5th Pakistan Mountain Festival (6-13 December 2015)

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“It turned to be the largest festival to commemorate International Mountains Day with 14 events in 8 days” PMF Director, Munir Ahmed
By Shaaref Munir
The International Mountains Day (IMD) is celebrated across the globe as of 2003 after the United Nations General Assembly designated December 11th to commemorate the natural environment and biological resources of the mountains. IMD is observed every year to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build alliances that will bring positive change to mountain peoples and environments around the world.

A few years back, Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) launched Pakistan Mountain Festival to mark the International Mountain Day in an integrated manner by engaging different stakeholders, partners, community groups and youth, says Munir Ahmed, the PMF Director. Over the years, it has become a landmark event of Pakistan that is recognised by the international forums. Last year was considered the largest festival with 13 events in 8 days, gladly this year has surpassed it further by adding yet another event bringing the total to 14 events over 8 days. This has been possible by the support and participation of all the partners, stakeholders, and the groups of the mountain communities, especially youth from different mountain regions of Pakistan.

This year’s IMD theme was to promote the Mountain Products since globalization offers opportunities for producers to market their high quality mountain products, such as handicrafts, agricultural and horticultural products. Likewise, marketing and mainstreaming of music and culture, tourism-related services such as skiing, climbing, cultural heritage or nature trails that allow visitors to discover unique biodiversity are also some of the offerings provided by the mountains and mountain communities. If sustainably managed, tourism can provide a great opportunity for development in mountain regions.

The 5th Pakistan Mountain Festival (PMF) kicked off with rock climbing in the Margalla Hills and artificial wall climbing at the Ibex Club, Lake Park on Sunday, 6th December. The two events were technically supported by The Adventure Club and the Ibex Club. Sanaullah Aman, Executive Director General CDA Training Academy was the chief guest.

The rock climbing culminated at the Jasmine Corner in Daman-e-Koh, Margalla Hills (Islamabad), with a participation of 42 youth including over a dozen new young entrants who got four-day training before the event. The already skilled, experienced and mature youth also took part in rock climbing. The wall climbing was organised at the Ibex Club, Lake View Park, Islamabad, where over 60 youth and children enthusiastically showed their strength and interest in outbound adventure engagement.

The best performers were awarded with certificates of appreciation and included Iqra Jilani, Maira Malik, Asadullah Shah, Aamir Jadoon, Iqra Nasim, Shahzad Butt, Mahrukh Mahmood, Almas, Syed Muzaffar Ahmed, and Hamna Asif.

Speaking on the occasion, Sanaullah Aman said, the Capital Development Authority was doing its best to provide the sports and adventure activities to the youth. He emphasized to get the youth engaged in civic and creative activities and a step in this direction was CDA Training Academy’s plan to launch adventure training programme for the youth engaging different universities and colleges to promote the outbound initiatives.

Likewise Tahir Imran, President of the Adventure Club said that we need to engage the youth and must combine it with concrete efforts to minimize the increasing rate of pollution in mountains, and to create awakening among public at large regarding protection of wildlife, and to sensitise the locals and tourists about the rational utilization of forests and to avoid deforestation. The adventure and eco-tourism activities of youth can also help to spread these messages on a wider scale.

Iqra Jilani said, the wall and rock climbing has given her physical strength and sharp decision making. She believes that her instincts have sharpened when she is engaged in wild nature and adventure activities.

Mahar Gul, a young sportsman from Bajaur Agency, is the national champion in rock and wall climbing. He climbed the 60 feet wall in 13 seconds to become the fastest wall climber in the national championship. His friends call him a spider. Mahar Gul said that our government needs to support such activities at the national level also. Presently, there are only two walls in the country, one each in Lahore and Islamabad, and both are privately owned. The government should engage youth in wall climbing across the country by installing rock climbing walls in all major cities so that the youth can avail the opportunity of such healthy activities.

PMF Director, Munir Ahmed said, Pakistan Mountain Festival provides good opportunities to the youth to nurture their friendship and love for the mountains. The wall and rock climbing are among the many other opportunities. The outbound adventure activities not only sharpen basic human instincts, they also create daring souls that can brave all odds in life.

An exhibition of as many as 135 oil-on-canvas paintings by the youth from local colleges and universities was unveiled at the Ibex Club, Lake View Park, on Tuesday 8th December. The thematic exhibition depicted mountain environment, water, biodiversity and life in the highlands of Pakistan. Syed Mustafain Kazmi, Member Environment CDA, was the chief guest at the exhibition. Speaking on the occasion, he termed it a great effort on the part of the students to reflect the landscape, environment, water and wildlife. Engaging youth into creative pursuits and outdoor activities in the mountain will help them to remain fit, healthy and more creative.

PMF Director Munir Ahmed while on the occasion said, “Through art, we try to engage youth to learn the harsh realities and depict the challenges in their art for others to know as well. This way youth are educated to reduce carbon emissions and promote the beauty of mountains to market eco-tourism.”

Riffat Ara Baig, the curator of the exhibition, said “The students have rich observation about the mountain environment, and their creative flair has produced good imagery of the mountains. These paintings are simply adorable and meet the objectivity of the theme.”

Esam Khattak, the CEO of the Ibex Club, expressed “Pakistan Mountain Festival activities are similar to the ones that we are promoting for the last five years. The urban communities especially youth need to be trained and engaged in mountain environment initiatives. We are all out to support and partner with educational institutions.”

Sundas Azhar, a student of the Fatima Jinnah University, was of the view that thematic art could play an important role in educating masses about the beauty and grandeur of our high mountains. The youth should be sensitised and educated about the issues and challenges so that they could create a picture for the general public.”

On December 9, a book ‘CKNP Natural Environment and Cultural Heritage in the Land of K2’ was launched with Luca Listo, the project director SEED-EvK2CNR, chairing the session. The speakers termed the book a valuable inventory of biological diversity, endangered species, cultural heritage, and water resources. They said the Central Karakoram National Park in the Gilgit-Balitstan is a endowed with rich biodiversity, natural beauty and important natural resources. The Park encompasses the world’s largest glaciers, outside the Polar Regions.

The research work and inventory of natural, cultural and social heritage was supported under the framework of Pakistan-Italy Debt Swap Agreement (PIDSA). The two Italian researchers and authors Ermes Invernizzi and Michele Lucatelli have put in great efforts to research, compile and consolidate the recent information and knowledge about species, natural and water resources. The book is enriched with the maps for trekkers, visuals and photographs of the heritage and monuments in the land of Karakoram.

Dr Nasim Javed Khan, a forestry expert, said the book contains very important information about the flora and fauna species specific to the Karakoram region. It is a very comprehensive research on almost every aspect of the CKNP since its inception.

Muhammad Aurangzeb, another biological diversity expert, said the water resources available in the CKNP are the lifeline of life downstream. Almost 70 per cent of water flows down comes from the melting of glaciers in the CKNP. Therefore, management of the CKNP is vital for everyone in the park and downstream. The CKNP is the hub of natural habitats of all the flagship wildlife species and big cats in the region.

Yassar Abbas said the picturesque value of the book is also most important to attract the trekkers and tourists to the CKNP. Many treks are developed that could pave a path for the eco-tourism to boost the economy of the locals.

Munir Ahmed, PMF Director, said it is the prime duty to conserve the natural resources and beat the cartels responsible for exploitation of natural resources. The core-hubs of natural resources are far away from the eyes of the watchdogs, hence remain at the mercy of mafias. Therefore, we need to develop mechanisms to play an active role to curb unfriendly practices. He asked the Gilgit-Batistan government to allocate resources for the implementation of the management plan in the CKNP for the consistent and sustainable development. Otherwise, all the effort done in the CKNP by the SEED project is feared to go waste.

A three-day showcase of Pakistan mountain products, tourism, ecosystem services, and cultural performances peaked on December 11th – the International Mountain Day.

Junaya Matsuura, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan in Pakistan, AshidaKatsunori, Head of Strategic Political affairs, Embassy of Japan in Pakistan, and Luca Listo, Project Director SEED-EvK2CNR, under the framework of Pakistan-Italy Debt Swap Agreement (PIDSA), Dr Imran Hashmi, Dean, IESE-NUST, attended the ceremony as the guests of honour. The theme of the inaugural seminar was ‘marketing and mainstreaming of mountain products’. Alive oil-on-canvas painting competition for the students of colleges and universities was also organized in the morning.

In his welcome address on the inaugural ceremony, Munir Ahmed, the founder and Director Pakistan Mountain Festival and Executive Director Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) said Pakistan Mountain Festival has become a brand ambassador of Pakistan’s mountains and its people. “We need to protect mountain habitats, conserve water resources and biological diversity, promote and mainstream mountain products and places, and more importantly, we need to beat the cartels exploiting natural resources of mountains indiscriminately.”

Junaya Matsuura who himself has been a mountaineer and trekker said Pakistan has several magnificent mountains and it always great pleasure to visit the mountains. They are not only mountains; in fact they are also the backbone of life, biodiversity and wildlife. He termed Pakistan Mountain Festival as a big success in showcasing the mountains’ importance.Ashida Katsunori said that Japanese are very attracted towards Pakistan mountains because of their beauty and wild nature. He said that last year Japanese tourists who visited Pakistan’s mountains for trekking and mountaineering were more in number than any other country.

Luca Listo said the SEED project has so many successes in mountain research, economy, livelihood, development and conservation. He said the next phase of the SEED project will further engage local people into sustainable use of mountain resources.

Dr Imran Hashmi said the mountains are the forefronts of the climate change impact. We need to rationalise the use of natural resources of the mountains and take measures to speed down the glacier melting.

As many as 26 students participated on the live painting competition on the theme of “The Mountain Environment”. The participants depicted the beauty and charms of our highlands with added attraction of lakes and natural streams in oil-on-canvas media. Some paintings also reflected the challenges being faced by the mountains and its habitants including land-sliding, floods and loss of trees.

A jury comprising Faiza Shah, Pakistani-American artist, Ali Abdullah, CDA Director Architecture, and two Islamabad-based well-known RiffatAraBaig, and SarwatKazmi selected the best five paintings. According to the jury Noor Rohani, MadihaUsmani, AroomahAsif, LaibaMunir, AimanAamir, SheerinZafar won the top five prizes respectively.

RiffatAraBaig, the coordinator of the live painting competition, said the girls have a lot of potential in creative and visual arts. Unfortunately, the boys’ colleges don’t take that much interest in promoting art in their educational institutions that is why they are not represented in the competition. She urged the government to launch fine arts subject in the boys colleges as well.

Over two dozen artisans also put up a showcase of mountain products including handicrafts, embroideries, jewellery and gemstones, agricultural and horticultural products, dry fruits, food and tourism services.

WazirAman, one of the artisans from Hunza, termed the event a big contribution toward the marketing and promotion of mountain products. He said, the mountain products need more attention of the government and private sector for their national and international promotion.

Haji Bib said, the mountain women need opportunities to market their hand-made embroideries themselves. They should have a market place in the metropolitan areas.

Guest Speaker AmjadAyub, Tourism and handicrafts marketing specialist and former President Pakistan Association of Tour Operators (PATO) said we have a large number of products that can be branded and promoted; the federal and provincial governments shall take concrete steps in partnership with the private and corporate sector.

The three days, 11-13 December, were full of fun-filled events besides the showcase of mountain products and services. The cultural and entertainment activities included three Mountain Music Talent Hunt shows, three mountain music and cultural shows, one bonfire, and the closing ceremony.

Ambassador of Nepal, Bharat Raj Paudyal was the chief guest at the closing ceremony. Speaking on the occasion he said, Pakistan and Nepal share similar mountain heritage, culture and challenges as well that are being imposed by the climate change. It would be worthwhile if both countries have joint celebrations in the coming year. Appreciating Pakistan Mountain Festival he added, it is a unique idea to develop a brand for the promotion of mountain communities, their culture and products, tourism and eco-systems services.

The PMF Director Munir Ahmed said “We need to protect mountain habitats, conserve water resources and biological diversity, promote and mainstream mountain products and places, and more importantly, we need to beat the cartels exploiting natural resources of mountains indiscriminately.”

Over 100 youth from different universities participated in the Margalla Hills Trail-3 hiking and clean up, organized in collaboration with the IESE-NUST Environment Club. Asif Shah Jahan, Secretary CDA Board, was the chief guest who distributed certificates of appreciation among the participants.