After a slump in foreign visitors triggered by a deadly attack last year, a new wave of local sightseers has saved tourism in Pakistan’s idyllic northern Hunza Valley.
Though there are no official figures, hotel owners say large numbers of domestic tourists are visiting, heading north to escape the sizzling heat of summer that lasts well into October.
In the valley’s main town of Karimabad, they snap pictures at the ancient Baltit Fort, a first-century redoubt from where they can take in breathtaking views of lush forests and snow-capped peaks.
Foreign tourism once helped support the Gilgit-Baltistan region, but it has slowed to a trickle after the killing of 10 foreign climbers at the base camp of Nanga Parbat mountain last year.
In their place have come visitors from Punjab and Karachi, thanks mainly to a well-publicized television campaign. Though their business is welcome and vital, cultural differences also highlight the growing gap between the religiously conservative south and traditionally secular north, observers say.
Some complain the local guests can be disrespectful toward the liberal traditions that have long set the area apart from the rest of the country, and are prone to spoiling the region’s natural beauty by littering.
International tourism took a hit after Pakistan joined the US in its war on terror after Sept. 11, 2001.
Sherbaz Kaleem, manager of the ancient Baltit Fort, said that during peak season before 2001, “we used to receive almost 200, 300 international community tourists” daily.
The numbers were reduced to a trickle, but began to pick up once again later that decade.
The slow recovery came to a screeching halt in June last year, when attackers shot dead 10 foreign tourists at the base camp of the Nanga Parbat.
Kaleem said many people canceled visits to Hunza, while tourists at Baltit Fort numbered two to three every day.
“Even then they were afraid and many people told them that they should go back,” Kaleem said.
Locals say the industry is now reorienting itself to focus on the local market.
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