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Tourism is being recognised as an activity generating a number of social and economic cultural cohesion and national integration while international tourism helps in developing understanding of our cultural - historical heritage and support to local handicrafts.
In this context, the Salt Range, to a large extent, meets the requirements of tourism from social, educational, heritage, etc, standpoint and need to be designated as thrust area for its development. Salt Range is situated in northern half of Punjab and extends over a distance of some 170 kms starting from river Jhelum in the east and runs westward upto Kalabagh and beyond.
It is covered with extensive road grid system and other infrastructural facilities such as railways, power, water, manpower, etc. It is accessible through motorways from Islamabad to Kallar Kahar lake in about two hours from Islamabad as well as through Grand Trunk Road, railways and helipads.
Its name as Salt Range was first used by Mr Elphinston, a British envoy in the Court of Kabul who travelled across this territory in 1808 to 1815 and noted the extraction of salt in this area and hence named it as Salt Range.
Geologically, the Salt Range, because of its excellent exposure of more or less complete stratigraphic sequence (oldest pre Cambrian to recent Siwalik Series) has attracted specialists and geo-scientists from all over the world and rightly called "Field Museum of Geology".
It has wide range of fossils in well preserved conditions starting from trilobites, brachiopods, corals, ceratite ammonits and mammals, including walking whales, reptiles etc. These fossils are available in large quantities and have both educational and commercial value.
This calls for giving serious consideration for the establishment of Natural History Museum and other recreational sites in the Salt Range, wherein complete scientific background of major fossils of big animals of various geological eras covering but not limited to their age, evolution rationale of extinction environmental conditions etc need to be documented.
In this context, advice and relevant discipline of geology that is palaeontology with international experts to be provided and funded by UNDP/World Tourism Organisation is an early requirement.
Further, based on its declaration as Field Museum of Geology by the geo-scientists, necessary steps need to be taken announcing the salt range as international heritage from Paleontological standpoint with a view to attracting technical and financial sponsorship.
In India statues of big animals are constructed wherever their fossils were found to attract tourists from recreational and educational standpoint. Regarding minerals potential of the Salt Range, inexhaustible reserves of rock salt and limestone are present while other minerals such as coal, dolomite, fireclays, gypsum/anhydrite and laterite/bauxite are being exploited and fed into various industries.
Further modern coal mines at Katas and rock salt mines Khewra, Warcha and at Kalabagh have their own educational and recreational values. Historically, Alexander the Great visited the Salt Range in the beginning of May 326 BC and reached Girjak (modern Jalalpur Sharif), stayed there for about two months then crossed river Jhelum and attacked Raja Porus.
In this context, it has been mentioned in a booklet titled "Alexander Monument and Research Centre" that a project sponsored by Greco-Pak joint venture when completed would attract tourists from all over the world.
Al-Baruni, a Muslim scientist set up his laboratories in the Salt Range for the determination of circumferences and centre of gravity of the earth. Shahenshah Babar stayed at Kallar Kahar lake and documented his observations about the scenic beauty of the area. Here a follow-up action by the Federal Ministry of Culture is required.
Archeologically, there are a number of temples such as at Kata, monasteries, caves, forts, etc. These require immediate attention of the relevant institutions/ ministries for their in-depth studies, documentation and circulation.
Further, sustained efforts need to be made for the development of pilgrimage tourism covering Muslim (Jalalpur Sharif, Choa Saidan Shah) Hindus (Katas) and other temples and Buddhist pilgrimage tourism.
Trekking tourism may be developed to explore fossils in various gorges of the Salt Range, walking on the trails left by Alexander the Great and camping at scenic sites and lakes such as Nammal lake, Kallar Kahar lake, etc.
Wildlife tourism has the potential for the setting up of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries at appropriate places. Possibility of constructing hospitals and restaurants in the Khewra Salt Mines for the treatment of asthma and other ailments, as is being done in the rock salt mines of Poland needs to be explored.
It is recommended that if the above suggestions are correctly and properly documented in the form of project profiles, would, needless to say, facilitate in attracting local and foreign investment.
To start with Federal Ministries of Culture, and Tourism and relevant departments of Government of the Punjab may hold seminars/conferences to highlight the significance of the area by identifying local resource persons and/or institutions of various disciplines, prepare and present papers giving reviews, status and scope of viable and implementable recommendations for speedier development of tourism in the Salt Range.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2007


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