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ISSN 1108-8931


 Year 8 - Issue 96 - Mar 08

This issue sponsored by: Siam Safari Nature Tours (TH), Canyon Travel (MX), La Selva Jungle Lodge (EC),
Eco Holidays Malta (MT), Abha Palace (SA), St-Géry Historic Estate (FR), International Centre for Responsible Tourism (UK)

SHAMS UDDIN: "The people of Chitral believe in cultural diversity, peace and friendliness"

ECOCLUB Interviews Shams Uddin
Project Manager CAMAT
(Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism, Pakistan)

Index of Interviews

Mr Uddin was born in Chitral, Pakistan in 1968. He holds Master Degrees in International Relations and Political Science, and a Bachelor of Education, all from Peshawar University He worked as a Consultant for the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, as a team leader with KADO [Karimabad Area Development Organisation], and has also conducted research on medicinal herbs .

Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT) is an NGO working for the promotion of community-based tourism in Chitral, the northernmost district of Pakistan, formed in 1998 by a wide spectrum of tourism stakeholders, including civil society organizations, environment and cultural societies, traditional sports clubs and academic institution within the district. The major objective of the association is to enhance income-earning opportunities for “poverty reduction through environmental-friendly and culture-rooted community-based eco-tourism in the remote mountainous region of Northern Pakistan”, through the financial support of UNESCO. In particular CAMAT seeks to protect Indigenous cultures by reviving and promoting the age-old festivals and cultural events, such as Jashan-e-Chitral, Jashan-e-Shandur, Jashan-e-Qaqlasht and Jashan-e-Boroghil. By adding economic incentives to these events, CAMAT believes it can make the protection of traditional culture a desirable outcome for community members At the end of local festivals, an elaborate waste disposal campaign is always undertaken in cooperation with the local community. In the future, CAMAT intends to promote community-based eco-tourism in the remote mountainous region, and to this end, it seeks guidance and financial support from international NGOs

The remote Chitral region, in the High Hindu Kush, traditionally controlled trade routes from Afghanistan to India, and historically enjoyed relative independence as a princely state, but has recently suffered from unrest as a result of the Afghanistan war just across the border. It is a cultural mosaic, inhabited by numerous tribal groups and one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world. Ethnologists are fascinated by tiny groups such as the Kalash (pop. c. 6,000) half of whom are polytheists, with a distinct language, clothing and customs. Kalash legends, historical evidence and recent research indicate that Kalash along with other tribes may be remnants of the Indo-Greek civilisation which resulted from Alexander the Great's passage from the area. The 1975 movie "The Man who would be King" with Shawn Connery & Michael Cane was based on this legend.

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB.com: What prompted the creation of the Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT) and what has been your role?

CAMAT [Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism] was established in 1998 in response to the growing prospect of tourism as a new sector of poverty reduction within the parameter of the local culture and natural environment in Chitral and Northern Areas in reference to the renowned Khow and Kalash cultures in terms of festivals, local music, nature trails, mountaineering and wildlife watching as a potential tourism product in Chitral district. Since 2002, CAMAT has received UNESCO funding and technical support to promote ecotourism by protecting traditional culture on the one hand and the natural environment on the other.

ECOCLUB.com: Which are the main goals of your organisation and what do you consider to be your major achievements so far?

The main goals of CAMAT are to reduce poverty through eco-tourism as a new sector of development through adding economic incentives to protect the traditional culture and natural environment. CAMAT's major achievements are as follows:

  • Revival of Jashan-e-Chitral [Chitral festival] after its discontinuation for 25 years.

  • Revival of Jashan-e-Qaqlasht [Qaqlasht festival] in upper Chitral

  • Revival and protection of Kalash woodcarving

  • Protection of Kalash culture by organizing cultural programmes down country

  • Protection of Kalash environment by installing dustbins in Rumbur

  • Organizing cultural events during annual Shandur Polo Festival

  • Highlighting Chitral’s culture through UNESCO film 'Between Sky and Mountains'

  • Capacity building of hoteliers through elaborate training programmes

  • Capacity building of local musicians and to add economic incentives to traditional music and to generate culture-based income for the locals.

  • Promotion of Chitral’s culture during Shandur Polo Festival every year in July

ECOCLUB.com: To ethnologists, the Kalash are a fascinating cultural relic, with their 12 gods & goddesses dating perhaps all the way back to the era of Alexander the Great, with Chitral town being used as a base camp for researchers from around the world. The Kalash are clearly a tourist 'attraction' but what does tourism do for them? In your website it is worrying to read that "the Kalash get very little economic benefit from tourism"!

Kalash woman in traditional dress.

The Kalash community is the real tourism attraction in the North West Frontier Province, Northern Areas, let alone district Chitral. Their unique way of life, festivals, music, folklore, ancestor worship and the myth that sheds lights on their primitive culture are a huge magnet. The Kalash are believed to be the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great, hence their fascination for ordinary tourists, but most importantly they are a potential source of attraction for ethnologists to conduct studies on Kalash culture and tradition that would definitely highlight Kalash culture and promote a healthy trend of ‘cultural tourism’.

In relation to the question of tourism benefit to the Kalash people, at the moment they are far from benefiting from tourism as mostly non-Kalash people control enterprises. However, CAMAT is making efforts to transfer the economic benefits of tourism to the Kalash community by:

 -  Developing and promoting traditional guesthouses
 - Organising cultural events outside Chitral to enhance the livelihood opportunities for the Kalash community, apart from highlighting their culture
- Providing information on Kalash culture to tourists visiting the CAMAT office in the Mountain Inn, Chitral town

- Building the capacity of Kalash hotel owners
- Revival of traditional Kalash woodwork as unique tourism products
- Protection of Kalash environment by installing dustbins and raising environmental awareness.
- Media campaign highlighting Kalash valleys as ‘must visit’ destinations

ECOCLUB.com: What measures are in place to prevent the endangered tribal communities of the Chitral area becoming a sort of a 'human zoo' for tourists and researchers?

Chitral Fort, once seat of the royal Family
of Chitral, and site of a famous siege in 1895.

The real problem with the traditional cultures is that they are endangered, notwithstanding their uniqueness and striking difference from what we call ‘modern cultures’. They provide a great magnet for tourists, who come to see and study these cultures, without contributing to the economic benefit of the locals. For instance the endangered Kalash community in three of the Kalash valleys are certainly reduced to a ‘human zoo’ position, without getting any economic benefit from their culture. This causes frustration among the Kalash people and renders them susceptible towards the uniqueness and importance of their own culture. Instead they are prone to think about a quick transformation of their culture. For CAMAT, in such a situation, it becomes inevitable to undertake measures to protect the traditional cultures and environment through the involvement of stakeholders and adding economic incentives to the cultural events and music and to encourage ecotourism such as wildlife watching so that livelihood earning opportunities for the locals, particularly for guesthouse owners, can be created. To this end, training programmes for music troupes from both Khow and Kalash communities are being organized and an enabling environment to the musicians and traditional sportsmen is provided through festivals, which not only gives economic benefits to these people, but also help highlight the traditional culture of Chitral. CAMAT has also been imparting capacity building training to hoteliers, tour guides, porters and drivers.

ECOCLUB.com: Are you trying to develop Community Tourism & Ecological Tourism in the Chitral Area, or, as an association, are you happy to represent any type of tourism in the light of the current difficult circumstances?

CAMAT has been working via a UNESCO project to promote community-based ecotourism to improve the livelihood of the locals by protecting the traditional culture and natural environment. However, we are encouraging numerous types of tourism, such as adventure, wildlife, cultural and study tourism etc. Through different varieties of tourism, CAMAT can be in a position to enhance the prospect of economic benefits for the locals through tourism, which is one of the new sectors of economic development. However, CAMAT’s potential area is ecotourism.

ECOCLUB.com: Historically mountainous, inaccessible Chitral has seen off many invading armies and colonisers, but has always been a mosaic of civilisations. In theory Tourism can contribute to peace building & intercultural understanding. In practice, do you have practical examples of how tourism in the Chitral area is currently contributing to intercultural understanding, at this difficult time and place, so close to the theatres of war?

Snow Leopard - inhabits the mountains of central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, ranging from 1,800 metres in the winter to about 5,500 metres in the summer

Chitral is really a mosaic culture and the people of Chitral believe in cultural diversity, peace and friendliness. Chitral has many things to display in terms of rich cultures, unspoiled natural environment, and archaeological sites, natural trails, wildlife, and snow-capped peaks for mountaineers. It has 13 different cultures and languages within the fold of its different valleys. CAMAT believe that tourism can really contribute to intercultural understanding and enable tourists to understand things in the given destination. CAMAT has made efforts to provide information to tourists through brochures, personal contacts and pictures. It is felt that tourists who visit Chitral always leave with a positive impression about the peacefulness, hospitality, scenic beauties and natural environment of Chitral. This further feeds into augmenting the prospect of a tourism influx in the years ahead.

ECOCLUB.com: Your organisation has been the recipient of sizable foreign aid from multilateral bodies and private foundations. Could you have managed without this foreign aid? What would you say to those who believe that this type of aid to businesses may create a false sense of security and lead to disaster when foreign donor funds abruptly dry out, as it has not allowed business structures to 'cut their teeth'?

CAMAT is a non-profit non-loss tourism development association, which receives funding from UNESCO to promote community-based eco-tourism by protecting the traditional cultures and natural environment in the mountainous region of Chitral. CAMAT has always taken into consideration the fact that dependence on funding sources could be a hurdle for sustainability of the association. CAMAT has taken the following measures to meet sustainability of its activities:

  • By raising funds for cultural events through Cultural Committees during different cultural events

  • By involving volunteers in culture and environment protection activities

  • By developing guesthouses in the Kalash valleys and other parts of Chitral

  • By providing services to registered hotels and Jeep owners

For the year 2006 onward sustainability of the activity has been one of our major areas of consideration.

ECOCLUB.com: Issues of NGO accountability & transparency have become important in the 'west'. Do you feel accountable to your donors, to the members of your association, or to the people of Chitral? And in what ways do you measure your organisations' performance and contribution?

Personally I don’t like the over-expenditure issues associated with the majority of NGOs. The big problem with NGOs has always been high expenditures with almost no outcomes. Donors often pay scant attention to the small details and only follow the broader frame of operation, which is presented to them as a ‘make believe document’. Taking into consideration the above facts and after practical observation, CAMAT has based its activities with minimal funding from UNESCO—the only source of funding for the association. We present details of all expenditure to the Board of Directors—the honorary set up—which supervise and provide guidance for management activities. We measure the success and influence of our association through Tourist feedback forms, BoD Satisfaction Remarks, voluntary services of Cultural Committees, voluntary services of Chitral Polo Association, registered with CAMAT, productive interaction with district administration and interaction with local communities, cultural troupes and environment protection societies in the entire district.

ECOCLUB.com: If CAMAT had absolute power in Chitral to put one thing right which one would it be and why?

Booni Zom : The “Good God” Peak (6,542 m)

CAMAT would have redoubled its efforts to protect the culture of the endangered Khow and Kalash communities, which we feel is the vital tourism product and a world class cultural heritage. Unfortunately, the Kalash culture is dying out under the pressure in the fast changing prospect of globalization.

ECOCLUB.com: How can interested readers assist CAMAT in implementing its goals? Is the area actually safe for tourists and when is the best time to visit?

CAMAT is a non-profit non-loss association working for the promotion of ecotourism in Chitral and is implementing a UNESCO project on ecotourism. Some of its activities are revival and promotion of cultural festivals, protection of natural environment, capacity-building initiatives, and media campaigning through cultural movies, linkage development and advocacy campaigns. We would welcome like-minded international entities involved in tourism to work with CAMAT on the above agendas. Chitral is really safe for tourists and the best time to visit is from April to October. During this time tourists can take in cultural festivals, wildlife watching, trekking, horse riding and visit archaeological sites and shop in Chitral’s main market.

ECOCLUB.com: Finally, what are your organisation's plans for the immediate future?

CAMAT would like to strengthen its activities, which it has undertaken for the last 5 years, as we feel that the improvement in eco-tourism really lies within these initiatives, and strengthening them further will definitely contribute to enhancing the prospect of tourism in the Northern Areas, let alone Chitral and NWF Province.

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!

The famous Polo Festival at Shandur – ‘Highest Polo ground on earth’
at 3,700 m. Polo is believed to have originated in neighbouring Persia
2,500 years ago.

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews heree

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