Gilgit-Baltistan is without doubt the crowning beauty of not only our country, but the entire planet earth. Its unique geographical location with the largest concentration of highest peaks in the world, glaciers, rivers and river-like nullahs, vast deserts, lush jungles, and rocky mountains are only some of the features that make it like no other place in the world. So naturally, we should be extremely careful about how it is developed. The blind spade of money-driven development that benefits only a few could deface its majestic beauty and alienate its simple and trusting population. Ugly signs of this kind of development are already beginning to appear in Kachura and several other places. On the other hand, Fairy Meadows provides a good example of how communities could develop in harmony with nature, with themselves, and with the rest of the world. Firstly, we must get the perspective right. This heavenly region might hold immense attraction for tourists, but it is first and foremost the home of people who have lived here for generations and centuries. And it is these people who must be the primary focus of their area's development. Treating it merely as a tourists' paradise and fixing it up with a view to turn it into a string of tourist resorts with good road connections is a bad idea. This colonial approach threatens to destroy not only the pristine natural environment of the region, but also disrupt the harmony with which people have learned to live with each other and their habitat. The point is not to deny the fruits of scientific development to the people, but to put their needs and concerns at the centre of their area's development, and to go about it intelligently and with sensitivity. Sadly, the opposite seems to be happening in most places here. Imagine this: The village folk of Lower Kachura do not have access to their lake. Even for a brief visit, they must be either guests at one of the rest houses built right at the edge of the lake or patronise one of the two commercial establishments that monopolise the remaining part of the lake bank, a hotel and an up-market tourist resort. Obviously, people from the village cannot afford the rich rates of these profit-making concerns with their poor incomes and they are unlikely to have the sort of connections that could get them into one of the rest houses. The result: They are practically banned from their lake. As government and military officials, and their families and guests, enjoy the lake virtually like their private swimming pool and the commercial facilities for visiting tourists reap profits, showcasing and selling the lake like their family silver, the people of Kachura are left out to watch. Meanwhile, their village has become littered with garbage that comes with the tourists and our strange notions about development. The roads and helicopters, gift shops and motorboat rides might be fun for a few city souls having a holiday, but for the people of Katchura these dubious developments have polluted their physical and social environment, and resulted in a denial of access to a useful and heavenly resource. From the inheritors of a rich natural heritage they have been reduced to what the developers like to call 'cheap labour', and are treated like a nuisance that the tourist attraction, 'their lake, would be better without. They are expected to thank those who have grabbed their lake for choosing Kachura for investment, bringing in business, and giving them employment. They are expected to accept their new role as serfs, working in palaces meant for those who are powerful or moneyed, or both. Fairy Meadows is a different story. Even jeeps cannot go all the way and to get to it, one has to cover the last three-hour leg of the journey on foot. This has been a blessing in disguise, as it has kept rampant commercialisation and consumerism at bay. The well-knit community caters to the tourists and has prospered directly from the business they bring. The people are hospitable and help the visitors explore the breathtaking area around their village, but they have kept their village and fields where their women work as no-go areas for visitors, retaining their values and dignity. They produce their own electricity and there are no overhead wires or ugly steel poles to break the spell of its undisturbed magic. Though there is electricity, there is no television, and mobile phones can be used only from a few spots that receive the signals. The first solar geyser in the village was being assembled on the last day of my visit there. Coming from Skardu where I had been pleading to my friends to stop the madness of poles and wires, and go for alternative sources of power, this was a deep breath of fresh air. Back there, it was a disappointment to see the destruction brought about by a dam on Sadpara Lake. For a few megawatts of electricity, the priceless natural beauty of the lake and its surroundings has been compromised beyond recognition. Further up, on the way to Deosai, poles and wires accompany the traveller to idyllic hamlets. The people living there should not be denied electricity, but certainly, there were other ways to bring them this modern facility. Even in the hard-to-reach wonderland called Deosai where no one lives and only shepherds go during the summer with their livestock, tourists had brought litter on the plains and in the Sheosar Lake. I shudder to think of the consequences of development underway there. Among other things a road would facilitate the tourists to bring their cars and SUVs right to the gates of this protected paradise and through it. Is development another name for creating convenience for tourists, who cannot respect the sanctity of such places and the lives of the simple people who live there? Like in the rest of the country, the industrious, humane, and hospitable people of Gilgit-Baltistan are victims of a kind of development that is directed not by the needs, values, and aspirations of their communities, but by the interests of a small conglomerate of corrupt bureaucrats, bribing contractors, and unethical profiteers posing as businessmen. This unholy trinity has managed to corrupt all governments, whether democratic or military, to do their bidding, rather than doing their duty to the people that they are meant to serve. While it is painful to see them destroy the richness of our land for small personal gains, it is especially excruciating to see them do it in Gilgit-Baltistan with its beauty and bounty that no place in the world could compete with. The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: hazirjalees@hotmail.com