Ramifications of Tourist Influx Up North


  • Warra Haider
  • Jun 25, 2024

As I look towards the horizon from my balcony, I see multiple shades of the mountains fading from green to grey. An astounding number of butterflies frolic upon flowers, trees and even animals, reminding me of special graphic effects from the movies, except this is real life. There is a lull in the air, periodically broken by a raven or a bird cooing briefly in the distance. I see the residents chartering the slippery slope of the mountain sides, carrying their burdens weightlessly, as smoothly as walking on plain earth. I wonder how they view me, a vacationer from the city…

The moment the ghost-like outlines of mountains appear on the motorway, your heart skips a beat at the thought of the breathtaking beauty, crispy clean air and the refreshing aroma of the conifer trees that you will soon be surrounded by. As someone hailing from Lahore, which gets 45 degrees and above on a regular summer day, the cool respite in the mountains is something that I look forward to at least twice a year.

The mountains have been a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the polluted air, the noise, and the concrete jungle. But of recent, the lines seem to be blurring between the two starkly contrasted landscapes. There is no denying the fact that the tourist economy serves as a spine for the locals. However, the constant influx of tourists from across the country is leaving a residue of social and environmental complications for the residents.

There is a huge cultural chasm between the locals and the visitors who mostly hail from large urban cities of the country. The tourists are locally quipped as ‘shehri’ literally translating into someone from the city or the city folk. The people of the mountains are conservative in their beliefs, following a strict dress code especially by the women and holding stringent religious beliefs, as proved by the frequent sightings of masjids and seminaries. To ensure the sanctity of their villages and prevent eve teasing plus non-consensual photography, they have resorted to putting up boards, clearly prohibiting the visitors from entering. The commercial areas are more sensitised towards the modern clothing of women in particular, however a modest outfit with a dupatta stays under the radar. The locals are definitely weary of the cultural invasion caused by the tourists.

The traffic rules in the mountains are very different from those in the city, due to less infrastructure, narrow winding roads, and the blind spots that occur due to the bends and angles of the mountainous terrain. To ensure a smooth traffic flow and avoid life risking accidents, following the line and lane is a very important rule and overtaking or turning back can result in a traffic mess spanning over hours. Such jams become a common sight during the summer months in the mountains. A travel guide which can familiarise prospective mountain travelers with the traffic rules, cultural norms and environmental safeguards can really equip the tourists for a mutually beneficial retreat up North.

Keep your home/city/holiday destination clean. The vacationers are not very careful about their garbage disposal; it is one of the pet peeves of the residents. Where there is room for improvement in the infrastructure for trash collection, on an individual level, keeping your trash in the car till you find a suitable place for disposal can be really helpful. This conscientious act can help reduce the appearance of garbage which pollutes not only the land but also your replenishing view of the mountains.

There is a mushroom growth of motels, resorts and restaurants that line both sides of the roads as you travel towards the popular holiday destinations. These establishments are ripe with earning opportunities for the community. A large section of the population work as waiters and cooks in the motels, while many earn their livelihood from shops and convenience stores. The prices of different grocery items and services can be on the steeper side, one, because of the harder accessibility and secondly, because this is the season to earn hefty profits which last for the rest of the year. Such a material and opportunist approach is looked down upon by the older generation in the neighbourhood as they hold onto the fading spirit of true hospitality that was their pride and joy.

Where there have been unfortunate incidents of sightseers being taken advantage of financially in a crisis situation, we were met with empathy and free support from the mountain folk when we experienced car trouble.

The challenges that come with the opportunities for the local population have been outlined above by interviewing the residents. Grateful to the tourists for bringing with them the earning opportunities that put the bread on their table, however, a more mindful view of the environment, traffic and social norms will be very welcomed by the mountain folk.

Author

Warra Haider

Warra Haider is a freelance writer.

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