By Bilal Masood

The reality of Pakistan is by experiencing it first hand and only then a visitor knows the difference between perception and reality. It may be a walk on the streets of Lahore, eating in a cozy café or enjoying Chai (tea) at dhabbas. You experience meeting local people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Sindh and being overwhelmed by their hospitality, hiking up the breathtaking mountains of Himalayas and being awed by exploring stunning valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, visiting majestic forts or embracing tolerance in mosques, churches and temples, riding a camel or an artistic truck or famous W11 bus of Karachi and being mesmerised by the rich cultures of all provinces, the list goes on.

To the world, Pakistan doesn’t really come across as travel friendly country. Many outsiders perceive it as one of the most dangerous country to travel. 

This February in Islamabad, it was a great opportunity to meet Mike from UK who is not only an excellent facilitator and vivid traveler, but also wonderful human being. From Karachi to Islamabad, he has been to Pakistan number of times and loves hospitality of our people, our patriotism, our places, our culture and our sumptuous food.

On the way back home from Islamabad to Karachi, it was pleasant to see a large group of Chinese. Considering all the news regarding CEPEC, it was not a surprise to see them at the airport. The national carrier took off for Karachi. Right next to me was one senior member of this group. I was curious to know about his experience in Pakistan, but unsurprisingly he did not know English except few words. Must confess here that I need to learn to distinguish between Chinese, South Koreans, Japanese and nationals of other ASEAN countries. He told me almost 18 tourists from Japan also visited Pakistan. They went to Karachi, Lahore, Harrapa, Islamabad, Skardu and other northern areas.

He seemed to have enjoyed his time in Pakistan. He showed me his travelogue of Pakistan in Japanese language which consisted of every place in the country to visit. Our famous personalities from founding fathers to sportsmen and singers were also highlighted. It covered all major places to stay and the necessary information of different provinces and traditions of common people. Food, music, clothes and handicrafts, this travelogue had everything about Pakistan including application procedure for Pakistan’s visa and meaning of basic words of Urdu. In fact, this was one of a comprehensive guide of Pakistan.

Just as the plane started to disembark, this Japanese man started recording the parting video from the window of the plane. Pakistan and Japan friendship will continue to strengthen if our people keep visiting respective countries like this Japanese group did.

The plane landed smoothly and my senior travel mate from Japan gifted me a sweet from his homeland with a smile. I shook his hand, thanked him for the little conversation we had and above all for visiting Pakistan.

 

This is what we need to ask: Is Pakistan marketed properly? Have Pakistanis promoted their country proudly? How many of us have visited our own country to see how beautiful it is and helped to boost local tourism? How many of us think that while travelling around the world, we acted as the Ambassadors of Pakistan? Have we convinced our foreign friends to visit Pakistan? And is tourist-friendly Pakistan also a visa-friendly country?

While we must continue to cut the roots of terrorism and extremism from our society and work for sustainable peace, the revival of our lost credibility is also in our hands. From us, the young people of this country to corporate sector, diplomatic missions to airlines, sportsmen and artists to media channels have to play a positive role and collectively brand Pakistan as a safe tourist destination in 2017 and beyond.

As youth of Pakistan, let us uncover the hidden treasures of Pakistan to the world and show the gifted and breathtaking sights spread all over the country. Let tourism not be elusive dream only, but rather pave way in contributing to thrive tourism industry of Pakistan once again and make it a reality.

Published in Young Nation magazine on February 25, 2017