Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PTI claims improvement in K-P, but the tales of Nathiagali speak otherwise

I spent my childhood playing in daisy meadows, walking the pakdandis and exploring the narrow roads of Nathiagali. I have drifted on these pakdandis for miles, getting lost in the green hills only to be brought home by the villagers, who witnessed us growing up. My family and I are blessed to have been able to spend months away from the hustle bustle and frenzy that has seeped into almost every other city in Pakistan in our escape to the Galiyats.

My parents and grandparents have been using the hill station as a retreat since the 60s. This year brings the fourth generation of our family to the Galiyats at a tender age of just nine months. Over these decades, Nathiagali has become our home and the people residing in the villages surrounding it have become our extended family. The residents of Nathiagali have taken the preservation of its unique charm personally by planting over 150,000 trees. They have also started a local ambulance service and have uplifted the educational standards of the local schools. And hence, predictably, any destruction of my home evokes strong emotions in me.

What has set Nathiagali apart from other hill stations is how it remains in its natural state — untouched. The occasional VIP movement shakes the peace, whether they are passing through the governor’s or chief minister’s house, but they all pass, leaving the quaint town with its narrow roads to itself and its local residents. The hill station has been conserved, because unlike Murree and other once beautiful hill stations, its care has been left to the people that live within it. At least that is the way it was until the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) new government filtered in with its lofty road and tourism expansion plans.

Let me clarify that I am a proponent of increasing tourism, as are the shopkeepers and locals I have consulted. The PTI government’s plan to open guesthouses to the public is promising; it will provide tourism spaces that once belonged solely to government and army personnel, and I am hopeful that the plan will keep in mind the importance of proper maintenance of facilities and historic spaces under these circumstances. However, their intention to put an end to VIP culture is misguided. Heritage sites such as the ones they have now opened up to the public are preserved by charging top-dollar worldwide. Furthermore, the previously government-run chalets called the “Sarhad Tourism Chalets” are run-down and dilapidated, due to a lack of adequate maintenance.

None of the locals are willing to stand by and watch the destruction and defacing of their hometown, one of the rare few places that remain free from the clutches of our short sighted and ill-planned leadership. Local shopkeepers state that they find no logical reason to expand the roads of the bazaar (market) — the project the government has embarked on — as tourism rates are presently high before such expansion. They complain that the construction has been at a halt for the entire year and has only resumed in the last six weeks of summer, at peak tourist season, with no management present which is dearly hampering this tourist season underway.

Consequently, the bazaar is ridden with slush, landslides and water overflow, and age-old trees are being cut at random. Many in the marketplace are disillusioned that the new government has destroyed Nathiagali beyond repair, saying that it can never be restored to its original state. Shopkeepers complain that there has been a decline in business since the beginning of this project and dread to predict that such a decline will continue if the original sanctity isn’t safeguarded.

Ultimately, the government fails to recognise that the problem is of management and thus, even the wider roads will not alleviate the traffic problems as there are no policemen or government officials supervising the streets and the construction work. It is heart breaking to witness the current PTI government ruin the character of a beautiful hill station — a hefty price to pay for wide roads. After all, the small hill stations and towns in European and American countries maintain their tourism with small, winding roads, so why can’t we?

Below is the story in pictures:

This road leading to the Nathiagali Bazaar was constructed during the British Raj. It has been demolished in order to construct a dual carriageway. Shopkeepers say the government has “ruined” the bazaar.

A view of the 40-feet deep parking lot that was set to be constructed. Locals say the government has now abandoned the idea of a lot, and is simply extending the road, obstructing current access to the shops.

Age-old trees destroyed. Could they not have been avoided?

Here is a picture of a newly carpeted road. Why have these trees been cut when they are clearly not obstructing the road path? The management displays a sheer lack of care for the few regions of Pakistan that remain in their natural, beautiful state.

A 200 year old tree cut and destroyed.

Landslides, destruction and chaos on the roads leading into Nathiagali.

In light of the above, I question Mr Malik Amin Aslam, the architect of the PTI’s green growth initiative, as to the efficacy of his Billion Tree Tsunami project (quoted by Rina Khan in Dawn).

Is the PTI implementing a policy that for every 100 trees cut in Nathiagali there will be 100 planted elsewhere? I fail to understand this “creeping green revolution” after seeing 200-year-old trees, which can easily be preserved, being destroyed on a daily basis on the pretext of “development”. The way this project has been operated (at a hiatus for the last 10 months) is testament to an inefficient governmental efforts and to what lies in store in the future for my home. Some argue that the PTI is taking positive action in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), but the reality in Nathiagali speaks otherwise.

I urge everyone to press Mr Imran Khan to put an end to the end of our evergreen forests in Nathiagali. What does it say about our leadership, Mr Khan, knowing that we cannot even preserve a township of 200 people?

The township I strive to preserve.

All photos: Aaminah Qadir

from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/28652/pti-claims-improvement-in-k-p-but-the-tales-of-nathiagali-speak-otherwise/

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