Community initiatives for the sustainable development of tourism in Chitral, Northern Pakistan
By Shams Uddin, Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT)
Community Tourism in Chitral
Chitral, in the extreme north of Pakistan, is home to 40,000 people, settled in more than 300 small villages boasting great cultural and natural diversity. These villages offer unique opportunities highlighting Indigenous arts, crafts and music, traditional sports, cuisine, and the fascinating local way of life.
The Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT) has been promoting community-based, culturally-rooted and environmentally-friendly tourism in Chitral for the last one and a half decade. Recently, CAMAT has implemented the UNESCO community tourism project to promote peace through sustainable economic development, engaging a wide array of stakeholders including music and dance troupes, local sport associations, student organizations, and national and regional NGOs.
For ecotourism to thrive in Chitral, innovative approaches are needed to protect and utilize traditional cultures and the environment as tourism products. CAMAT thus works to revive age-old traditions by supporting them with new technologies that help create income-generating activities for the locals while at the same time protecting local heritage.
The traditional cultures of the Chitral region are replete with beautiful music, folk songs and dances, and the time-honored values that reflect friendly hospitality of the peoples. Here are a few examples…
The Kalash communities in southern Chitral live in the valleys of Bumborate, Birir and Rumbor. Their cultural and religious traditions are strikingly different from those of the surrounding communities, and have sparked interest among many visitors and researchers. Their annual festivals, featuring traditional dances and devotional songs, are expressions of spiritual inspiration.
The profits from tourism in the Kalash areas have largely “leaked” to outside entrepreneurs that invest in tourism development in these destinations and control most of the tourism-related businesses. It has been CAMAT’s priority, therefore, to encourage visitors to patronize Kalash-owned and operated local businesses in order to retain tourist spending within the community. Another challenge facing the Kalash villages is environmental degradation, such as soil erosion and flooding. Natural attractions are essential to sound tourism development, and to the preservation of the Kalash way of life.
The Wakhi community in Broghil lives in northern Chitral, along on the border of Afghanistan in the Wakhan Corridor. They have the dialect called Wakhi, and are known for their traditional coat prepared from raw goat skin skillfully stitched together. The Wakhi economy mainly consists of livestock trade. Yak (the long-haired wild ox of the mountains of Central Asia), for instance, is sold in the summer, to be stored as food for the six long months of winter, when the villages are cut off from the rest of the world by deep snow.
Yak Polo is the traditional sport of the Wakhi community, which is played during the Broghil annual festival in July. The women in the Wakhi community are skilled artisans producing a variety of handicrafts ranging from colorful hand-knitted sweaters and gloves to embroidered caps. They also prepare special woolen clothing to keep warm in the harshest of winters.
The Khow people are settled in different valleys and side valleys, and form the majority in the Chitral region. Their cultural traditions are characteristically non-violent and moderate, without any custom of displaying arms. The Khow community also has large and small festivals throughout the seasons attracting participants from both within and outside the local areas.
Although the local folk singers and folk dancers revive the forgotten musical heritage of the Khow people, under the modern governance in Pakistan, the efforts to preserve the Khow cultural traditions have largely been neglected. CAMAT and our partners help facilitate the revitalization of traditional music and sports of the Khow villages in order to promote a peace atmosphere where modern day tourism can thrive alongside Indigenous cultures.
Mountain View from a Chitral Valley
Tourism can help protect the natural environment and traditional cultures. For the Chitral communities, tourism can be an effective tool for sustainable economic development that reduces pressure on natural resources by diversifying income earning opportunities and creating employment beyond farm-based jobs. Tourism also plays central role in transferring skills and know-how’s to the host communities.
In recent years, tourism development in Chitral has mostly halted due to various security threats discouraging travelers from visiting Pakistan. However, CAMAT and other local organizations’ efforts to promote sustainable community tourism have not slowed, determined to strengthen tourism not only as a vital source of much-needed income-generating activities, but also as an effective means to promote tolerance, peace, and cultural understanding.
>> For more information, contact Shams Uddin, Manager, CAMAT, Tel: +92 943 413540, Email: email@example.com