Islamabad: Pakistan’s once thriving adventure tourism is reeling from the killing by militants of 10 foreign climbers, a massacre likely to drive away all but the hardiest adventurers from some of the world’s tallest and most pristine peaks. The Dispatch News Desk (DND) reported.
The attack on the last peak over 8,000 meters (26,400 feet) in the western Himalayas has been claimed by both the Pakistani Taliban and a smaller radical Islamist group. The mountain climbers were shot to death on Sunday at 1 am while at a 15,000-foot (4,200 m) base camp en route to climb 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat, Earth’s 9th tallest mountain.
The foreign victims included two citizens from China, one from Lithuania, one from Nepal, two from Slovakia, three Ukrainians, and one person with joint U.S.-Chinese citizenship.
Sultan Khan, the manager of a group that organizes expeditions for foreign mountaineers and whose boss Nazir Sabir climbed Everest in 2000, said the killings spelt death for businesses such as his. “Tourist traffic had already slowed down after the 9/11 attacks. We were barely surviving. This incident will ruin our industry,” Khan said.
“Pakistan was earning a huge amount from mountaineering teams and the financial losses will run into millions of dollars if teams stop coming to Pakistan,” warned Khan.
Hussain said the attack was well-planned, carried out by well-equipped and well-trained people familiar with the harsh terrain, with suspected local involvement. “It took place at 4,200 meters. It has to be the work of well-trained people. It takes two to three days to reach (the camp). The body needs to acclimatize for climbing up. How they went undetected is a big question.”
A mountain guide during the attack said gunmen dressed as police ordered tourists out of tents at the 4,200-meter base camp of Nanga Parbat, the country’s second highest peak, late on Saturday night, then shot them and a Pakistani guide.
Foreign and local mountaineers and adventure tourists mourned here Tuesday the 10 climbers terrorists murdered over the weekend.
Survivors: shaken and traumatised.
“We are still in shock, we’ve had to apologize to so many mountaineers across the world,” said Manzoor Hussain, President, Alpine Club of Pakistan while speasking at at condolence meeting held here in the memory of the slain mountaineers on the slopes of Nanga Parbat (8,126 m) Pakistan’s second highest and the 9th highest peak of the World. “We apologise to you that we failed to protect the lives of your team members,” said Hussain, who described the attack as appalling and said he was devastated. He said at least 40 foreigners including citizens from Serbia, Italy, Ireland, Denmark and the United States, among several other nationalities, were evacuated from a higher camp.
Hussain said the attack was a “fatal blow” for his efforts to attract more climbers to the Hindu Khush, Karakoram and western Himalayan ranges, home to many unexplored summits.
Geographically, Pakistan is a climber’s paradise. It rivals Nepal for the number of peaks over 7,000 meters and is home to the world’s second tallest mountain, K2, and three more that are among the world’s 14 summits higher than 8,000 meters.
In more peaceful times, northern Pakistan’s unspoilt beauty would be a major tourist draw, bringing sorely needed dollars to a nation that suffers repeated balance of payments crises.
“Their slaying is like 9/11 to me,” said Pakistan’s pioneer mountaineer Nazir Sabir who was managing one of the four expeditions present at the Nanga Parbat base camp. “I wish the Pakistani government had ordered the flag at half mast to let the world community know that Pakistan feels their pain,” he said.
President of Pakistan Tour Operators Association of Pakistan, Amjad Ayub, said , the mountains are innocent. We may not have been able to protect the lives of our honourable guests but we will push our government to take every measure to protect the lives of adventure tourists,” he said, speaking for the hundreds of thousands of people, such as porters, cooks and transporters and their families that the adventure tourism industry sustains.
“We have lost friends to mountains, but there are no words to explain how we feel losing friends like we did on Saturday,” Polish climber Aleksandra Dzik told the memorial meeting. She felt disappointed leaving Pakistan without conquering Nanga Parbat. But she was determined to return next year for her third attempt at the killer mountain.
“We mountaineers are used to facing challenges,” reminded a grim but resolute Aleksandra.In fact, a separate four-member Polish expedition left for Nanga Parbat on Monday, although Pakistani authorities had evacuated the four foreign expeditions already camping at the mountain, according to ACP secretary Abu Zafar.
Samina Baig, Pakistan’s first woman climber who scaled Mount Everest strongly condemned the killing of innocent climbers at Nanga Parbat base camp and demanded that the culprits should be brought to justice.
And a Romanian team has continued its climb on the peak from the Rupal Face. Shaken and traumatised Russian, Ukranian, Serbian, Polish and local mountaineers stood by a wall erected at the meeting site with images of the climbers killed by insane militants over the weekend in the backdrop of Nanga Parbat, sharing their memories.
Rao Jianfeng had conquered eight peaks above 8,000 metres around the world. He was climbing all four peaks in the Karakorum Range GI and GII, Broad Peak, including K2, this year. Yang Chunfeng had conquered 11 peaks above 8, 000 metres high.
The two were among the nine foreigners slain at the Nanga Parbat base camp. Members of the four expeditions evacuated from Nanga Parbat base camps following the massacre are waiting for the concerned government offices to return their climbing gears they left behind.
Serbian mountaineer Nina Adjanin, 31, and her Lithuanian colleague of same age, Saylius Damulevicius, were sad that they would be burying friends instead of celebrating the conquest of Nanga Parbat. The two had moved on to Base Camp II where they heard about the tragedy that overtook the comrades they had left behind.
It was the first visit to Pakistan’s wonderful mountains. Nina Adjanin is a sports manager, and Saylius Damulevicius had quit his job to conquer Nanga Parbat.
“We returned to Base Camp I to find army soldiers around the camp. We were scared because we had heard that some 10 to 15 gunmen had attacked and the soldiers were not enough. We slept with our shoes on. We did not sleep in sleeping bags. The plan was to run with flashlights turned off in case the gunmen returned,” Saylius Damaulevicius told Dawn.
“Despite the reassuring presence of the soldiers, two to three members of our expedition took turns to keep a watch.” Both Nina Adjanin and Saylius Damulevicius lost their friend Ernestas Markaistas amongst the nine foreigners killed at the Nanga Parbat Base Camp.
“We were planning a bigger expedition next year but after what happened it would be difficult to convince our families and friends about that plan,” said Saylius Damulevicius. “We hope that those responsible are caught and punished without mercy. We hope that we get our gear back so that we could leave earliest,” said Aleksandra Dzik.