I recently came across a post about a girl getting harassed by some men while visiting the Khunjerab Pass. Basically, a girl who was travelling with her husband via a travel group was cornered and forced to take selfies with a group of men who thought there was no harm in committing such an atrocity. I couldn’t help but admire the woman’s bravery for she took pictures of the men and ensured that they went viral. That’s something my friends and I couldn’t do when we were harassed almost on a daily basis at roughly the same time while travelling to Skardu.
It started in Naran, when we were sexually objectified, pushed and touched against our will. Walking down a perfectly spacious Naran Bazar became difficult as men kept bumping into us. We had to increase our pace when we realized a man had started following us. We couldn’t even sit in the hotel’s courtyard without getting bumped into, touched and commented on by random men. Let’s not even get started on the constant stares that we got.
Moving forward, we thought the harassment would end. Naran, after all, is a bit too commercial now and all sorts of people have access to the once beautiful hamlet. We were wrong. Stopping at a small dhaba like restaurant for breakfast at Juglot, one of our fellow travelers was greeted by an ‘I love you’ by one of the workers while another had her shoulder grabbed by the same guy. We still remained optimistic. Skardu would be better.
The beautiful city of Skardu greeted us with its huge mountains, its beautiful forts and its creepy tourists. A friend and I had some free time one morning and we decided to walk through the market to explore the city. We barely managed to walk for 5 minutes before being forced to return to our hotel room because random cars started stopping by us and offering us ‘lifts’. We couldn’t explore the city. During a visit to a waterfall, we got followed by a group of men to the extent that none of pictures can be uploaded since they have random men in them. Our fear of walking over a wooden bridge was exploited by these men who, when we went up the bridge, found it amusing to shake the bridge leaving us crippled with fear. One of the girls also got asked to pose for a selfie with a man she had never seen before.
Deosai had to be different, we thought. Far from civilization, this breathtaking place isn’t very easily accessible. We dressed up nice for we had to pose for amazing pictures in the Land of Giants. Little did we know that we would end up fighting with a guy for taking pictures of us without our consent.
All through this time, I couldn’t help but notice one thing; all the harassment except the one incident in Juglot took place at the hands of tourists, not locals. The locals, who we believe to be ‘conservative’ were welcoming and accepted us the way we were. They did not ogle us, they did not bump into us. The locals didn’t want to be part of our selfies, something we respected too. The locals did not harass me when I had to hold my guide’s hand throughout a rather scary trek. They did not harass us when two of us somewhat lost our way. It was the tourists. Men from big cities, who are believed to be more ‘liberal’ were the ones harassing us.
The fact that the girl took photos of the men harassing her and made them viral is something that must be highly appreciated. If every girl started doing that, this harassment would come to an end. Of course, it takes a lot of courage to be able to take out your camera in that moment but I believe that’s something all Pakistani women will have to do in order to be able to enjoy ourselves while we are on vacation. Pakistan has some of the most beautiful places on earth; our experiences at these places should not be tarnished by these criminals.