Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Not even mediocre

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The other day I received a call from one of these private TV channels. The person said he wanted to speak to me regarding how we have failed to promote this sorry land as an attractive tourist destination and what we could do to turn things around.

And soon I had at my door two fresh-faced and very amiable young men with the accessories of their trade.

Now, being a travel writer is one thing and being able to wax meaninglessly, ad nauseum ineloquent on tourism promotion is another. I say this because anyone who is above forty in this country suddenly begins to look upon him/herself as an authority on everything that he/she knows nothing about.

Put them in front of a TV camera and they will sit back, plant their hands in the shape of a tepee on the fat paunch, turn the ends of their mouth down and with the greatest gravity (more than that of a neutron star) let gibberish flow forth.

For years I have always asked one simple question: if we had all these hugely smart thinkers in this country with their bright ideas, why, pray why, is it that this sorry land never got anywhere?

Why were these incredibly brainy creatures hiding behind the door all along and why did they suddenly pop out of the woodwork with their torrents of homilies for TV channels? This being the work of that inscrutable god in his heaven is something we shall never learn. But one thing we mortals can do: since these sages hiding in our midst never made an effort to guide this sorry country past the famous crossroads where we have marked time for sixty years, they should be tried for high treason and put six feet under — but not before they’ve been strung six above.

For years I have also wondered why is it that this country cannot show one person, just one paltry person, who being above forty can say that he knows nothing of the subject and that he will be out of his depth. And now slowly it begins to dawn on me that this is because we are not even a land of the mediocre; we are a country of jokers.

Though we are quick to take umbrage at any and every old thing, we steadfastly refuse to feel foolish while endlessly delivering imbecile platitudes on the media.

This I told young Hassan and Atif and I also said I had no clue about how to promote Pakistan as a tourist destination. With great patience and, I must concede, more sense than I have, these two good people showed me the way. But when I started talking it turned out to be in Lahori, which has nothing to do with any other language in the world. Spit flew and the pair behind the camera had to ask for an umbrella which was duly provided.

A few times I had to ask Atif to turn off the red light on his camera because I had some more home truths to divulge. The good people soon tired of these off-camera rants and they said this being the modern age I could say whatever I wished and they would censor my &*%$# with a beep.

They called yesterday to inform me that this interview can never go on air because I was either completely incoherent or there was nothing but one long beep. I was also told that those above them ordered the tape to be purged — in the incinerator, that is.

Since this interview will never be aired, I have to get a few things off my back. To begin with, I have no idea how anyone can invite tourists to a country where, if they get robbed (or worse), the police turn around and say, ‘Who the %$#* told you to come here?’ Folks have also been told it was their own bloody fault for being a woman or unarmed or not being a black belt three dan in tae kwon do and karate.

The police being representatives of the state and upholders of its laws and policies have obviously been told that tourists, regardless of local or foreign origin, are to be discouraged from fouling this Land of the Pure.

And then we have all those remarkable people who since the time of the bigoted dictatorship of General Hypocrite ul Azam favoured the starched white shalwar-kamiz, but with the dawning of the era of enlightened moderation have forced Savile Row to work overtime. These worthies, like the rest of us, have no idea about the work they are entrusted with, their only concern being the perks, pelf and power that go with the job.

During a tourism conference in a Lahore hotel back in 1989, the minister for tourism (cannot remember if he was federal or provincial) was extolling the virtues of Murree and how his government was going to further destroy it by chopping down all the trees to put up chairlifts and Ferris wheels or whatever else festered in his tiny mind.

And then he delivered his masterstroke. Murree, he informed the gathering, will draw innumerable hordes of foreigners in winter because of the snow it gets!

If you think this was just some moron expending foul hot air and that we have meanwhile got along a bit, consider the play the much-vaunted Gorakh Hill Resort in Sindh gets these days. The catchphrase is that being a ‘very, very cold place’ it will attract foreigners.

For crying out loud, how cold can a 1,500-metre hill be at the twenty-sixth parallel of latitude? But then neither geography, nor indeed any other subject, is the forte of jokers.

If you think that is priceless, consider this one. The minister for culture in Sindh during the Era of the Bicycle that ended recently wanted rides and swing boats installed at Makli. This incidentally coincides with the idea of some moron at the CDA to put up a chairlift from somewhere in Islamabad to the top of the Margalla ridge.

Both these items are supposed to draw tourists, presumably from the affluent and evil West. Sane minds prevailed in Sindh and the idea of destroying Makli was scuttled. But the eyesore of Islamabad will go ahead because someone stands to make a good deal of money.

I can already tell you that the number of western tourists to ride this great attraction over the next thirty years will be a whopping twenty. And these will be the diplomats who will risk the first (and complimentary) ride on inauguration day under security so tight they’ll even find deep breathing impossible.

While there is no dearth of such hare-brained notions to ‘promote’ tourism, none of the brain-dead jokers who head the five tourism development corporations will ever consider moving a finger to promote, say, Mehrgarh or Moenjodaro or Punjgur and Turbat or Tilla Jogian or Ilam.

How can they, when they have probably never even heard of these places?

And then, I asked the good men who had come with their video camera, who will ever tell our average illiterate and uncouth policeman that it is his duty to see that we don’t get robbed and not to tell us we were fools to go walkabout?

And who will remind the state that there is something called its writ that fell by the wayside years ago but which should actually be enforced? No, despite everything that the land we call Pakistan can boast of, it will never be a tourist haven. Not in the unforeseeable future.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 13 November 2015 at 00:34, Blogger saima ashraf said...

Law and order and fair dealing to the tourists is a feasible solution of portraying the true picture of Pakistan. When the approach and vision are national rather than individual, tourism and beauty both are preserved.

At 13 November 2015 at 11:44, Blogger Mario D'Sylva said...

Excellent travel blogs. And now exceptional humour.

At 13 November 2015 at 16:57, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Haaaah!. Thank you, Mario.

At 13 November 2015 at 17:04, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Good point, Saima. You have a very long life, as they say. I've been thinking of you and wanting to ask Major Shirazi for us to get together sometime soon.

At 13 November 2015 at 19:38, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

Wonderful post. It reminds me of a Quote in his book "Ignited Minds" by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam from Tagore
"“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high Where knowledge is free Where the world has not been broken up into fragments . . . . My Father, let my country awake. —Rabindranath Tagore”

At 13 November 2015 at 21:22, Blogger saima ashraf said...

Thanks. Sure!
Shirazi sb is snoozed behind winter :)

At 14 November 2015 at 12:20, Blogger Hasan Shafi, Ch. said...

zabardsat janab !!!

At 14 November 2015 at 12:20, Blogger Hasan Shafi, Ch. said...

zabardast janab

At 14 November 2015 at 13:41, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Chaudhri sahib.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days