The Cholistan desert, locally termed as Rohi is known for its nomadic lifestyle, tourism assets and rich cultural dynamics. The Cholistan Jeep rally, a two-day event, was introduced in 2005 by a group of dynamic individuals at Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP). It was a unique approach designed to promote the area as a playground for adventure seekers.
“We wanted to change things in South Punjab and provide people with tourist spots in winters. Change for us meant promotion of tangible and intangible assets of the area,”
says Tanveer Ahmed, GM TDCP.
The event invites close to a 100 drivers to participate in an off-roading track race, near Darawar Fort. Visitors and tourists from across Pakistan and other parts of the globe visit Cholistan during this period that are facilitated by participants, tour operators, local residents and various other stakeholders of the rally.
The event has turned into a cultural and economic campaign for the area and requires at least 4 months of preparation including the track development. The rally has promoted socio economic benefits for the Rohi area. The economic benefits of the rally are easiest to see, as it attracts visitors, which stimulates the growth of tourism and other businesses of the locals and nomads. The surrounding villages and clans of the desert are also involved in the activity.
The people of the area rely on livestock rearing and engage in arts and crafts including, textiles, weaving, leatherwork, and pottery. Around the time of the rally the artisans and nomads get a chance to exhibit and sell their artwork. They also rent their houses to tourists, provide camel rides, setup bazaars and shops for daily items and generate revenue by using livestock for meat and milk. The people of Rohi look forward to the event and through various economic activities generate enough income to sustain for dry periods.
The rich colours, textures and products show the delicate sense of style of the locals. The folk artists prepare for the rally all year in an attempt to get a change to perform in the cultural night, that usually takes place the night before the finals.
The social benefit of the rally maybe less visible, but they are just as important. Over the years, it has brought many new initiatives and technological advancement to the people of Cholistan area due to gained interest from the government and the private sector. The corporate sponsors are actively involved and have played a pivotal role in engaging the media used in promoting the event.
The rally has advanced effortlessly in restoring community pride. The celebrations make the locals feel good about their area. It’s a process that allows cultural integration and in the current situation it may prove to be a huge achievement.
Mr. Ahmer Mallick, MD TDCP explains further about the rally and what he considers as the real achievement;
“Success for us is that the richest of the rich and poorest of the poor all participate actively and get entertained. This cultural blend propagates the economic activity of the area. The tools of promotion have exposed Darawar Fort to at least 20 lakh people over the years.”
Rohi connects 3 different provinces of Pakistan, and through the jeep rally it becomes a great example of socio- economic integration. This year there were a number of tourist operators, travel and food startups, adventure sports startups and media houses who worked individually and collectively to convert the jeep rally into a lifetime experience.
According to various unofficial figures, more than 400,000 tourists and visitors attended the jeep rally. This is a unique way of public interaction and learning, as they are exposed to a new way of life. The interaction with the locals is an experiential learning process and has changed the thought process for many.
Many tourist and participants shared their views with us. One of the initiators of the program, Mr. Fayez adds, “I highly recommend visiting the area, it was refreshing and has exposed me to a completely new way of life. When I first came here, more than a decade ago there was no sign of life. Things have changed completely the locals are much more exposed now. Once you camp in the desert under the stars, visit the tourist spots and attend the jeep rally, something changes inside you forever, perhaps the drive for doing things increases. It definitely charges you. I’m hoping next year I can bring more people with me”
Hosting such events also poses multiple challenges. There are a lot of risks attached to such efforts. The government and security officials have to develop strategies for the safety of the locals and tourists.
As the scale of the event increases a targeted approach is required for arrangements and facilities of the festival. To this date there is no impact assessment survey that monitors the socio-economic activity and the tourist turnover. In future this could be a hindrance in the sustainability and arrangements for the rally.
To maximize the opportunity gain from the rally it’s essential for the private sector to engage more effectively. This may be a green signal for technology service providers ,ICT and they may consider designing targeted solutions to address the challenges. The management and planning for the rally would need evaluation to avoid any future risks. The current public-private partnership has proved to be beneficial and it’s an interesting model to study for people who want to create similar initiatives.