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Travel Writing on the Wall (of the Web)

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Travel writing is a fine art and an accepted literary genre, written by those who are gifted with an ability to understand what they see and can breathe life into a place when they narrate their travel experiences.  

The Internet, wrongly considered a pedestal for instantaneous scribbles mixed with emoticons and indecipherable abbreviations, has already become a place to find some good travel literature, travelogues, and travel stories in addition to online trading of travel services. It can be one of the best places for travel writers to showcase what their countries have to offer.

Travel is a prosperity and leisure pursuit, which is a result of many things: history, heritage, culture, natural beauty, a quest to know what is unknown, and meet wonderful people.

Pakistan is a land of geographical, geological, and natural contrasts. It has everything nature could bestow, from the Mehr Garh in Balochistan and Harappa in Punjab, where some of the initial human activities began, to Lots Valley (NWFP), once home to the Gandhara Civilization, where Chinese Hiuen Tsiang, regarded as an early trendsetter traveler, did tread.

Pakistan boasts the ancient city of Multan that, according to legend, has been around since the time of Hazrat Noah (A.S.), as well as the Kalash community, existing in an on-the-edge district of Chitral, and still waiting for anthropologists' conclusive research about the origin of their unique identity against all outside pressures for development and modernity.

Additionally, Pakistan holds the unsolved riddle of rivers lost (River Hakra in Cholistan) to pristine locations in Northern Pakistan (tree line in Himalaya Range), where one can see two seasons at the same place – winter above and summer below, and the thematic pilgrims for Sikh and Buddhist communities, to name just a few.

All major national publications have designated some pages for travel writing, but it is a small and competitive market. For those who write in English – a language that is understood on the World Wide Web – the market is even smaller.

Experienced travel writers are associated with newspapers and magazines, and new writers get a chance to appear in print only occasionally. There should be more travel journalism and industry news. The public should know if the Ministry of Tourism reduces royalty fees by 50 percent for climbing Pakistani mountains that are above 6000 meters.

On the other hand, fact-packed guidebooks with eye-catching, superb, clear, and sharp images of people and places enlivening every page provide good background information into any country's history, culture, attractions, and its people – information useful during journeys to new places.

Guidebooks have their own style, quite different from travelogues and travel stories. The guidebook publishing business is totally in the hands of famous foreign companies and it is hard for local publishers to compete with them. "Only foreign tourists need and buy guidebooks and they already have one when they arrive in Pakistan," says a publisher Munir Ahmad. But, Ahmad adds, "Publishing guidebooks is not a viable option here; it is difficult to sell books." This is the same case with self-publishing by writers.

Still, opportunities for travel writers do come up from time to time. Some guidebook companies also get updates and input from local writers and photographers that appear in their newer editions. Some time ago, for example, Insight Guides commissioned a local writer to revise their outdated edition. British founder/editor of Lonely Planet, Tony Wheeler, spent years growing up in Pakistan, takes pride in this, and has contact with many local travel writers for updates for the guidebooks he markets.

The rate of travel industry growth and everyone's interest in knowing new places, people, and cultures, has spurred many websites featuring travel content. So far, Pakistani destinations have a scanty presence on the Web. Print publications, particularly English, get the original work and pay the writers, whereas most websites just recycle travel articles from print media.

This scarcity of places to be published leaves travel writers turning to the Internet, where they can pitch their ideas to many editors of travel Websites and/or interested foreign publications who are always looking for new talent. This is encouraging, but until a travel writer is picked up in print, the Web is considered one of the best places for travel writers to start.

Writers can read what has already been published there and find background material and facts. A quick search on the Internet reveals so many starting points, notwithstanding travel writing how-to services and premium travel writers’ marketers. BootsnAll Travel, where I am published, is a Web service that posts articles by writers from all over the world. I have found it writer-friendly and receptive to new locations.

In Pakistan so far, not much has been presented on the Internet for others to find out about – with an aim to tempt them to come here and see (and spend their money in the process). 

Pakistani travel writers and photographers have a vast field of activity on hand right at home. In addition to globetrotters with a compass, a camera, and itchy feet, historians, geographers, archaeologists, geologists, naturalists, and birdwatchers also need to publish their work in order to generate a wide range of interests in offbeat, mostly obscure locations in Pakistan.

I know an engineer, Itehar Mahmud, who works with an oil exploration firm and writes about places wherever he goes in connection with his duty. Retired Colonel Mobeen Ahmad has traveled all along the borders, "for recognizance purposes mostly on foot," he says, during his long service. He also writes his memories in the form of travelogues. It is in this context that the Web can be viewed as the playground for local talent.

The travel calendar of Pakistan is quite impressive. Where else in the world, other than in Pakistan, is polo – the grandest of all the sports – played at the high ground like Shandor Pass, called the roof of the world? Where else is there a moving international cultural festival held but along Kharakorum Highway?

All the events on the calendar go without any advance publicity or follow-ups. One wonders how interested people come to know about these events. The PTDC list of events and festivals needs to be improved so many more can be included in the list.

Somebody has to write the travel literature in order to keep fueling the demand for airline seats, hotel rooms, tour operators, eateries, transport companies, porters and facilitators, guidebooks, atlases, picture postcards and posters publishers, and other affiliates of the travel industry besides those communities whose major source of revenue comes from tourism. Kim Rahan, a traveler from China who bought History of Rohtas Fort on location, said, "This buy is to promote interest of people in travel related vocations."

Too often, deftly executed travelogues or a travel story can accomplish much more than any other promotional activity, particularly a story that combines passion, personality, and perspective. Every place has a story and a history. If you have a drive to write, there is a need for extensive travel writing. Tell your story.

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About Shirazi

  • So far travel is only at a sellect places. More of the world is still unexplored. Travel activities will grow when more people think and do like this.

  • Bill Robinson

    I don’t think that soliciting writings from a local is always the best approach. Certainly the local can tell many interesting things that a casual visitor would not find, but at the same time the first timer will bring a fresh approach and an unbiased eye to the site and will often see things that the local person has come to accept as normal, everyday goings on.
    So when I first enter a local Chinese market and buy a fresh pigeon, and the seller takes it out of the cage with it’s wings flapping lustily and thrusts it into a steaming pot of boiling water in order to defeather and kill the bird, the local might think nothing of that, whereas I, as an owner of two much loved parrots, lost my appetite for dinner that evening.
    Even the fact that when I returned to the USA and one of my parrots bit me for leaving her alone so long did not make me care for her any less, and I’m still not eating much chicken or cornish hen these days.

  • Being in the tourism business it is very hard to Survive these days. The people are reluctant to travel to Pakistan due to adverse publicity. Although when the tourist do come they find Pakistan welcoming and touris have no face no problems whatsoever.

    The Pakistan as a country has a lot to offer. In the Northern areas natural beuty which is unmatchable highest mountain ranges of the world numerous possiblities for adventure seekers. In the South very colorful culture ric history and superb architecture is again un matchable.

    PTDC or Ministry of tourism like the rest of the Pakistani government machinery are basically just passing time hopefully with induction of Mr. Salman Javed there will be some improvement but will they let a person work in this setup that is another question.

    In the private sector we are doing our best basically for our own survival.

    Year 2007 is visit Pakistan year but untill now there seems to be nothing being done. Prime minister had announced a policy to promote tourism but no one has access to that policy in fact internal sources say there were no funds for the imlementation.