Pakistan a High Risk Destination? Thoughts From a Pakistani Tourism Director
Often seen as a high-risk destination to travel, visitors are hesitant to explore the culturally rich and naturally stunning Pakistan. We spoke with Ayub Khan, Managing Director of Hindukush Karakorum Tours and Treks to get some of his insight on tourism in the region. Ayub and his partner Murad were part of the team that helped track snow leopards in Pakistan for BBC Planet Earth.
How long have you worked in tourism? How did you get into it?
I have been involved in tourism for over two decades. I have guided trekking groups, climbers, researchers, jeep safaris and culture tours throughout Pakistan. From an early age, I was in love with nature and very fond of seeing new places. This is what attracted me to tourism as a profession. Through my career, I have been able to see some of the most beautiful places in Pakistan. I’ve also been able to see other parts of the world and this exploration has given me a new appreciation for what tourism is capable of.
"Travellers often tell us how when they tell others they are traveling to Pakistan they are labeled crazy and how dangerous it is to travel here. They return with a whole new perspective of our country."
Is Pakistan Safe?
Pakistan is a very large country, we border China, India, and Afghanistan. There are so many different people with such a diverse culture. Unfortunately, the reporting in Western media has some truth to it. Unfortunate events often unfold in the Tribal Areas near Afghanistan and also due to Pakistan’s longtime conflict with India. Tragedies unfold all over the world and it’s often a case of wrong place, wrong time.
Media throughout the world has a habit of highlighting the negative but rarely the good. There are countries that are not in favor of the development of Pakistan and try to force negative misconceptions to hurt its economy. What I do know is that once visitors come to Pakistan, they are truly surprised as it is nothing like they imagined. Travelers often tell us how when they tell others they are traveling to Pakistan they are labeled crazy and how dangerous it is to travel here. They return with a whole new perspective of our country.
What do people love about Pakistan?
There is a great amount of potential in the Ghizar District of Gilgit-Baltistan for nature and adventure lovers. We have great mountains, large glaciers, lush green meadows, falling streams, thick forests, crystal clear rivers full of trout and sky blue lakes. Here we have amazing trekking routes and a diverse culture of very hospitable people.
What should people remember when visiting Pakistan?
Every country has its own culture, tradition, customs and religious values. Pakistan is a place with strong religious beliefs as we are a democratic Islamic country. People who come should be aware of our values and should take proper care of not insulting the people. An example would be to dress conservatively.
What do you love about your job?
To be honest, I’m very optimistic to work in the region where I live because there is so much that is untouched and waiting to be explored. While the more popular areas are still beautiful, promoting the areas that are unexplored is one of my priorities.
What is your goal with your work?
I want to provide employment opportunities to the communities around me and bring awareness to tourists because tourism is one of our largest industries. We have such a beautiful country and I know once people come here they will truly enjoy their experience.
Currently, the mountain communities of Hindukush and Karakoram are not involved with tourism activities. I would like to introduce diverse homestays and guest houses to give communities the opportunity to earn while showing visitors the local culture and our culture of hospitality. I hope this will lead to future development of these communities and with growing awareness more people can be involved doing jobs such as porting, cooks and guides. Tourism has inspired the locals to not only find different work but also to further their education.
Why do you love Pakistan?
This is the place where I had my first heartbeat, where I was born, I grew up here and still live here. I am proud of our rich history, our culture, traditions, and the environment. I live in a region of my country that has a truly unique landscape, full of natural beauty. I get to wake up every day and take a deep breath of fresh air.
I am able to be completely independent and feel that I am in a safe and sound environment. People all around the country help each other. We live together, we eat together, work together without discrimination of sect or religion.
I love to walk along the snow towered peaks of my home village, hike over majestic mountains, see deserts, coasts, river lakes and the agriculture that provides for us. I even love the big cities with there diverse culture, their music, their food and their history. For me, I love our national values: freedom of opportunities, justice, and human rights.
The Ayub Hamdard Foundation is a charity dedicated to support communities and individuals served by compassionate volunteers following natural disasters providing relief of basic necessities including blankets clothing and food to meet the needs of vulnerable mountain communities in the worst affected regions to survive in the immediate aftermath.