Welcome to #Chitral: Where #Pakistan’s elite goes to play
At 1,500 metres above sea level, Chitral’s cooler climate is an increasingly popular pull to locals wanting to escape the sweltering metropolises of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Others come to see wildlife and visit the indigenous Kalash tribe in the surrounding valleys. There are now even yoga retreats.
Data collected by the police station in Chitral show that domestic tourists have averaged about 15,000 every year since 2010. By contrast, Chitral attracted only 604 international visitors in 2011 and numbers have steadily been falling every year since. Security is also a major reason why Chitral is experiencing a local tourist boom. It remains one of the safest parts of Pakistan, where radicalisation has struggled to take root. This is partly because of its geographical isolation, hundreds of kilometres from more unstable cities such as Peshawar. But Chitral has a peaceful, tolerant, close-knit community, which has so far escaped the clutches of extremism.
Despite this, very few Western tourists go to Pakistan. One exception is Jonny Bealby, founder of an adventure travel company, who has led trips to north-west Pakistan since 1998. “Chitral is safer than some parts of London,” he said.
Aminah Zaheer, 45, who runs a management consultancy business in Karachi, came to Chitral for a week with her husband last month to visit the annual festival of the Kalash people, a minority pagan tribe whose non-Muslim customs in an Islamic country are a big tourist attraction.
Since her last visit to Chitral 30 years ago with her parents, roads have vastly improved, making travel possible by car. But Ms Zaheer says the tourism boom is being driven by a society that is getting wealthier and more Westernised. “People are getting richer, people are getting more adventurous. Because of the internet, social media and exposure to television, people have understood tourism,” she said.