BY AGHA IQRAR HAROON |
I have known Muhammad Iqbal Balti, owner of Baltistan Tours Pakistan from the extreme north of Khaplu Valley since 1983 when I started my career as a tourist guide. At that time I was a second-year student at the Government College Lahore. It was quite fun to work as a tourist guide during summer vacations. I am fortunate that people I found in the tourism industry almost 32 years ago are still my best friends, although I have shifted my profession from tourist guide to that of a journalist in 1988.
People like Iqbal Balti have given their lives to the tourism industry in Pakistan although there is less tourism left in Pakistan after the 9/11 disaster. I can write a handbook about Iqbal, as he is politician, philanthropist, and tour guide, as well as the owner of a hotel and a tour company. But I am happy that a tour guide is still alive inside Iqbal Balti even after archiving so many things in his life.
Iqbal never stops treks even if they are harsh, uphill, and difficult. Therefore, despite numerous problems being faced by the tourism industry, Iqbal is striving to help the tourism industry in his area. This time, Iqbal targets the domestic market as hopes are taken away about international tourism arrivals due to constant terrorism in the county.
For celebrating 30 successful years in the tourism field, he is celebrating 2014 as the year of adventure and cultural domestic tourism in Khaplu Valley and introducing wonderful and virgin treks to domestic tourism. He is introducing a new exploration with the name of Gangche Lake trek that is 4,600 meters above sea level.
I asked Iqbal for a brief interview to promote products of the extreme north.
Agha Iqrar Haroon: What are you offering to promote the domestic tourism market in this season?
Muhammad Iqbal Balti: I invite people from Karachi to Khyber to come and view all the high peaks of Karakoram including 8,000 meter peaks K2, Broad Peak, G-I, G-II, and visit Balti culture and archaeological center Khaplu Baltistan, where they can see old settlement of Balti culture, Khaplu palace (UNESCO awarded) and Masjed of Chaqchen (Buddhist temple converted to Masjed in 15th century), Astana Mir Muhammad (UNESCO awarded) and many others.
Ikrar: What is special for Ghangche Lake?
Iqbal: Ghangche Lake is a water resource of Khaplu town and high pastures of the area. It was the ibex hunting area of Yabgo density of Khaplu in old Baltistan. We are introducing Ghangche Lake Trek for adventure lovers. This place is very much interesting for researcher, archaeological, homeopathic doctors, agriculturalist, land scalper, biologist, geologist, natural photographers, and culture Lovers.
Ikrar: What service do you offer to nature lovers through your company?
Iqbal: Baltistan Tours offers a wide range of programs to suit all tastes and pockets including treks, trekking peaks, mountaineering expeditions, mountain biking, rafting, hunting, Jeep safaris, culture tours, and archaeological tours, and holiday packages for students, old citizen, and families in Pakistan and provide assistance to arrange similar programs in China and the Central Asian states. Baltistan Tours Pakistan has the honor to be the first and senior-most tour operator of the region in culture and adventure travel, having its base in Skardu, Northern Areas Pakistan, and the gateway to the Throne Room of Mountain gods.
Ikrar: Iqbal you are also running Balti Yul mountaineering school. What is it? Tell us about this school.
Iqbal: I am proud to have initiated capacity building of alpine guides, high-altitude porters and low-altitude porters by establishing a mountaineering school, “Balti Yul Mountaineering School,” at Khaplu in collaboration with International Leadership Institute USA. Students joining the school are also given proper knowledge about first aid, emergency rescue, protection of environment, and leadership.
Ikrar: Anything you wish to share with our readers?
Iqbal: I want to tell people around the world that Skardu and Khaplu Valleys are very peaceful, and there is no radicalism in this area, and people of these areas need visit of foreigners and locals from other parts of Pakistan so poor people can survive. Otherwise I fear anti-social elements can lure our youth for anti-social activities. Khaplu and north of Pakistan needs tourists to come and help them.
This article was originally posted on eTN global travel news agency and you can access it here: