Apart from the local residents, people from other districts also started coming here: Photo by Sajid Ali Kokikhel

Abdul Qayyum Afridi

The closure of major tourist spots in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the lockdown was although devastating for the hotel industry, tour operators and other businesses, but it proved a sort of blessing in disguise for the less-known scenic venues particularly those situated in the merged districts.

Every year in summer, thousands of tourists from all over the country thronged Swat, Chitral, Abbotabad, Mansehra and other picturesque valleys of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to evade the scorching weather of the plain districts. But this year, the government had banned the entry of tourists to these valleys in a bid to curtail the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Besides, local recreation venues and parks in Peshawar, where people could gather and become a possible carrier of the coronavirus, were also closed. But the human instinct to transform challenges into opportunities motivated many people to discover new destinations outside the provincial metropolis.

In terms of proximity and accessibility, the Khyber tribal district was the top priority for many tourists as it has many beautiful places to visit. From its high mountain peaks in Jamrud and Landi Kotal to the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham and from the gushing springs and streams to the lush-green valley in Tirah, district Khyber offers lots of attractive sights.

One of these popular destinations is locally named as “Ghar Obah”, situated in Ali Masjid area of Jamrud tehsil on the Pak-Afghan Highway. The term “Ghar Obah” is the combination of two Pashto words, “Ghar” and “Obah” which mean ‘cave’ and ‘water’. As evident from its name, transparent water gushes out from a cave and runs down the terrain.

A waterfall in Charbagh area of Landi Kotal tehsil is yet another attraction for tourists. People from Peshawar, Charsada, Mardan, Nowshera and other adjoining areas visited these places along with friends and spent their leisure time.

These places were earlier known to the local people only where they used to gather and have fun with friends. But the closure of major tourist destinations during the corona lockdown helped people discover these new picnic sites.

The influx of non-local tourists encouraged the native people to develop these areas as many native dwellers have established markets, hotels and restaurants. These business activities are not only facilitating the visitors but also booming the economy at the micro level.

Amir, who has built a restaurant near the Ghar Obah picnic spot, tells TNN that, primarily, this site was less-known and only local people used to come here for outing. Since there were no shops here, people used to bring edibles with them.

“When the lockdown was imposed and the majority of the markets and business centers were forcefully closed, people started feeling bored at home. To address their anxiety, people searched for alternate picnic spots as the already known and popular sites were also closed by the government,” Amir says.

“Apart from the local residents, people from other districts also started coming here. We established a few shops in the area which has now become a busy marketplace. This is such a beautiful place that anybody who visits it, wants to come here again and again,” Amir explains.

According to Amir, there are many other picnic spots in district Khyber including the waterfall in Charbagh area and the rivulet in Landi Khana. He says a large number of people are turning up at these sites.

Amir also established a restaurant near the Ghar Obah site where he offers different services to the visitors. He has also given employment to 20 local youth in his restaurant.

“We have made different arrangements for the recreation of the visitors, like the ones done in Kalam, Kaghan, Naran and other tourist spots. We have set up traditional charpoys, tables and chairs. People can also enjoy eating their favorite traditional dishes while sitting in the middle of the water stream on charpoys and tables,” Amir informs.

A market comprising 30 shops is also built near Amir’s restaurant where local people have established different businesses providing services to the tourists.

Certainly, these areas will take time to develop and attract more and more visitors as the infrastructure here is not at par with the already developed tourist spots. The positive prospect of these sites is their nearness to the provincial metropolis since they are laying at just 30 minutes drive from Peshawar. Apart from Ghar Obah and the waterfall at Charbagh, there are plenty of potential tourist attractions such as the lush green Tirah vally, Bara valley and Chora area in tehsil Jamrud. The only thing which is desperately needed is the political will of the rulers and the local administrators. If these areas are developed, not only tourists will find nearest destinations but local people will also get employment and jobs as economic activities will flourish with the visitors.