand lake in upper Swat would be converted into an international ecotourism resort on which Rs. 80 million would be spent besides a new tourist resort would be established at Chor Allai in Battagram.
TCKP MD said Malakand and Hazara divisions were ideally suited for development of ecotourism where Rs4,400 million would be spent on repair and construction of link roads to open its remote scenic areas for nature lovers.
Similarly, Rs3,000 million would be utilized for development of tourist sites in merged areas including Tirah valley in Khyber, Samona at Orakzai, Parachinar in Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan.
“The SOPs for opening of controlled tourism have been prepared and tourist sites and hotels would be reopened soon subject to Govt. permission, ” TCKP MD said.
In the first stage, he said only families would be allowed to visit tourist destinations and day travelers would be discouraged.
Under SOPs, walk through gates on entry and exit points of hotels would be installed besides screening of staff, disinfection of vehicles and hotels’ rooms would be ensured.
He said TCKP has completed homework regarding implementations of SOPs on ground and necessary training was provided to hotels’ staffers to protect tourists from the stings of coronavirus.