islamabad - “A tourist is someone who travels to find things that are different and then complain when they are.”  They must have said it for Murree.

The persistence to promote the Boycott Murree campaign is first of a kind in Pakistan for any tourist destination. Murree has a long history of ‘phaddas’ happening once in a while with people across the country considering it a favourite destination for their vacations and honeymoons since partition. Murree has easy accessibility; it takes one hour and a few minutes from the capital city of Islamabad to reach there. There are two routes to approach the hill station – one of them is an Expressway. Hundreds of options to eat, stay and visit then why such a fierce campaign?

This campaign is so strong that the Mall Roads deserted even during hot spell in the country. Many have lost their jobs and the taxi drivers are not picking up enough rides to fill up their petrol tanks. The poster which launched this campaign read: “Even to use toilets, you pay 50-70 rupees and if you spend more time in there you have to pay 100 rupees. Car parking fee shouldn’t exceed 30 rupees and they charge up to 300 to 600 rupees. The food is 400 per cent times more expensive and stale. A dirty hotel room comes for 6000 in the season which is worth 800 rupees a night.”

I remember during a visit with college friends to Murree, one of my class fellows saw a local boy with a falcon and asked if he could have a picture taken with it.

The boy greeted with a smile and said, ‘le lo bhai’. After taking a couple of picture with the falcon, he offered him a 100 rupee note. Those days it was considered a reasonable amount. The boy’s mood changed quickly and he asked for 1500 rupees instead. After long argumentations and gathering of locals around us, it was settled for 500 rupees!

Couple of recent incidents involving the tourists and locals went viral boosted the Boycott Murree campaign.

In one incident, a male tourist accompanying a few ladies of the family was thrashed by the locals when the male objected that some boys in a group were staring at the ladies with him. The other incident attributed to Murree actually happened at Neelam Point. Some tourists went to Neelam Point and ordered Trout Fish, Chicken Karahiyian& much more food in large quantity. The total bill given to them was Forty Five Thousand! It included rent for the ‘charpaiyian’ as well. The Pakoras per kg were given at 1200 rupees. It created a big scene on the venue and the videos made on mobile cameras were uploaded on the social media. It resulted in the outrage of general public. The whole case was taken to Azad Kashmir Police which sorted out the matter.

 

To understand the complexity of the issue, I spoke to Asad Faiz who owns The Legacy, British Era Cottages located near the Mall, Murree. He presented altogether a different perspective.

“Wherever in the world there is such influx of tourists, such issues arise. The number of visitors Murree receives is much more than other parts of the country get and Murree is a relatively compact space.  Low cost accommodation is the root cause.

There are rooms available for as low as 1000 rupees a day. The tourists’ mentality is that they just have to spend a night. 8-10 people will squeeze in one room and we are not talking about those who can’t afford it. There are many people who come in their vehicles worth2-3 million rupees. Off course you can’t have quality service in this amount and all kind of people in large number crowd the place.

We had put up a suggestion to the authorities that pre bookings should be done and only then the tourist should be allowed to enter Murreee specially during the peak season.”

This is surely a suggestion which needs attention. The locals of Murree are generally very respectful to the ladies. There are hardly any crime stories you hear from Murree touchwood. Both parties are to be blamed for such a scenario.

The tourists need to be careful and the locals need to give respect towards those visiting the beautiful hills of Murree. There should be an active price control authority which can keep a check on the rates of vegetables, meat, hotel rates etc. More police should also be deployed on the chowks so this hooliganism can be disciplined.  Even Rio de Janeiro Carnival in Brazil is not perfectly organized, but we can certainly improve how things are quickly and make Murree a favorite go to tourist destination once again.

But the million dollar question remains, with empty hotel rooms and hardly any visitors, who the real beneficiaries are?

– The writer is a performing artist, motivational speaker and social activist. He could be followed at https://twitter.com/BasitSubhani