Wed, Feb 22, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Ski resort razed by Taliban lifts Pakistan’s local tourism

Reuters, MALAM JABBA, Pakistan

In Gilgit-Baltistan Province, home to the Himalayas and the world’s second-highest mountain K2, domestic tourist numbers rocketed to nearly 700,000 last year, from 250,000 in 2014. Foreign tourists accounted for less than 2 percent of all visitors, the Gilgit-Baltistan tourism department said.

“Because of the larger numbers of local tourists, no one is really feeling the pinch of not having the foreigners,” said Siraj Ulmulk, a hotel owner in Chitral, a region bordering Swat.

However, the surge in tourists has a price. In Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan Province, visitors to mud volcanoes dotting the lunar landscape of Hingol National Park are welcomed by a carpet of plastic bottles and cigarette wrappers.

“The downside of local tourists is that they throw thrash everywhere and have no respect for nature,” said Muqeem Baig, owner of tour company Climax Adventure Pakistan.

At Swat’s Malam Jabba, which originally opened in 2000, locals remember well-heeled businessmen and Western diplomats sojourning on weekends.

That changed when the Pakistani Taliban overran Swat in 2007, imposing their harsh interpretation of Islamic law for two years before the army drove them out.

Samsons, a private company that acquired the state-owned resort in 2013, hopes Pakistanis will now return, seeking a taste of the Alps on a shoestring budget.

Returning to the resort for the first time since 2010, retired Malam Jabba engineer Akbar Ali had thought he would never ski again.

Clad in traditional shalwar-kameez robes, Ali, 67, eyed the piste and wedged his feet into ski boots.

“I’m very happy,” he said, and headed up the powdery slope.

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