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June 25, 2017

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Pakistan accelerates jeep rally to boost tourism

DRAWAR, Pakistan--In a cloud of dust and diesel fumes, a souped-up 4x4 roars through the silence of Pakistan's Cholistan desert, cheered on by tens of thousands of spectators.

Nearly 90 drivers were drawn to throw their vehicles around the dry, rocky 214-kilometer track in a desolate, baking hot corner of Punjab province for this year's Cholistan Jeep Rally.

The event, which began in 2005, has grown in popularity despite the remote location, about 400 kilometers southwest of Lahore.

Officials from the Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP), which organizes the festival, say that the rally, which took place last month, is becoming more popular every year.

"We estimate a total of 200,000 people from local villages and the major cities turned up," a dust-covered Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani, the TDCP managing director, told AFP on the finish line.

Life for those who dwell in the desert is hard, with limited economic opportunities and regular water shortages hitting livestock — the main source of income for many.

This year, a festival of music, dance, wrestling and camping events was held alongside the rally to entertain visitors — and bring work to local people.

Drummer Ghulam Nabi, who lives in Liaquatpur, around 60 kilometers away, earned 6,000 rupees (US$60) in three days — twice as much as he would normally make in a month.

"There are not enough parties and weddings in my town which could help me to earn a living through drumming, so this was a very good event to earn a few extra thousand rupees," the mustachioed Nabi told AFP after whipping up the crowd with his drum.

The old princely state of Bahawalpur, of which Cholistan was part, was ruled for centuries by the Abbasi dynasty and was only fully merged into Pakistan in the 1950s, several years after independence from Britain.

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