Last few years have seen a great surge in local tourism towards Pakistan’s beautiful northern areas. The hype created by social media, tour companies springing like mushrooms and reconstruction of Karakorum Highway from Raikot Bridge all the way to Khujerab Pass under CPEC, has contributed to the whole phenomenon. Tourist traffic to northern areas and particularly Gilgit Baltistan region has been around a million people last year.

Of all the hill stations and tourist destinations in northern Pakistan, Naran Valley is the most conveniently reachable destination. From Islamabad, it only takes eight to nine hours of comfortable drive to reach Naran. Hotels and other facilities are only second to Murree and of course the greatest attraction is the magnificent Lake Saif ul Malook.

Babusar Pass, which is the final point of Naran-Kaghan Valley, is not just an unbelievably beautiful spot with its panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys but also perhaps the most fortunate short cut in the entire country. It gives access to Gilgit Baltistan through a journey of just a few hours in beautiful and green Upper Naran Valley as compared to a day long journey on the most rugged, difficult and God forsaken patch of Karakorum Highway between Besham and Chilas.

Utility of Babusar Pass has made Naran a desirable stopover on way to GB and of course, a very busy place. On every national holiday during summers, the road to Naran is jam packed and traffic moves at a snail’s pace. A 50-70 kilometer long line of traffic jam is not a big deal in these days. People spend half the vacation inside their cars or by the road.

Just like every other aspect of our social lives, in tourism too, the concerned authorities are utterly unconcerned. There’s no plan to regulate such a huge volume of tourists. Within a few years, a maze of multi storey hotels, filthy restaurants and makeshift shops came into existence in Naran. The town got so busy that a bypass had to be built to ensure the smooth flow of traffic. Between the two roads, a vast and ugly campsite has emerged utilizing the Chinese or Turkish tents and camps which either outlived their utility or never reached the earthquake victims.

Dense forests over the mountain slopes and green banks of River Kunhar have disappeared over time. The jeep trek to Lake Saif ul Malook which once made its way through dense forest and over fragile wooden bridges laid over running streams of water; is today an ugly concrete road for nearly half the distance and the rest is through rugged slopes devoid of any greenery. Beautiful surroundings of Lake Saif ul Malook have been utterly ruined. There’s an ugly make shift market, a hotel and a lot of people throwing a lot of rubbish. And how could a shrine resist coming out of the earth? So there we have it; a complete picture of Pakistan.

Ruin of the beauty that is Babusar Pass is even more sudden and devastating. Just five years ago, there were a handful of jeeps and half a dozen tea stalls. Last year, I saw countless vehicles, literally dozens of ugly makeshift shops leased out by the government and on top of that, crude concrete construction.

Fortunately, I have seen the original beauty of Naran when it wasn’t so brutally attacked by tourism back in the late 1990s. From waters to the mountain slopes, it was all green. There was a lot of peace and calm and the place seemed far away from mainstream life. And yes, it had a fragrance of its own. This is the reason why I feel hurt when people say Naran is rubbish because it’s just a mildly attractive and very convenient stopover on way to more exotic locations of Hunza and Skardu. Naran, which was once a heaven, is turning into a hell at the hands of its very own ignorant admirers. Its natural beauty is fast deteriorating and before too long the place would become an environmental hazard if it is not properly prepared to receive such a huge volume of tourist traffic.

The bitter truth is that we Pakistanis have a crude habit of littering and damaging the environment wherever we go. On my tours across Pakistan, I have seen beautiful beaches turned into filth depots (Jiwani, Balochistan), water streams falling over heaps of garbage (Kaghan) and perhaps the most revolting site of all, a used diaper floating in a beautiful lake (Lulusar Lake). This ugly habit has nothing to do with education or financial status. We’ve all seen that plastic bag full of rubbish, thrown out of an expensive car. The truth is that we as a nation don’t deserve a country as beautiful as Pakistan.

Pakistan is known throughout the world for its great mountains and beautiful valleys. We can only prove ourselves worthy of such generous gifts of nature by taking good care of them. Environmental deterioration and pollution is a problem all over northern Pakistan, However, Naran suffers the most because of its huge volume of tourist traffic. To preserve and restore the beautiful valley, concerned authorities should formulate and strictly implement environmental laws and impose harsh penalties on those who cause any harm. Tourist traffic must be regulated efficiently. Entire valley from Balakot to Babusar is beautiful and picturesque. The load on Naran should be diverted by developing three or four other spots along the way. Last but not the least a massive reforestation drive is badly needed to restore the beauty of Naran.

Pakistan is our only home on earth. Let’s save it before it’s too late…