A heavy influx of tourists is attracting many to work as tourist guides, fetching them a decent livelihood. Nazir Ahmad Rather reports
Kazipora is a small village near Tangmarg in Baramulla district with a few people employed with the government and villagers having small land holdings. But men in the village don’t seem to be worried about unemployment. They always find a job.
“There are only a few government employees in our village, the majority of men in our village work as tourist guides,” says Abdul Rahim Mir of Kazipora, who has been working as a tourist guide for the last 15 years.
Being close to world famous tourist resort of Gulmarg the youth of this area find it easy to take up the job of tourist guide which promises them a handsome earning. “A tourist guide on an average earns Rs 500 to 600 a day,” says Rahim.
Though a tourist guide, ideally needs to know at least one foreign language the tourist guides from Kazipora are mostly illiterate. Almost all of them have started as pony drivers (horsemen) in Gulmarg and over the years picked up tid-bits of various languages which helps them in communicating with tourists from different countries.
“I started off as ponywala but later switched over to guiding profession (tourist guide) because it is important for a tourist guide to know this area and landscapes well that is the reason every person who keeps an intention to work as tourist guides initially prefers to work as pony driver,” says Abdul Majeed Mir a guide from Kaziporara. Mir who has been working as a tourist guide for 20 years says that it is not necessary for a guide to be literate.
Although they work with tourists from different countries, they prefer to work with tourists from south Asian countries. “It is really a delight to work with the tourists with South- Asian origin because they are easy to guide and they pay handsomely,” says Majeed.
A person wanting to work as a tourist guide, needs a tourist guide license and must be knowing the area, where he wants to work, well. “A successful tourist guide should necessarily know English and a couple of Indian languages,” says Gul Charna a guide from Kazipora who claims to know four languages – English, Bengali, Hindi and Marathi besides his mother tongue- Kashmiri.
Tourist guides don’t receive any training and they rely on their own experience only, he adds. However some tourist guides have received some basic training from a hotel management institute and from Rashtrya Rifles in the last couple of years. “I have done three months training course as tourist guide through Rashtrya Rifles under operation Sadhbhavana,” says Mohamad Ismayeel of Kazipora. Ismayeel says that training helps a tourist guide to tackle the guests in a very polite manner. “We can handle tourists in a much professional manner after receiving the training,”adds Ismayeel.
With the tourist arrivals in the valley being on the rise, the number of tourist guides has increased over the last couple of years. “Earlier the number of licensed tourist guides was around 57 but now it has risen to 450,” says Abdul Rahim.
Rahim believes that more people joining as tourist guides is not a problem but travel agencies have started to pose a serious threat to the livelihood of tourist guides working in Gulmarg. Most of the tourist guides believe that travel agencies have started to gain monopoly over the occupation. “The emergence of travel agencies has been an immense setback to our trade. They have established a monopoly in this business,” says Abdul Majeed.
The tourist guides believe that travel agencies easily manage to rope in tourists by spending heavy amounts of money on publicity. “Their tour packages include sightseeing, lodging, food and gondola ride. It is obvious that tourists would get attracted to them as compared to us,” says Abdul Rahim.