Some reflections about the development of a responsible and community based tourism in Hunza Valley, Pakistan

The aim of the following text is to present an external view resulting from an independent travel, made in August 2018, using public transportations from Islamabad to Khunjerab Pass with stops in different places. It is also an outcome of discussions hold with the people living and working in this mountainous area of Northern Pakistan.

Morning view of Hunza peak, 6 270 m, and Ladyfinger (Bublimating) peak,6 000 m, from Duikar (Eagle’s Nest)
Morning view of Hunza peak, 6 270 m, and Ladyfinger (Bublimating) peak,6 000 m, from Duikar (Eagle’s Nest)
Morning view of Hunza peak, 6 270 m, and Ladyfinger (Bublimating) peak, 6 000 m, from Duikar (Eagle’s Nest) — Photo © Bernard Grua 2018

1. The convenient public transportation

Local transportation is not a problem compared to many states especially if you look at other Central Asia countries, which have more tourists. It is also not very expensive. And it is cool to travel with local people, a good opportunity to learn as to get acquainted with them. The only difficulty is mostly to obtain an accurate and reliable information about the transport facilities: time, stations, destinations, prices. This information should be disclosed on the web site suggested in §7, below.

2. The trustable police

Policemen are helpful with foreigners. They are educated. They are reliable. They are trustable and friendly. They speak English. Every time I saw policemen I went to say hello to them and to introduce myself. I also visited them in police stations. They invited me for tea, coffee or even meals. I don’t think any other Central Asia Police can compete with them. This is a true asset.

3. The Hunza Valley identity to assert

Hunza valley is very different from other parts of Pakistan I have seen like Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Kaghan Valley, Galyat range… The other regions are, of course, interesting. However, Hunza is not crowdy. It is quiet. It is clean. It is safe. It is not noisy. It is gorgeous. Communication is easier with everybody because people are more educated and, then, more expecting interactions with foreign guests than in other parts of the country. Parents and children do not demand you anything like in many other tourist places of the world. They respect you. If they ask you questions, it is just to learn from you. Like their parents, children invite you to drink tea in their home.

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Two young sisters, daughter of M. Berham Baig, in Passu — Photo © Bernard Grua 2018
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Rakaposhi Peak, 7,788 meters, from Ghulmet viewpoint at early morning — Photo © Bernard Grua 2018

4. The growing garbage threat

Garbage is a big issue in Pakistan, and in many other countries. Till now, Hunza Valley is, almost, preserved. However, it can change very fast as experienced in Tunisia, where it becomes a dramatic issue, including in former stunning tourist areas. In Hunza valley, I observed, not only from Punjabi tourists but also from local people, some irresponsible behaviours. With the growing number of purchases from outside the valley, packed according to ugly today anti environment standards, it can become a serious concern. Areas and containers for trash should be organised and indicated. Keeping the Hunza Valley clean should be part of the education, at school. Some collective cleaning actions could be organised with children to make them more sensible to this issue. Keeping Hunza Valley clean will help to make it attractive. Enjoying beauty is an aim of people travelling to Hunza valley. It is of importance to not lose this advantage.

5. The weakening visual harmony

The beauty of this land is also based on the consistent and harmonious vision Hunza Valley offers. The traditional architecture with its balanced volumes and its natural materials is one of the major part of the vision. With the communication improvements (i.e. roads, trucks…), concrete, metal roofs, metal gates, metal curtains, advertising posters, plastic equipments, bright and non-natural colours are gaining more and more importance. Proportion and design of the buildings are changing. All of this can spoil the entire vision of villages and of the landscape very fast (see some Punjabi cities or villages, see Naran or even Aliabad, in Hunza valley). It is not too late to launch a general reflection with local communities and to adopt a responsible policy.

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Zoodkhun, a Chapursan Valley village at harvest time — Photo © Bernard Grua 2018

6. The promising but ignored “eco-heritage”

In connection with the rural traditional architecture mentioned above, a diligent attention should be brought to the heritage which is not limited to Baltit Fort, Altit Fort and Ganish old town. Buildings, traditional tools, rock walls, old trails, water irrigation systems, “know-how”, fields like gardens, polo grounds are still in function today. However, they may disappear if no specific attention is brought to them, while processes, equipements and way of life are changing. For example, the water mill of Zoodkhun, Chapursan Valley, was used until two or three years ago. It can still work. Until when?

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Zoodkhun: M. Dilawar Figar and his mother, left. Dilawar Figar’s wife, right. — Photo © Bernard Grua 2018

7. The missing Hunza Valley independent tourist office and website

Hunza valley needs some communication but its tourism should be oriented towards the local inhabitants and should not just promote big companies, big hotels or any globalised equipment. This tourism should not make Karimabad looking like Naran… or like a western tourist resort, where everything is artificial. Then, in my opinion, its tourism should be promoted by Hunza not by an office of the Pakistani capital city. Moreover, Hunza Valley should be promoted as a specific entity and due to its difference should not be confused, from abroad, with the rest of Pakistan. The Hunza Valley difference should be emphasized.

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Passu Face Mela, 11/08/2018 — A world class event foreign travellers were not aware of, while planning their visit to Northern Pakistan — Photo © Bernard Grua 2018

8. The crippling visa process

Visa is a true burden. It depends on each consulate in different countries. It even depends on the lunatic attitude of the clerk in charge of visa delivery, like in Paris. Knowing what should be written in a LOI (Letter of Invitation), and who can deliver it, is already a problem. Moreover, the whole visa process is an expensive compulsory step. If you don’t live in the capital city of your country, then it adds some extra costs and uncertainties. Despite all these uncertainties, travellers must buy their air plane ticket before applying for a Pakistani Visa. If the visa is refused, then the ticket value and all the visa expenses are lost. It is, then, reasonnable for numerous foreign visitors to consider another destination. See Paris Pakistani consulate requirements for a visa.

9. The dettering foreign MFA’s recommendations

Advices on western Ministry Of Foreign Affairs (MFA) websites are a major issue. They discourage visiting Pakistan. It should be cleared at Pakistani government level, talking with EU, USA etc… May be these countries expect some rules to be implemented to give a clean opinion? So much is already done. Probably, there are not a lot more efforts to do. But let’s address them.

Recommendations for travellers — French MFA — May 2018 — The Hunza Valley goes north from Gilgit to the Chinese border
Recommendations for travellers — French MFA — May 2018 — The Hunza Valley goes north from Gilgit to the Chinese border
Recommendations for travellers — French MFA — May 2018 — The Hunza Valley goes north from Gilgit to the Chinese border — Within the top orange area of map

10. The offer to complete, the synergies to developp, with Hunza Valley bordering countries

I think, tourists should be able to access the Afghan Wakhan corridor from Hunza Valley. It will open a lot of opportunities for local populations especially for Wakhi people speaking the same language in upper Hunza (Pakistan) and along the upper Panj River (Afghanistan and Tajikistan).

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Khandud Village — Wakhan Corridor — Afghanistan — Photo © Bernard Grua 2013
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Wakhan corridor as seen from ancient Abrashim Qala fortress in Tadjikistan — Where Wakhan and Pamir River merge into Panj River (Amu Daria) — Visible mountains are in Afghanistan — Photo © Bernard Grua 2011

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Some reflections about the development of a responsible and community based tourism in Hunza Valley, Pakistan by Bernard Grua
Some reflections about the development of a responsible and community based tourism in Hunza Valley, Pakistan by Bernard Grua

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Where to stay in Chapursan Valley

Pamir Serai guest houses are the traditional homestay of Zoodkhun and Baba Ghundi for external visitors. They are run by the internationaly famous Alam Jan Dario’s family.
Sky Bridge Motel & Resorts opened in 2018. It is run by Fahim U. Baig in Zoodkhun.
Hilltop Guest House is run by Haider Badakhshoni in Reshit.

Contributor to French and foreign medias: geopolitics, heritage, history, expeditions | https://bernardgrua.net https://bernardgrua.blogspot.com | FR EN SP GE

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