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Malam Jabba Ski Gala looms over the sky-high mountains

By Miangul Abdullah

MALAM JABBA, 27 FEB, (DNA) – Wearing a thick white blanket, Malam Jabba has nowadays become a hub of tourism activities. The sky lovers from around the world are making a beeline to the spot to relish its sights and become one with nature.
Fast emerging to be a winter tourist resort of Pakistan, the site has seen a steep rise in tourism activities over the past few years. Regular snow festivals have become a special feature of the resort. This year is no exception, however.
Malam Jabba Ski Gala is looming over the sky-high mountains. The snow festival will be celebrated at this world’s rooftop from the first week of March with traditional/cultural fervor. The opening & closing ceremonies will be conducted on March 01 and 10, 2015.
The first week of the month of March is, perhaps, an ideal time for the activity. By this time, the site has seen a lot of snowfall and has provided the rain a breathing space. Furthermore, the snow has not begun to melt down at the top and the resort has given vent to lush green pastures amidst the thick pine trees to attract maximum tourists to it.
Major attractions of the ten days venture include skiing, gliding, paragliding, hang gliding, snow trekking, tobogganing, aero modeling, which are organized under the auspices of professionals. Special coaching classes are also arranged for students.
Food court and handicrafts stalls are the other features. In the past food was served to tourists through decades old constructed huts/shops on the protected forest land, which were demolished during the recently concluded anti-encroachment drive by the District Administration. Now temporary arrangements are being made for food court in the premises of the skiing resort, where every effort is made to ensure the local food quality.
Unlike the previous festivals, the civil administration of the District will organize the event jointly with the Provincial Tourism Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Malakand Army Division will provide necessary assistance to the administration.
Earlier the event was organized by Pak Army to dispel the menace of terrorism and instill normalcy in the area. The army arranged the festivals since 2011 uptil now.
However keeping in view the normalization of life and the peaceful scenario of the area, the Army authorities conveyed its desire that henceforth the District Administration can hold the event, ensuring all-out assistance in this regard.
The main areas the District Administration will be looking forward for assistance includes venue preparation, administrative arrangements and delegates invitation, reveals the information available in this regard.
Thousands of tourists are awaiting the event. Many of them have already come to Swat, looking forward with eager eyes for the event to begin. In addition dignitaries from all walks of life are likely to participate along with other tourists and local populace.
A large number of people are expected to attend the festival. Many distinguished would also be invited to the event. Special invitations are being extended to them. Selected group of the distinguished would be invited to the opening/closing ceremony.
Leading educational institutions would also be sent invitations for the event. However, transport facilities are not being provided to them due to fund constraints, the information reads.
Nonetheless the festival will not only accommodate the requirements of the tourists but also affords ample entertainment opportunities for them. Special funfair activities for women and children and a grand music gala, incorporating the country’s renowned singers and bands are also arranged.
Accommodation plan has also been chalked out for various guests, participating teams, media persons and organizers. They are given the maximum possible facilities.
Transportation plan is an important part of the arrangements. Since the single lane road leading to the skiing resort is risky due to heavy traffic jams and snow on the sidelines. Therefore, shuttle service will be provided to the tourists at the designated places.
Besides regular snow clearance is ensured throughout the festival. Machines are always at the standby to keep the road clear from snow. The all-time availability of these machines makes the resort accessible for tourists even during heavy snowfall.
In order to draw more and more tourists to the biggest and the most popular resort of the country for a wider appeal, advertisement campaign is also being carried out for the event. In this regard banners/Panaflex, hanging banners are installed at major places. Similarly pamphlets are distributed in the public places besides TV promos.
Funding details and timeline for the activity is also prepared well before the event. Mostly all the things are preplanned. Days are selected keeping in view its appropriateness according to the need of the time and duration. Generally holidays are the best time for the students and employees.
The sole objective of the festival is to attract tourists for winter sports and to revive tourism in Swat and boost incomes of the people connected with the industry.
The players present at the festival, including youth, men, women and children show various feats in the skiing competition. A huge number of spectators are present.
Like the previous years, prizes will be distributed among the players to the delight of the fun-lovers and speeches will be given at the concluding day of the festival.
The regularity in conduct of the festival has resulted into the rising local enthusiasm, which is gaining momentum with the passage of time drawing near to the event.
The keen interest of tourists and the vim and vigour of local populace not only hint the increasing activities of tourism but also proving to be an important milestone in turning the dream of permanent peace into a reality in Malakand division.
Situated at the height of 8,700 feet above the sea level at one of the rooftops of the world in the scenic valley of Swat with its highest point of 2804m (9200 ft), Malam Jabba is the only ski resort of the country providing skiing facilities to the general public in its 800 metres gentle slopes.
The spot has seen national ski championships and besides an ideal family picnic spot during the summer season, it has become a focus of winter tourism activities. Thousands of tourists flock to Malam Jabba every winter except for the break when the militants gained control of the area. The area was cleared of the militants by the security forces with the support of the local people.
After the normalcy was restored in the area at the cost of many sacrifices rendered by the security forces and the people, the festival is now celebrated as a symbol of peace in the region to give a message to the international tourists that they could visit the picturesque Swat valley once again.
Located at one of the important offshoots of the Karakoram Highway, Malam Jabba offers unlimited sites to behold like mighty ranges of Hindukush, the black mountains of Karakoram, gentle slopes, placid plains, torrential streams and dense forests of pine trees.
Initially, Pakistan Tourism Corporation (PTDC) was the custodian of the spot. In the past the tourists got disappointed when they found no reservation in the lone three storey building of the PTDC hotel on weekends.
The PTDC Hotel was destroyed during militancy in Swat. Thereafter the Hotel was not constructed so far, except for the rubble taken away from the spot.
However, nowadays there are number of lodging facilities available to the tourists on easy terms. One would have no difficulty in finding reservation, except for the time taken in reaching from one spot to the other due to the road problem.
Indeed, snaking through the zigzag road is a bad experience for the tourists visiting Malam Jabba. One’s car must have lizard feet to mount the dilapidated narrow lane that present a shape of ruins. The turns are particularly dangerous points. The more one mount up the bumpy patchy road, the more are the chances of incidents. The fear that the vehicle may not skid off the slippery road into gorges, remains adamant all the time.
There is also a problem of increasing traffic jams. Two vehicles can hardly make their way to pass on the road, especially on the weekends. Resultantly, the tourists mostly prefer to be on foot, which is also a cumbersome experience on the slippery tracks.
Although Malam Jabba has become a focus of activities round the year, the Tourism Department is yet to take interest in developing the site. So far it has not come up with a comprehensive plan to develop the resort on the principals of eco-tourism.
Keeping this fact in view, in addition to many other services for facilitating the tourists, free shuttle service and free ride for schoolchildren are also provided at Malam Jabba. DNA

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