Tourists have flocked to the Kaghan valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Mansehra district in record numbers this Eidul Azha, with hundreds of thousands of vehicles choking the roads and causing traffic jams in the scenic tourist site, it emerged on Sunday.
As many as 700,000 vehicles entered the valley during the Eid holidays, according to police department figures, breaking a previous record when around 500,000 vehicles carried tourists yearning for natural beauty to the region some five years ago.
The Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhad road, which leads to Kaghan valley en route to Gilgit-Baltistan, remained choked during the first four days of Eidul Azha and the situation on this strategic artery which is in a highly dilapidated condition remained the same on the fifth day.
“We have welcomed tourists in around 0.7 million vehicles to this picturesque valley and the influx of nature lovers is still on its peak even on the fifth day of the holiday,” District Police Officer Asif Bahadur told Dawn.com.
He said police were doing their utmost to manage the traffic flow despite the arrival of record numbers of tourists in the valley.
A tourist said it took him 12 hours to travel from Balakot to Naran, a distance that normally takes around three hours on ordinary days.
“There is an unimaginable influx of tourists since Prime Minister Imran Khan recently visited this piece of heaven on earth and termed it more beautiful and scenic than Switzerland,” Mahnoor, a tourist from Karachi, said.
She said most of the visitors had to spend their nights in vehicles or on roadsides because hotels were packed in the entire valley.
Over the weekend, visitors remained stuck amid the traffic jam on MNJ road as well as on arteries linking exotic sites like the Saiful Muluk Lake to other areas.
Some tourists pointed out the need for developing the area's capacity to handle such large numbers of visitors.
“If the prime minister is sincere in achieving his tourism vision — Clean and Green Pakistan — he should first erect the infrastructure to deal with such massive influx as one has to travel on potholes, uneven surfaces and rocks while passing through MNJ road,” said Mohammad Akram.
He said nature lovers wanted to visit not only the Kaghan valley but other such destinations too but they lacked proper facilities.
Foreign tourists have also thronged Kaghan valley this Eid and were seen enjoying the local culture and cuisine along with the hospitality extended to them by the local business community.
“We have welcomed foreign tourists to our restaurants in Naran and Bassal areas and they enjoyed halwa and other traditional foods being offered in the valley,” shared Hussain Deen, managing director of Moon Restaurants, a chain of eateries in the valley.
Deen, who had provided free-of-cost meals to hundreds of tourist families stranded in the valley last November when sudden snowfall cut the valley off from the rest of the country, said the business community was providing maximum relief to the visitors.
“We have been strictly following the coronavirus SOPs set by the government for the tourism industry,” he told Dawn.com.