Every millennial is familiar with Instagram and the trending ‘backpackers’, ‘finders’, ‘wanderers’ and ‘solo travelers’ on this easy-to-use app who explore the unexplored and travel without a care in the world. A more rising trend is the increasingly positive projection of Pakistan as a ‘tourist-friendly’ country on the social media. So me, an average millennial with an unrequited passion for backpacking, and a secret desire to become the next Insta-influencer casually asked my mother: “Can I go for a solo-trip around Pak…?” And boy, she wouldn’t even let me finish my question! Apparently, it wasn’t a good idea for a brown girl to travel around, without a chaperone within her own country. It perplexed me, and even more so, surprised me! I have traveled ‘solo’ in foreign countries but cannot do so in my own homeland where the language, culture, religion, food, history, and the roads and alleys are well-known to me! Interestingly, I am not the only one speculating over this irony. Meet Alex Reynolds, a travel blogger alias, Lost With Purpose (Instagram: @lostwithpurpose) who pointed out precisely why travelling within Pakistan cannot be as good an idea as it sounds. 1. Gora Complex It, unfortunately, does not come as a surprise that Pakistani people have a colonial mentality. Evidence? Look at all the TV ads selling whitening creams, promising that ab gora hoga Pakistan! Alex elaborates on this point, highlighting that White, western travelers are treated like royalty in Pakistan: They receive free gifts, brochures and they eat whatever street-food they want to eat without having to pay for it. Contrarily, the local travel bloggers have to face a lot of discrimination because of their ethnicity and race. They are not high-lighted as prominently as they should be for all the wonderful work that they do. It is not just limited to photographing Pakistan for Instagram but also includes photo-walks and heritage walks that encourage the local students to explore, document and value their cultural assets (@thelocaltrails – Saba Akber does that). Plus, they worked hard to flourish tourism in Pakistan when it was not recognized globally. (@mystapaki – Bilal Hassan) View this post on Instagram Then ofcourse the activities going on in the shrine, a group of fakeers (Waai singers of the shrine), you’ll love the harmonious tamburas that they play and sing with beautiful synchronization. This one Fakeer with the name of Ibrahim Fakeer wears unusual clothing and ghungroo and gives little performances by talking to us and making unusual poses for our cameras. Huge families pay homage to the graves and distribute sweets afterwards, one of them handed me a jalebi. P.s that is me trying to decipher his pose. Photo taken by the awesome @guddupakistani . . #heritage #oldbuildings #Travelpeacefulpakistan #csgenerosity #globetrotting #travelguidepakistan #etribune #dawndotcom #PakistanPics #sheisnotlost #roamtheplanet #shetravels #dw_pakistan #wanderlust #travelphotography #placestovisit #iropakistan #vagabond #karachi #pakistanianspk #girlslovetravel #travelbeautifulpakistan #karachidiaries #everydaypakistan A post shared by Saba Akbar (@thelocaltrails) on Mar 24, 2019 at 11:45am PDT View this post on Instagram 🇦🇺 “One of the questions I would be frequently asked was “What is your feeling about Pakistan”. I went to North Pakistan recently and by the end of it, I can confidently say that I really fell in love with it! The North is stunning! It amazed me with its beautiful scenery and its warm hearted people. . Two weeks later, I ventured down South, to Karachi. Coming to Karachi, the question changed to “Why did you choose to visit Karachi?” They say that people would usually come to Karachi to work, rather than for a vacation. . The answer is simple. The people’s kindness (again), the liveliness of the city, and for me at least, the food! People here love their food, and I do too! There’s a lot of things to try and many places to go to try them! I made sure I didn’t miss out on Karachi’s holy trinity: Biryani, Nihari and Haleem. They were all super delicious. Great food and a lot of it = food heaven (PS: taking in food recs 🙋🏻♀️) . Karachi’s seaview beach is also the most lively beach that I’ve ever been been to. Well-dressed camels and horses, upbeat music and vendors serving local food all along the same shoreline with an orange + pink sunset is a pretty cool experience, and not to mention, super photogenic! It’s one of those places where I can go again and again and not get sick of. . I’ll be coming back to Karachi, but in the meantime, I’m excited to see where my adventures in Sindh and Punjab in the coming days will take me.” #touristsinkhi @bydanawang A post shared by Bilal Hassan | بلال حسن 🇵🇰 (@mystapaki) on Dec 21, 2018 at 11:29pm PST Add to it the fact that one is a brown woman: Try walking down a street crowded with men and all you’d get will be stares and cat-calls. What is fortunate though is that Pakistani people – at least those who are young and a perpetual resident of the Internet world – recognize this: When the US blogger, Cynthia Ritchie posted a picture of her, riding a bicycle in Peshawar, a debate ensued on Twitter: When it comes to stepping out in public, do we apply different standards to desi women versus foreign women? A large section answered in affirmative 2. Red Tapism Having inherited a British system of governance, the colonial hangover continues in the form of bureaucratic hurdles and tedious, extensive and anachronistic paper-work. “There is a myriad of travel documents required to travel to places in the interior Sindh and Balochistan,” says Ms Reynolds. Plus, she mentions travel restrictions or at least, guarded tours. While it is a different story for sponsored travelers; people like you and I or those Westerners who are travelling independently will have a hard time getting travel permits required. 3. Cultural Clashes Finally, and as Alex puts it, “possibly the most risky of all” concern is related to potential for cultural clashes. Pakistan’s is a conservative society; and while there is nothing to be ashamed of in being so – Thailand is a conservative country and so are others – the fact that it is being falsely projected as an open and liberal society will create serious troubles: Ignorant Western travelers who would perhaps not observe the strict gender codes in public; their sartorial choices, and their reckless opinions will invite public’s wrath and sexual harassment. “If the future tourists are not prepared, the discrepancy between how Pakistan is portrayed through social media and reality on the ground will lead to negative experiences and sentiments,” she warns. Thus, the endeavor to publicize Pakistan as a tourist-friendly country will result in a backlash. They say that knowing your flaws helps you correct them. Luckily, Alex Reynolds pointed out the dangers of ‘overly’ positive projection of Pakistan for us. It is undeniable that our country is beautiful – peppered with snowy mountains; rich, green forests; flowing rivers, and symbols of history – both recent and ancient. But in order to make it a truly, tourist-friendly country; it is pertinent to embrace the local talent, breaking away from the colonial legacy. It is not about choosing between the foreign travelers and the local influencers; rather about creating a platform that encourages mutual collaboration. Besides, the government needs to make the process of acquiring travel permits efficient and transparent to boost tourism, and generate much-needed revenue. Till then, I’ll not tell my mother that I want to travel around Pakistan. And so won’t you! The writer is an architect and a blogger.