Written in the Web
Travel writing is a fine art, an accepted literary genre that is read. Writers who are gifted with an ability to understand what they see can breathe life into a place when they narrate their travel experiences. The Internet that is wrongly considered as 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 display places for local writers to showcase what Pakistan has to offer.
Travel is prosperity and leisure pursuit, which is a result of many things: history, heritage, culture, natural beauty and a quest to know what is an unknown and meet wonderful people. Pakistan is a land of geographical, geological, and natural contrasts and has every thing nature could bestow; from some of the places like Mehr Garh in Balochistan and Harappa in Punjab where some of the initial human activities began, Lots Valley (NWFP) once home to Gandhara Civilization where Chinese Hiuen Tsiang who is regarded as an early trendsetter traveler, or ancient city Multan that, as per the legend, is living since the time of Hazrat Noah (A.S.), Kalash community existing in an on the edge district Chitral still holding awaiting for anthropologists’ conclusive research about origin of their unique identity against all outside pressures for development and modernity, unsolved riddle where rivers were 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 thematic pilgrims for Sikh and Buddhist communities, to name just a few.
Now consider this: All major national publications have some portions designated for travel writing but it is a small and competitive market. For those who write in English – language that is understood on World Wide Web – the market is even smaller. Experienced travel writers are associated with newspapers and magazines and new ones get chance to appear in print only occasionally. There should be more travel journalism and industry news. Public should know if the Ministry of Tourism reduces royalty fee by 50 percent for climbing Pakistani mountains that are above 6000 meters.
On the other hand, facts 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 that are useful during journeys to new places. Guidebooks have their own style quite different that 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 publisher Munir Ahmad. Still opportunities for travel writers do come up from time to time. Some guidebook companies also get updates and inputs 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. Tony Wheeler, British founding editor of Lonely Planet who markets guidebooks on Pakistan, prides in growing up in here for some years and has contact with many local travel writers for updates. But, Munir Ahmad says, “Publishing guidebooks is not a viable option here; it is difficult to sell books.” Same is the case with self-publishing by writers.
Given the rate of travel industry growth and everyone’s interest in knowing new places, people and cultures, so many Websites have come up that show travel contents all over the Internet. So far Pakistani destinations have very scanty presence on the Web. Print publications, particularly English, get the original work and pay to the writers whereas most Websites just recycle travel articles from print media.
This scarcity of places where to get published leaves the travel writers to turn 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; eager and encouraging. Until that happens, the Web is considered one of the best places for travel writes to start.
Not only that; writers can read what has already been published there and find background material and facts. Quick search on the Internet reveal so many starting points, notwithstanding travel writing how-to services and premium travel writers’ marketers. BootsnAll.com, where I am published some time, is a Web service that post articles by writers from all over the world. I have found it writer-friendly and receptive to new locations.
In Pakistan, so far much has not been documented systematically, with talk of presenting it 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). This is why 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 wide-ranging interests in off-beat and mostly obscure destinations in Pakistan. I know an engineer Itehar Mahmud who works with oil exploration firm and writes about places wherever he goes in connection with his duty. Colonel (retired) Mobashir 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 the Web can be viewed as the playing ground for local talent.
Travel calendar of Pakistan is quite impressive. Where else in the world other than in Pakistan polo – grandest of all the sports – is played at the high ground like Shandor Pass that is called the roof of the world, or moving international cultural festival are held but along Kharakorum Highway. But 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. PTDC list of events and festivals need to be improved and lot more can be included in the list.
Somebody has to write the travel literature in order to keep fuelling 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 income comes from tourism. Kim Rahan, a traveler from China who bought History of Rohtas Fort on location, told, “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), as they say. If you have a drive to write, there is a need of extensive travel writing showcasing Pakistan on the Web.