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.