Keeping the north pure

Adventure tourism in Chitral in 60s and 70s

Prof. Rahamt Karim Baig

Some 50 years back when we are in schools the arrival of mountaineering expeditions in Terich valley in summers was an attraction for children of my age. We just came near the campsite and looked at the strange things which they unpacked and packed again according to their need in the days ahead. These adventure tourists reached our valley on foot as there were no roads for jeeps and the luggage they brought with them were carried on beasts of burden and some on human back by porters for wages. In the beginning they travelled on foot from Chitral to their destination in the interior of high Hindu Kush. They stopped at Koghuzi for night one, at Barenis for night 2, at Koragh for night 3, and then they had to take porters for Uthool as the bridges at Charun and Muxhgol were too risky and only fit young men were chosen for that day.

From Koragh to Uthool, told me one of the then porters, they were paid two to three Rupees and for heavier loads they paid higher. At Uthool they spent the night and got fresh porters for Shagrom in the Terich valley. Smaller parties needed only a dozen porters but a big expedition required up to 200 men and management of this caravan was a problem. The Tehsil administration sent policemen to help the tourists and manage the porters as well.

Haggling over the daily wages was the feature of each year. The liaison officer often interfered to reach a negotiated resolution of the porter’s wages.  Some expedition members preferred to go to the Thana at Warijun and asked the police to collect porters which was done properly and from that place they started to Terich valley, some over Zani Aan and some via Saht pass according to their destination. Those who went to Shagrom had their target peaks in the Atahk or Udren valleys but the ones who travelled via Saht went to Zondrangram for going to Roshgol valley. The porters from Saht, Gaht, Zani, Warijun etc. were relieved at Terich camp and fresh porters from that valley were hired for the next camps. They were paid in cash plus some gift from the members of the expedition.

On their return from the mountains the expedition used to give medicines, food, ropes, tents, used utensils etc. to the local porters. Beside the wages and the tips that was common in those days. The cash wages received by the people of the valleys was enough that they bought many things for their families. Some repaid their loans. This was a very good source of income and each summer up to ten expeditions visited the valleys and brought good cash income.

Now the expeditions are not allowed to come to Chitral except in a few cases despite the high slogans of the prime minister claiming to promote Tourism and thereby earn foreign exchange.. The policy of the government has changed negatively and the channel of flow of foreign exchange has been put to a halt.

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