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Polo Festival, Shandur
Polo Festival, Shandur

In recent years Pakistan has emerged as one of the leading tourist destinations for travellers from all over the world

By Mudassir Tipu

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Shalimar Gardens, Lahore
Shalimar Gardens, Lahore

Published: Wed 23 Mar 2022, 12:00 AM

Pakistan, a culturally and socially diverse country, is a land with magical and mystical beauty. Boasting a civilisation going back to millennia, the country is a bastion of cultural relics, inherited from knowledge and experience of communities, historians, artists, archeologists, and anthropologist. The country’s spiritual heritage is epitomised by the mosques, shrines, temples, churches, gurduwaras, and mandirs that it has preserved over time immemorial. The US magazine Condé Nast Traveler ranked Pakistan as No.1 travel destination for tourism in 2020.

Lahore Fort
Lahore Fort

Taxila, an ancient city, is a trove of treasures with Buddhist Stupas and archeological remains and the tales of history tell us that Thomas the Apostle came to present day Taxila in the first century AD. Deep in the Kalasha valleys of Chitral, you can meet the indigenous tribe who are believed to be descendants of Alexander the Great. Due to its cultural power, the World Economic Forum has placed Pakistan among the top 25 per cent of global destinations for its UNESCO ‘World Heritage Sites’.

Pakistan’s landscape is unique and varied, with high altitude mountain ranges in the north; a series of low mountain ranges from north to southwest; plains and deserts to east; and warm and captivating beaches of the Arabian Sea to the south. With 7,253 known glaciers, Pakistan has more glacial ice than any other country on earth outside the polar regions.

Frere Hall at Karachi
Frere Hall at Karachi

The northern areas of Pakistan meet the three spectacular mountain ranges, Karakoram, Hindukush, and the Himalayas. Pakistan has five of the 14 highest independent peaks in the world (the eight thousanders), including K2, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum I and II, and Broad Peak. Home to 108 peaks above 7,000 meters and over four thousand peaks above 6,000 meters, an entire series can be devoted to the mountains of Pakistan. Other than the lofty mountains, the north offers cultural heritage, beautiful valleys, natural lakes, glaciers and an array of rare fauna and flora. The polo festival at Shandur top in Gilgit Baltistan is an out of world experience with the backdrop of snowy mountains, alpine flowers, and sparkling lakes.

Pakistan’s four provinces have rich cultural diversity with differences in food, art, traditions, and way of life. Karachi, the port city has landmarks such as Empress Market, the Bristol Hotel, Frere Hall, and the founding father Quid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum. Peshawar, known as the ‘City on the Frontier’, is located on the crossroads of central and south Asia with historic sites, and Qissa Kahwani bazaar’s inescapable beauty. Baluchistan has breathtaking attractions such as Quetta, nicknamed the ‘fruit garden of Pakistan’, and the Urak Valley, Quaid-e-Azam’s residency Ziarat, and Pishin valley among many others.

A serene abode to nature lovers, the lush green Kashmir, bestowed with nature’s bounties, is ideal for sporting activities like skiing, paragliding and river rafting. In the north, you can live at the Khaplu Palace’s mid-19th century imperial building like Baltistani royalty. To experience mughal architecture, a visit to Lahore with sights of Lahore Fort, Shalimar Gardens, and the Badshahi Mosque is a must. New York Times picked Lahore as one of the top places to visit in 2021.

The British backpacker society ranked Pakistan as the number one adventure travel destination for 2018. Will Hatton, author of The Broke Backpacker, wrote that Pakistani people are “hospitable, kind and welcoming people.” Locals are generous and will gladly invite you to their homes without prior meeting, shopkeepers will ask you to have chai while you are window shopping and its rich cultural power embraces you with open arms. Pakistani street food and chai (tea) at makeshift cafes are a world of their own, bustling with resilient and joyful youth. Fragrant, spicy and delectable — many local dishes carry cultural heritage rooted in history and geography of the country.

In recent year, Pakistan has witnessed an incredible improvement in its security situation. The Gallup Law and Order Report of 2021 ranks Pakistan, Italy, Sri Lanka and Israel at the same score of 84, keeping it above many developed countries. The Serbian-based Numbeo Crime Index that ranks 452 cities has improved Karachi’s rank from 13thin 2013, to 127th in 2021 while Islamabad and Lahore are ranked at 396 and 274 respectively showing that the cities of Pakistan are safer when compared to other major cosmopolitan cities. Pakistan also fares far better in comparison with many advanced economies in the Numbeo’s Crime Index 2022.

Hospitality and tourism industries are thriving in Pakistan. Imran Khan, the Prime Minister, has made promotion of tourism a priority and his determination is yielding positive results. Pakistan’s tourism future is full of hope as government is aiming to initiate new projects and produce jobs through ongoing efforts and future initiatives to promote tourism.

Pakistan is offering visas on arrival to visitors from over 50 countries and electronic visas to 175 nationalities. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million foreigners visited Pakistan. The numbers further grew in following years. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) forecasted that the country’s tourism sector would grow to over $40 billion within a decade. According to WTTC, one in four jobs was created by the travel and tourism sector during 2014-2019 in Pakistan. Tourism contribution to GDP was 10.4 per cent in 2019. Multiple digital resources provide the consumers all the information to plan their trip by aggregating companies and travel agents from across Pakistan onto one platform.

Football lovers will be happy to know that coaches from the UK are coming to Karachi this month to train Pakistan’s young and rambunctious football fans. And the crazy cricket fans are absolutely thrilled that the top cricketers from all over the world are pouring in Pakistan to play in Pakistan Super League (PSL) matches.

Pakistan is emerging on the world map for being the best travel destination. The jovial and vibrant South Asian nation is a great destination to enjoy natural beauty and hospitality of its people. In 2017, Cassie De Pescol, the first person to travel to all 196 countries on the planet, after her groundbreaking journey put Pakistan as her fifth favourite country, citing that it was one of her most educational and enriching experiences.

The writer is Director General (Americas) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the views expressed are his personal opinion.

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