Despite being one of the major tourist attractions, Yousmarg lacks even basic amenities. The electricity and water supply is erratic. There are no bins or garbage disposal machines. What is more, the tourist place is without internet and an ATM, reports Umar Mukhtar
Mohammad Auqib, 27, along with his friends, has made a list of the picnic places to visit this summer. The list marks ‘cross’ for the Yousmarg because of the unpleasant experience they suffered on their maiden trip to the tourist spot. There is an agreement between the friends that they will never visit the place again.
Early June, as the mercury spiked, Auqib, along with his three friends, made a plan for a picnic. They wanted to choose a location they had not visited. So, all agreed to go to Yousmarg.
Almost 47 km from Srinagar, Yousmarg is one of the Pair Panchal range’s breathtaking meadows. Believed to have been Roosmarg, a meadow of deer’s, the wildlife abundant lush green pasture is permanently surrounded by snow-clad mountains peaks. It is the main base camp for scaling three major Pir Panchal peaks – Tatakoti (4725 meters), Romesh Thong (4700m) and Sunset Peak (4746m). Tatakoti is a glacier that feeds Doodganga, the mountain stream that feeds part of Srinagar.
It also has excellent rough tracks connecting the meadow with Gulmarg, Tosa Maidan and Poonch. One of the tracks via Noorpur Pass connects Yousmarg (Kashmir) with Loran (Poonch) and has been a historic trek. Loran was once Kashmir’s major outpost where a fort was located. It is now being used by the Bakerwals for their migration from Pir Panchal range to Kashmir with their herds during summers.
En route to the spot, they drove through rough patches of the road soon after crossing the Chrar-e-Sharief. Once in Yousmarg, they started looking for accommodation to stay. While approaching many government hutments, they got a negative response from all of them citing the reasons that they had no electricity or no water in bathrooms. Early that day, there were moderate winds and it had affected the supply of electricity and water supplies.
Auqib approached the lone private hotel nearby with limited room capacity. Luckily, they were able to find shelter.
“We had no hopes that we would find accommodation here. If this hotel had no space we had to go back to our homes,” said Auqib.
Yousmarg houses more than a dozen huts, a government-owned hotel, and a private hotel. The tourists allege that these huts are never available for the common people.
“Mostly the privileged families (families of government officials) occupy these small huts,” said Irshad Ahmad, a local visitor.
As they got to the room, Auqib and his friends thought the worst was over, only to find they have lost cell phone connectivity.
After failing to catch any signal even after restarting the phone multiple times, one of the friends enquired from the hotel owner about the network issue, he was told that Yousmarg does not have a tower facility. The friends had made a three-day stay plan but the connectivity issue forced them to leave the place the following day.
“Had there been the network we could have probably stayed there for more days,” said Amir, another friend.
Locals and the shopkeepers said that they have time and again requested the authorities for the installation of the mobile tower in Yousmarg but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
“In 2014, a base was made at the cost of Rs 2.5 lakh for the installation of the mobile tower. We approached every officer, every department, they assured us that a tower will be set up but did nothing,” said Rafiq Ahmad, the owner of a private hotel.
The following day, as Auqib along with his friends stepped out of the hotel to dive into the meadows surrounded by the woods, a foul smell greeted them. The smell was coming from the horse dung spread almost everywhere.
“This was something unexpected by us, I came here to breathe some fresh oxygen but the unpleasant smell made me literally uncomfortable,” said Mukhtar, a friend of Auqib.
Locals and the shopkeepers lament the poor sanitation in Yousmarg. In 2016 two garbage disposal machines worth lakhs were brought to Yousmarg, but were never used. The machines remain wrapped in tarpaulin at the entrance to Yousmarg.
“The machines lie there for five years now and have not been installed, this is an utter failure of the administration,” said Basit Ahmad, a shopkeeper there.
Basit alleges that the toilets made by the Yousmarg Development Authority (YDA) mostly remain under lock and key. Also, the place has no dustbins.
The friends decided to go to Nilnag, a nearby location, on horses. They had to pay Rs 1600, but they were running out of cash. Auqib, asked a passer-by about the ATM. To his shock, he was told that there is none. The friends looked towards each other in surprise.
“We had debit cards with us. We believed we will use them as we do at most of the places but we were wrong. We had never imagined a tourist destination would be without internet and ATM facility,” Auqib said.
Fortunately, a shopkeeper gave them the cash and they promised him of return once they are back. The nearest ATM to Yousmarg is some 12 km away at Pakherpora.
The entry fee to the Yousmarg is Rs 50 per vehicle. But there is no parking area inside. A location was designated for parking, a tender was allotted and the area remains fenced by the wires as locals say that the contractor alleges that his payment is yet to be released. As of now, the parking area is used by ponywallas for their horses.
At the entrance of the Yousmarg is a beautiful pond. A local entrepreneur had asked for permission so that he could get boats into the pond as a tourist attraction. Initially, he was permitted to do this. He purchased boats worth Rs 10 lakh but was then never permitted to get these into the water. A source in the Yousmarg Development Authority said that the water supply and fisheries department did not permit it.
“What basically hinders the development of the Yousmarg is the lack of coordination between the YDA and other departments which have a stake there,” the source said.
Another administrational hitch is that the YDA does not have its own CEO, unlike other such development authorities. The last time the YDA had its own CEO was in 2015. Since then, the CEO charge lies with the Budgam Additional Deputy Commissioner.
“He has other things to do, it is his additional charge. Why would he take pains in our matters,” said another shopkeeper.
Residents said that Yousmarg has the potential to be a gateway to a number of potential destinations in its South, West and East including Doodhpathri, Nilnag, Bargah, Tosamaidan, Dargdolan, and Liddermand.
Lack Of Coordination
The source said that the YDA started many projects there but the forest department does not permit it. He suggested that the higher officials could sit together and set up a roadmap in coordination with one another.
“No tourist stays here for the night because there is no ATM or internet here. It is shame, the world is going for 5G and we are asking for just 2G here,” said Rafiq Ahamd, a hotelier.
The YDA officials despite having a massive building in Yousmarg do not use it. They have rented a private accommodation at Chrar-i-Sharief, almost 20 km away.
“We need to do paperwork, keep record and upload it on to the internet which is not possible there,” said an official. “That is why we have shifted our office to Chari Sharief.”
The development authorities get Rs 3 crore funds per annum for the development of the tourist spot. But the mismanagement and not having the CEO of its own results in the lapse of the funds. The source revealed that only 13 per cent of the allocated funds were spent last fiscal.
Yousmarg witnesses the tourist season for a maximum of four months. The local shopkeepers said that this spot could be a round-the-year tourist attraction.
“Here we have the best slopes for skiing. It is a best-suited place for winter sports,” said a group of shopkeepers. “But dreaming about these things when we do not have internet and ATM here is just foolishness.”