IT is not surprising to see local tourism in the country’s northern areas picking up again. To behold sights of towering, snow-capped mountains and gushing, pristine lakes; to pass through ancient history and be greeted by a warm and hospitable people — these are just some of the reasons why tourists have been flocking to locations in the districts of Gilgit-Baltistan, KP, and Azad Kashmir. But all of this may change in the near future with the influx of irresponsible visitors, who do not seem to respect the sanctity of the places they temporarily pass through. In a relatively short span of time, these once-immaculate places now present a sorry scene of garbage scattered around, single-use plastic being the worst culprit. On social media, photos that are being shared of littering in places such as the Khunjerab Pass simply highlight one of the discontents of an expanding tourism industry. But the issue here is not of a ‘lack of education’ or poor access to proper disposal sites — as many often incorrectly assume — but a shortsighted lack of concern for others. If tourists who come from the big cities and have money to spend cannot see the error of their ways, there is no other option but to introduce penalties. After all, it is unlikely that these same people would litter when travelling to other countries, where there is better civic sense.
Recently, the Galliyat Development Authority fined tourists and several government-owned rest houses for dumping garbage out in the open, after having issued a warning last month. And in April, Hunza became one of the first districts to outlaw single-use plastic bags — with some measure of success as anecdotal evidence suggests. Alongside its tourism-related ambitions, the government must promote ethical, socially responsible travelling. Many of these places are still at the periphery. Undoubtedly, resentment towards outsiders who do not respect the land or its people will grow. In fact, it is already on the rise. And for that, all blame cannot be placed on the government.
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2019