THE area of Karimabad in Hunza Valley is becoming the ‘New Murree’. About 685km from Islamabad and two-and-a-half hours from Gilgit airport, the area is fast becoming the most popular tourist spot in the country. The valley offers exotic views and attracts both international and local tourists, just like Murree once did.

Karimabad has a road similar to the popular Mall Road of Murree, just a bit narrower. Lined on both sides with shops, the road remains choked with traffic because apparently the act of walking is frowned upon in this 2km stretch. Tourist-laden coasters and cars make their way up, down and sideways on the road to reach their destinations.

While we wait for the traffic to move, we do get to see narrow, almost hairline glimpses of the valley between the buildings on either side. The visual periphery is being filled with buildings as, of course, one would want in any mountainous area. What is life in the mountains without concrete structures, huh?

With so many people coming to the area, it is only natural that there are hotels and restaurants aplenty. Most of the branded outlets you see in the cities have their presence here, ensuring that one does not miss out on one’s branded burgers. What is life in the mountains without the burgers, huh?

The region now has a double skyline; one with mountain range, and the other with bed-and-breakfast structures. The number of hotels goes up every season because the number of tourists is increasing every season, and, of course, controlling the influx of people or vehicles in such an area is an awful idea. Let us not even think of such steps.

All the new structures are not built by the locals. A number of people from other areas of the country are doing the honours by opening up hotels and guest houses here not because they see an opportunity to capitalise on, but rather to help the local community. Of course.

Also, the existing hotels are expanding vertically to accommodate the increasing number of tourists because that, as you know, is the only strategy to deal with such a situation. One step off the road, and you find yourself standing in the lobby of some hotel. One hotel chain particularly decided to expand so much that it now sits like a Godzilla, hawking a major chunk of the valley views.

Don’t we all love to pay a fee to enter this hotel, give an additional Rs40,000 per night for a view which the management has claimed as its property? Of course, we do. That is what we live for.

Just as is the case with the rest of Pakistan, there is no issue with electricity supply in the area … thanks to backup generators. The sound of running generators is music to ears, and a scent that reminds one of getting stuck behind a truck on G.T. Road. Contrary to what you might imagine, nothing of it has been done for commercial purposes. All these arrangements have been done to protect people against the menace of home-sickness.

Further, finding one’s way around the town used to be a tedious task for the non-locals. That is no more the case. There are huge signboards and neon plates on every building, even if it is as narrow as the strand of a hair. The signs can be read even if one is kilometres away.

Walking up that narrow road, one reaches a popular café through the traffic of honking coasters, cars and jeeps, awful pedestrians and amidst the jungle of concrete hotels. To do what? To have a walnut cake.

Not too far is the time when one will be taking an elevator to the 10th floor of that café to enjoy the view of the valley below because nothing would be visible standing on the ground except concretised eyesores.

Since adapting to local culture and indigeneity is an overrated idea, we opt for standardisation and call it progress. Every city and spot should look and feel similar, with infrastructure even more similar, and food options especially more similar than diverse. Even in this raw mountainous area, we are going for rapid infrastructure in the name of development because, you see, planning is too clichéd a concept and such a colonial thing to do. We are an independent country and every one of us is independent to take a route of choice to commercial success. If there is a negative fallout of our ‘independent’ endeavours, that is nothing but collateral damage.

All that I can suggest is for everyone to plan a visit to the region as soon as they can, because within a few years, there will be nothing authentic or indigenous visible in the Karimabad town of Hunza Valley.

S. Sundas
Rawalpindi

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2022

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