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Ski resort razed by Taliban lifts Pakistan's domestic tourism

China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-27 14:09

MALAM JABBA, PAKISTAN - Atop the piste of Malam Jabba in Pakistan's once dangerous Swat Valley, skiers schuss downhill, a new Chinese-built chairlift ferries tourists to the peak and a luxury hotel is under construction to replace one torched by the Taliban.

The Taliban declared skiing "un-Islamic" during their 2007-2009 reign of terror over Swat, but improved security in recent years has allowed ski tourism to re-emerge on Malam Jabba, a hill station in the Hindu Kush mountain range.

Locals tout Swat as "the Switzerland of Pakistan", with an international ski tournament held there in January.

But the experience is uniquely Pakistani. Army checkpoints abound, while gun-toting policemen riding up the mountain flout chairlift signs warning: "No Smoking, No Weapons".

There is no apres-ski boozing as alcohol is banned, nor Swiss Raclette cheese, but lentil curry and deep-fried kebab patties make ample fuel for skiers.

"I have never seen snow before. I am very excited," said Usman Shaukat, a 22-year-old student from the sweltering Punjab in the south after his first ski lesson.

Shaukat, who traveled about 600 kilometers and braved potholed mountain roads by public bus to reach the ski slopes, is part of a new wave of domestic tourists emerging as security improves, the middle-class prospers and social media sites like Facebook reveal a Pakistan many never knew existed.

It is also easier for Pakistanis to explore their own country than holiday abroad.

Regional road trips are difficult, with war-torn Afghanistan and arch-foe India next door, while the United States and many European countries have tightened visa restrictions as part of tougher security measures.

Part-time travel blogger Saira Ali, 27, began exploring her own nation after the US denied her a visa in 2013.

"If my visa had not been rejected, I wouldn't have seen Pakistan," said Ali, who charts her travels on Instagram.

Growing car ownership and freshly-paved roads have cut journey times to remote holiday destinations, swelling the number of adventure seekers in a nation of 200 million people.

In Gilgit-Baltistan province, home to the Himalayas and the world's second highest mountain K2, domestic tourist numbers rocketed to nearly 700,000 last year, from 250,000 in 2014. Foreign tourists accounted for less than 2 percent of all visitors, the Gilgit-Baltistan tourism department said.

Returning to the resort for the first time since 2010, retired engineer Akbar Ali had thought he would never ski again.

Clad in traditional robes, Ali, 67, eyed the piste and wedged his feet into ski boots.

"I'm very happy," he said, and headed up the slope.

Reuters

 Ski resort razed by Taliban lifts Pakistan's domestic tourism

A policeman stands guard at the base of the chairlift to the ski resort in Malam Jabba, Pakistan. The country has seen a growing number of domestic tourists. Reuters

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