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Is the picture-perfect Cholistan Jeep Rally hiding some ugly truths?

On the third day of the event, local traders staged a protest and chanted slogans against the organisers.
Updated Mar 02, 2017 12:52pm

Away from the madding city life, stars shine bright above the historic Derawar Fort in Cholistan. Soon there is a burst of colour in the otherwise uninterrupted black skies. Crowds cheerfully take photos and selfies as fireworks erupt to celebrate the closing of this year’s Cholistan Jeep Rally.

Travellers snap photos of fireworks by the Derawar Fort, as the Cholistan Jeep Rally comes to a close. — Photos by Manoj Genani
Travellers snap photos of fireworks by the Derawar Fort, as the Cholistan Jeep Rally comes to a close. — Photos by Manoj Genani

Fireworks at the Cholistan Jeep Rally.
Fireworks at the Cholistan Jeep Rally.

Held from Feb 9 to 12, the event attracted hoards of people (mostly men) from all over the country. Sixty-one drivers and navigators participated in the rally, including three women and two foreigners.

This year too seven-time winner Nadir Magsi managed to finish first. He covered the 253-kilometre-long track in 2 hours and 26 minutes. “We have long brilliant tracks and expert drivers, but lack the resources to promote the game internationally,” Magsi told the media after his win.

Revellers sway to the sound of dhol.
Revellers sway to the sound of dhol.

A tourist with a mask to protect himself against the unsettled desert sand.
A tourist with a mask to protect himself against the unsettled desert sand.

Locals say as attendees glide through the desert in their jeeps, the sand starts floating in the air — making it difficult for them to breathe.
Locals say as attendees glide through the desert in their jeeps, the sand starts floating in the air — making it difficult for them to breathe.

While the racers hope to look outside to promote their sport, locals from Cholistan want organisers and attendees to look inwards. “The elite enjoy the mega event, fireworks and long drifts in the rally, while we suffer,” says Muhammad Irfan, a villager.

The crowds make the sparse Cholistan population feel like outsiders during the rally.

A local woman feeds ducks.
A local woman feeds ducks.

Cattle-rearing is often the sole source of livelihood for people in Cholistan.
Cattle-rearing is often the sole source of livelihood for people in Cholistan.

Once the event is over, it is the locals who are left to deal with the consequences.

Hoardings of sponsoring multinational brands sway in the desert wind. Wrappers, bottles, cigarette butts and shoppers can be seen flying in abundance.

Locals allege that as the waste makes its way towards the cattle, the animals looking for fodder ingest it and die. These animals are often the sole source of livelihood for Cholistan’s semi-nomadic community.

Asjad Ghani, general manager tourism development corporation of Punjab (TDCP), tells Dawn.com that he has not heard about any loss of animals in Cholistan. He adds that the organisers will further investigate the matter.

Banners of sponsors can be seen throughout the track.
Banners of sponsors can be seen throughout the track.

On the bright side, the rally gives the locals a chance to earn a few extra bucks. Taj Muhammad, a Mazda driver who brought visitors from Bahawalpur to the rally says, “Locals rent their homes to visitors at a minimum cost.”

Shopkeepers too stand to benefit — or at least they did in the past. But this year the starting point of the rally was eight kilometres before the Derawar town. “Visitors did not approach our stalls, which caused a loss in business,” a shopkeeper tells Dawn.com.

Local media reported the protests by traders and shopkeepers. — Courtesy 'Daily Duniya'
Local media reported the protests by traders and shopkeepers. — Courtesy 'Daily Duniya'

On the third day of the event, the traders staged a protest and chanted slogans against the TDCP.

“There is only one event in the year, during which we can do good business,” the protesters reportedly told Daily Duniya, a local newspaper. They further alleged that they had bought goods worth lakhs of rupees, which went to waste.

Ghani dismisses the complaints. These protests happen because people have “nothing better to do,” he says. The TDCP general manager further says that the organisation’s focus is on expanding the event and taking it to a “national level”. Indeed, many locals wonder, at what cost.


Manoj Genani is a photographer and cinematographer.


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