Travel Magazine

Prospering Neelum Valley

By Vishnudas
Prospering Neelum ValleyAchievement stories are very rare in Pakistan, but business is booming in one of the tourist spots of Kashmir as the region is rebuilding after a devastating earthquake and moves off links with violence.Numerous local tourists attracted to the breathtaking lakes and glaciers of the Neelum valley are investing money to see this place which is much needed in the poorest part of the country.

International tourists from west have stopped coming to the Himalayas of Pakistani-Kashmir long before.
However with a new road built by the Chinese after the 2005 earthquake killed 73,000 people and a ceasefire holding with India, have encouraged locals to discover the snow covered peaks, glaciers, lakes and lush green fields of the valley.Locally known as ‘Paradise on Earth,’ Neelum valley is 114 km east of the base camp where gunmen shot dead American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Slovakian and Ukranian climbers in June.This incidence was the worst attack on foreigners in Pakistan in a decade.Mohammad Amir, a lawyer on holiday with his family from southern Punjab, said, ”There is a bit of fear there, but overall we are enjoying ourselves and we will stay according to our plan”.Munazza Tariq, a university student from Karachi, agrees with the fact and says, “This was carried out by enemies of Pakistan. After it happened, we received several calls from our relatives from Karachi, but we are safe and enjoying ourselves”.Local tourism ministry official Shehla Waqar says Neelum valley is booming in tourism. She said, “There is a growth in tourists in the area because we have a very beautiful road from Muzaffarabad to Neelum Valley”.She also said that Taliban attacks in the northwest region and the crippling power cuts are also the reasons for the local people visiting this place.Local deputy commissioner Mohammad Farid told AFP that compared to none in 2010, Neelum Valley has 115 registered guest houses right now.The authorities claim that they have stepped up security after the killing of the climbers in Gilgit-Baltistan, but as the visitors in Kashmir are locals, they are not much serious about the effect.Mohammad Farid also added, “No doubt this incident has hampered international tourism in Pakistan, but it won’t affect Kashmir because we host domestic tourists”.Raja Zarat Khan, who owns a private guest house claimed that he was fully booked into the coming next week and had no cancellations.Mohammad Awais, who runs a restaurant and a string of guest houses, has also started taking tour groups to Neelum Valley.He stated, “This business has changed my life. Last year I did excellent trade because I gave tourists various incentives like, hiking, trekking, fishing and boating. The environment in Neelum Valley is very good. Once you enter the valley, no one wants to leave”.The boom in tourism is welcomed in the valley where many men have traditionally left behind their families to work in Pakistan’s big cities.Awais has also hired men to work as cleaners, cooks, drivers and tourist guides. These men would have been unemployed otherwise.Suppliers have also benefited because of this boom as well as the villagers who sell their freshly grown cherries, apricots and plums to the visitors.Still, there are people who are unsatisfied and claim that much is needed to be done to sustain the boom across the other parts of Kashmir.Khawaja Abdul Samad, who is thinking about opening his own hotel, said, “There are other beautiful places in our region, but because of poor roads tourists can’t reach to these areas”.

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