The Future of Nagarparkar
Nagarparkar, one of the four talukas of the Tharparkar District, is exceptional in scenic, historic and cultural terms for a number of reasons. It contains the dramatic Karunjar Hills, which rise to 300 metres. They are made of pink granite with deep gorges and are home to a rich variety of flora and fauna with lovely scenic spots including springs associated with Hindu folklore, shrines and rituals. Hindus and Muslims visit them in large numbers on special occasions. The hills have been declared a National Park but Rangers unknowingly carry out their shooting exercises there, frightening the birds and animals away and destroying the flora.
The taluka contains a number of beautiful Jain temples, some dating back to the 14th century, when the Jains dominated this region. In addition, there are substantial unexcavated archaeological remains of towns and settlements, such as Pari Nagar port, well known in history and associated with fascinating folklore and legends attached to its emergence and decline. Picturesque villages, untouched by time, still survive and so do exotic melas associated with Hindu temples and Muslim shrines. Bhagats in these villages still recite to music of Meerabai, Kabir, Shah Abdul Latif and poets of the Bakhti tradition. Their students, however, are rapidly diminishing in number.
The taluka headquarters of Nagarparkar also contains ancient Jain temples — impressive 19th century colonial architecture with a 150-year-old beautiful bazaar of granite masonry, timber and clay tile roofs (now in a state of dilapidation). There are also pre-Partition remnants of civic architecture built by wealthy Hindu merchants who dominated the town in those days and traded through caravans (of thousands of camels) with Gujrat and Kutch, with whom they had stronger socio-economic and religious links than with the rest of Sindh. But that world died in 1947, and what little survived was wiped out as a result of the 1965 and 1971 wars with India.
However, a substantial amount of the cultural richness and scenic beauty of the Nagarparkar taluka has been preserved since there was no road link, till 2008, between it and the rest of the world. Only those who wished to perform religious rituals or attend melas at shrines and temples undertook the difficult and uncomfortable journey to the taluka and its settlements. But since the road has been built, things have started to change.
This change was noted by the Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP), an important NGO of the district. The TRDP calculated that 35,000 persons crossed into Nagarparkar for tourism purposes on the long weekend of Independence Day in 2009. Much higher figures are given by the local population. TRDP was concerned by these figures — they felt that unplanned tourism would have a devastating effect on the physical and social environment of Nagarparkar and its culture. They also noted that the road and the under construction Badin-Bodisar Highway was opening up the taluka for coal, granite, China clay mining and the fishing industry. This was bound to result in major land use changes, which, if not planned for, would also destroy the physical and social environment of the area.
With these considerations in mind, the TRDP contacted a Karachi-based architect who had a long association with them and with the region. Together with him and his colleagues, they studied the repercussions of the changes that were taking place in Nagarparkar and the manner in which their damaging effects could be mitigated. This led to the development of what has come to be known as the Nagarparkar Planning Project. The project document was completed in April 2009.
As a result of the project, the existing land use, land ownership, infrastructure and trends in the important settlements of the taluka have been documented using satellite imagery. Demographic changes and the resulting demand for land, for various functions, till 2020 have also been identified and development plans for five important settlements have been proposed. The physical and social impacts of tourism have been studied and mapped and criteria and processes for protecting them from environmental degradation and vandalism have been developed. The impact of increased transportation to service new emerging demands on the physical and social environment has been studied and principles for accommodating them have been suggested. Locations for tourist related activities have been identified, keeping the natural and social environment in mind. The economics of tourism and how communities can benefit from it have also been looked into. The most important part of this exercise, however, has been the development of a land use plan for a number of settlements along the major roads so as to protect Nagarparkar’s environment.
The TRDP has been working on the implementation of certain aspects of the plan. It has been motivating and organising communities to develop skills to manage tourist related infrastructure and processes, prevent inappropriate land use in their settlements and protect scenic spots and heritage sites. The financial aspects of these activities are also being studied and catered to. Development of information related to history, culture, flora and fauna has also been collected so as to inform tourists and visitors. Utilities required for catering to the tourist population are also being investigated.
A presentation of the plan was made to the chief secretary of Sindh. At the presentation, he invited relevant government departments. The plan was also sent to the research and development department and a presentation was made to the minister and secretary of tourism. It is hoped that the government of Sindh will take appropriate action to implement the important land related recommendations before the massive land speculation now underway (in which, according to local people, officials, politicians and businessmen are involved) consolidates itself. If this does not happen, then Nagarparkar, like so many other previously beautiful and culturally rich regions of Pakistan, will become environmentally degraded in every sense of the term, and its unique culture will disappear.