By Fareeha Qayoom
y boss asked me to put together preliminary contents for a travel website that he was planning to launch on Pakistan called ItravelPakistan.com. The target audience would be local tourists. Since I have only limited tourist information on Pakistan – (I have only been to Lahore, Multan, Sargodha, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Murree and Karachi really. Gujranwala, Peshawar and Sialkot don’t really count as it was in my childhood, so long ago that I barely remember the experiences, let alone the sights or the sounds). Since most of the cities I have visited or lived in were hardly all of Pakistan; I needed a little bit of help, so I decided to Google for information like any other normal person. Guess what?
If you Google “travel Pakistan,” or “Pakistan travel,” (this is back in December 2009), you get loads of travel warnings and advisories followed by a couple of international travel websites like Lonely Planet and Virtual Tourist that give you a brief insight into Pakistan and then it degenerates from there. There is not one solid travel website on Pakistan; no, not even the official tourism website done by Pak government. Actually, what you notice is the lack of any real information on Pakistan, and what stuff there is mostly all negative.
I was supposed to put together 3 stories for each section – I was stumped but I completed the assignment on schedule – you know, a site plan and three stories for each section in two weeks based on insider knowledge, even if it was not my most comprehensive or best work – after all, I live here so I know a little bit of my country too. This was supposed to be an interactive website – most of the stuff to be posted by the site members. Then, mid-January my boss asked me to do a few more stories as members were slow to post stuff on the site. So I Googled again – this time the search words I used were “travel stories on Pakistan.” I thought people would have posted stories on the sights, sounds and flavors.
Imagine my surprise when most of the stuff posted by foreign travelers was about Islam! The locals seem to just take photographs of their trips up north. I was again stumped. Apparently, what the backpacking tourists find remarkable about our country is our religion and our politics. There were literally pages and pages of stories with exotic titles like “Religion, morality, kites and dusk magic,” and “God is,” “Behind the veil,” or “Speaking of Powerful Photos: John Moore’s Pakistan Story,” this was about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on world hum.com, or “Jihad and the left hand of God,” or “Thank you and Goodbye,” I didn’t know what to think? Is this the extent of our culture visible to visitors?
They might like our hospitality and our warmth, they might remark on the beauty of our northern areas or the extreme poverty, simplicity (and filth that they encounter in backpackers hotels!) or history dotting our country but that kind of stuff is actually in minority.
I liked the blog lonely planet had included on Pakistan by the way, “Leave me here,” it was an interesting slant on our country. The guy had traveled all over Pakistan on a shoestring. I found his photo story on Peshawar remarkable. The scenes of destruction, bombings, and the resilience of people…I was just so sad to see one of most historic cities virtually gutted by the Afghan fall-out. I found a couple of videos too that I loved sharing with my friends on facebook.
I came to a conclusion that Pakistan is actually one heck of a misunderstood country in the world. Backpackers actually prefer Pakistan to India apparently, at least that’s what they say when reviewing both countries, even though there is no night-life and the dreaded Muslims are in majority here. They might find our politics and our religion confusing but they are actually pleasantly surprised to separate the myth from reality. They all seem to like our simple folk, our hospitality, our resilience and the contrasts.