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Magnetic appeal: A pilgrimage to buyer’s heaven

GILGIT: The magnetic appeal of Gilgit-Baltistan’s landscapes has primarily drawn tourists into the region. As they navigate through the many vistas that G-B has to offer, visitors who want to shop for Chinese goods gravitate towards the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Market in Gilgit.

Situated about 600 kilometers from the federal capital and as many from China’s Kashgar, the market is named after the NLI regiment of the Pakistan Army. A mandatory trip to the market provides customers with a diverse menu of items from China.

With over 700 shops, it is situated in the heart of Gilgit, the capital of G-B – a mountainous region being inhabited by around 1.5 million people.

It was constructed in 1992 to facilitate families of soldiers and officers who lost their lives defending the country from internal and external threats.

“It is like a hub of Chinese items ranging from crockery, toys, clothes and decoration to electronics,” says Amjad Ali, a tourist who visited G-B this summer. “Since the prices are quite reasonable, I purchase items for my family.” According to government officials, more than 0.5 million domestic tourists visited this region and helped revive the tourism industry that has been adversely impacted by militancy.

Tale of origins

Until recently, most of the trade between China and G-B took place through Karakoram Highway. However the formation of an accidental lake – known as Attabad Lake – severed the land connection between both countries for five years.

The development shifted the trade from Sost, where the dry port exists, to Islamabad. However, this did not negatively impact business.

When the army started construction of the market, the businessmen mostly from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa realised its importance and bought over 80% of the 300 shops constructed in the first phase.

Gradual expansion

As time went by, the market was gradually expanded and today almost half of the shops in the market have been occupied by businessmen from outside G-B and an equal number by the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan.

“We procured a shop at the inception of the market,” says Yousaf Khan, who is visiting from Dir. “The reason [we chose to be] here is the easy availability of Chinese goods.”

The sale goes on its peak from October till March when biting chills grips the hilly region that is home to world’s second highest peak K-2 and several glaciers.

“It gets better from October onwards,” says another vendor, referring to the sale of items.

“I visit the market for a few things whenever I come to this region,” says Akram Khan, a British national. “This time too I had a couple of gifts for my family who always expect me to bring something from here.”

While talking to The Express Tribune, Muhammad Nageen said the prime objective of the construction of NLI Market was to ensure the welfare of families who had lost their loved ones in the line of duty.

“Besides two hostels, currently four army public schools [APS] are being run by the income of the market,” says Nageen, an honorary lieutenant who is also caretaker of the market. “The schools provide free education to the children of martyred families.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2016.

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