Tourism is one of the most rapidly growing industries throughout the world, which accounts for 10 percent of the global total GDP. It is an important source of income generation, job creation, poverty reduction, foreign exchange learning and promotion of cross-culture understanding and cooperation. The word ecotourism has become a popular term in recent time, which can be defined as ecologically, environmentally and socially responsible tourism. The main aims of ecotourism are to protect and preserve nature and to directly supporting the local communities, financially and educationally. In addition, sustainability of local culture and history also becomes portion of ecotourism at low impact.
Surrounded by the mighty Hindu Kush range Chitral presents an ideal attraction for tourists. It is situated at the extreme north of Pakistan, located just across the border from Afghanistan. Chitral is bonded on the NW by Afghanistan on the South by Dir and on the west by Gilgit-Baltistan. With more than fifty peaks over 6,000 meter packed in an area of 14,850 sq. km, altitudes in this rugged terrain range 1014 m at Arandu to 77.26 meter at Terichmir.
The area of Chitral has been inhabited for at least 4,000 years. In old days Chitral was also called Bolor by the Chinese, Pore (Persian word means west) by its eastern neighbours and Kashkar by the people of Afghanistan and Central Asia. Its people belong to over a dozen different cultures and speak more than 14 languages. As a result of its unique location and historical link with Central Asia and Europe, the material and non material culture of Chitral bears traces of Greece, Iranian, Mongolian, Tartar and Turk influences.
Chitral has been exposed to foreign influence since ancient times, when trade caravans traversed the area fromCentral Asia to Kabul, Badakhshan and Peshawar. Kalash and Kho culture was first introduced to anthropologists, ethnologists and mountaineers through the writings of British colonial officers and explorers. Among them Col. John Bidulph,, Tribes of Hindoo Koosh, Sir, George Scot Robertson,, the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush, The Siah Posh Kafirs with their specimens and Customs in the Asiatic Society of Bengal and an Account of upper Kashkar and Chitral (lower Qashqar) in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal by Raverty are materials of great interest for explorers and tourists interested in Chitral.
Tourism was devolved as industry after the merger of Chitral with Pakistan in 1969. The main sources for ecotourism in Chitral are Kalash culture, Lowari tunnel, glaciers, rivers, mountains, pastures, hospitality of host communities, Chitral National park, traditional polo sport and Shandur festival. Chitral is home to a wide range of globally extinct species as snow leopard, Marco polo sheep Etc. The Rivers and streams are unique in nature due to topography and geography of the area which add to its scenic beauty. Other means of tourist’s attraction are trout fish, historical passes, hot springs, pastures, fresh air, greenery and villages and lingual diversity of the area etc.
Unfortunately, ecotourism has not developed in Chitral so far due to the following hindrances;
Policy formulation and implementation is a major obstacle in promoting ecotourism in the area. Bad roads, flight cancellations and delays, lack of connectivity to various locations and poor communication facilities also discourage the tourists to visit Chitral. As far accommodations are concerned there are many places where hotels are either nonexistent or do not offer value added services. Other issues in the path of promoting ecotourism are security concern, lack of awareness and poor guidelines.
Government attitude towards this industry has always been reactive rather than pro-active in giving incentives to other stakeholders. As tourism industry demands huge investment, so government should make facilities to encourage private sectors take part in this industry.
Rather than destroying natural habitats or diluting the unique culture of the area sustainable and environment friendly tourism can help preserve cultural heritage of Chitral. Carefully planned and monitored initiatives will serve to promote indigenous cultures and traditions, while ensuring that a balance is maintained between the interests of various groups and the conservation of nature. At the same time income from the tourism can be channeled to fund environmental protection as well as development in other sectors.
The government should take pro active measures to promote ecotourism by establishing robust tourism policy and implement them with true spirit. Physical infrastructure and better communication facilities should be prioritized along with identifying tourist destination points and arranging reasonable accommodations. The time is not far away when Chitral will be in the high profile of tourists and contributes handsomely to the revenue of the country, provided there is strong political will on government side.