Guide Number Two

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Kings and queens saw Kashmir through his eyes. Visiting dignitaries sought him for his honesty and knowledge of the land. Abdul Samad Bhat, the oldest guide in Gulmarg, tells Nazir Ahmad Rather, about his illustrious career, fun times and influence of English culture on his life.    

Abdul Samad Bhat

Abdul Samad Bhat

My name is Abdul Samad Bhat, said seventy-nine-year-old tourist guide in his heavy accentual English. Samad lives in Ferozpura Tangmarg, a small picturesque village some 15 kilometres from famous tourist destination Gulmarg.

Samad claims, he is the oldest surviving guide in Gulmarg.

It was his equestrian skills and passion for angling that prompted Samad to become a professional guide. “I am into this profession since 1965 when people here hardly knew what a guide meant,” claimed Samad.

It was Samad’s love for horse riding, fishing and beautiful landscapes that made him to become a tourist guide.

Samad remembers that during mid 60’s it was mandatory for a tourist guide to carry a license issued by the tourism department. Samad says it was not easy to get a license or to become a tourist guide as it is now. Samad appeared for an interview before tourism department officials to get a guide’s license. “It took me a year to get my license. It was not easy,” says Samad.

Since Samad’s license number is ‘two’, he became famous among tourists and locals as guide number 2. “People still call me guide number 2,” says Samad proudly.

Samad, who has now retired as a tourist guide is a famous figure among locals. They credit him for introducing guiding as a viable profession into this hilly village. “He is undoubtedly the oldest guide in our area. We learned basics of this profession from him only,” says Ali Mohammad Raja a tourist guide from Tangmarg, who is himself 67 years old.

In 2004, Samad was felicitated by state tourism department with an award for his services as a guide.  “He was declared the oldest guide of Gulmarg,” said Ghulam Rasool Mir, president tourist guides association, Gulmarg.

Samad believes a tourist reposes lot of faith and confidence on a guide. “A good tourist guide can make his clients trip a really memorable one,” feels Samad. “But with travel agencies arranging pre-guided tours local guides have lost their importance,” he says.

Samad remembers that during 60’s and 70’s a tourist would completely depend on guides as there were very few travel agencies. “Be it sightseeing, transportation, food, lodging, a guide was supposed to take care of everything for his client,” recalls Samad.

He proudly displays numerous testimonials, personal communications, letters of recommendations that he has received in his career spawning more than four decades as tourist guide.

During his guiding days Samad was one of the most trustworthy, skill full and knowledgeable persons for tourists. He was known for his careful tour preparation that would keep him busy.

During 70’s, Samad was among few locals who could communicate with foreigners with ease.

“Samad is good at making conversations, besides knowing horse riding and is a master angler. That is why the tourists would always ask for his company,” says Ali Mohmmad Raja.

Samad has served the who is who from India and abroad. Be it business bigwigs like Birlas or the high profile guests like Queen of Kuwait or members of British High Commission, Samad has served them all.

Samad bhat has also worked with high profile tourists from Korean, Danish and American embassies.

“I would always receive high profile guests. Whenever hoteliers needed a good guide, they would recommend my name,” says Samad proudly.

“My clients mostly were from either royal families or from embassies,” explains Samad.

Abdul-Samad-Bhat-guide-no-2Samad enjoyed his profession. For him guiding tourists was an enjoyable activity. He never made distinction among his clients on the basis of their colour, nationality or social status.

But Samad admits enjoying serving British and American tourists mostly. “I have learned a lot from them. They are the most punctual people on earth who would never break their promise,” says Samad.

“Unlike Indian tourists, they are very cautious about environment and its preservation. They are very particular about cleanliness,” adds Samad.

For Samad who has spent most of his life serving tourists, the present state of tourism industry pains him. “Unfortunately new generation of guides act more like commission agents. They go as far as deceiving tourists to earn extra money,” says Samad painfully.

He feels that excessive number of unprofessional guides and travel agencies have earned tourism a bad name in Kashmir.

“A tourist who comes as a traveller should always leave Kashmir as a friend,” feels Samad.

Samad who has spent almost his entire life amidst green meadows and mesmerising landscapes, is extremely pained by the present state of Gulmarg. “It used to be a world class health resort once because of its clean environment. But now it is just like any another place,” feels Samad.

Gulmarg is fast losing its sheen because of environmental pollution.  “It really hurts to see massive  construction of hotels, dhabhas, and other recreational projects going on in virgin forests,” blames Samad.

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