Bid to make 'Shangri-La' top tourist destination

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 1998, 12:00am

Of all the windows of investment opportunity opening in Pakistan, none compare for romance and legend with the fabled northern valley of Hunza.

Nestling beneath the roof of the world, beautiful Hunza is often cited as the inspiration for Shangri-La in James Hilton's classic novel, Lost Horizon.

Though the true inspiration for Shangri-La is destined to remain a matter of debate, Hunza's claims are strong.

Encircled by the towering, snow-capped mountain ranges of the Himalayas and the Karakorams, a labyrinth of quaint villages nestle amid some of the world's largest glacier shelters.

Underlining the claim is a local population renowned for longevity. The rosy- cheeked Hunzas frequently live for 100 years as a result of a healthy diet and breathing some of the purest air on earth.

Until 1974, it was an independent kingdom along the Silk Road, ruled by the Mirs who are still symbolic monarchs. Indeed, the current Mir owns the Darbar Hunza, the leading hotel in Karimabad, the valley's central market town.

Hunza's remoteness also fits the 'Shangri-La' bill.

Only since 1978, following completion of a 20-year joint effort between Pakistan and China to build the Karakoram Highway, has this remote northern frontier been accessible to the outside world.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of all about Hunza and its neighbouring valleys, however, is that the region's extraordinary tourism potential has never been truly exploited.

Most visitors are still backpackers, trekkers, climbers, hunters, naturalists and adventurous fly-fishermen.

Now that Pakistan has opened the tourism sector to foreign investment, Hunza might finally take its rightful place among the world's premier destinations - and Hong Kong enterprise has been singled out as a leading contender to put 'Shangri-La' on the map.

Pakistan's Consul General in Hong Kong, Tariq Puri, is currently discussing the project with a developer.

'It is still early days and I can't reveal any names. But the idea is to establish a super-luxury boutique resort in a truly spectacular location,' he said.




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