by Saman Rais Siddiqui
The returned tourism in Kashmir has brought many positives. Many people who were denied employment, due to the lockdown are happy to be able to go to work every day to earn bread for their families.
Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o Hameen ast-o Hameen ast
The famous lines were said by the greatest Mughal Ruler, Jahangir who was mesmerized by the beauty of Kashmir just as everyone in the world is.
Known as Heaven on Earth, Kashmir is blessed with undeniably hypnotic landscapes and ancient monuments. But for the past 20 years, Heaven on Earth was left with subtracting the amount of tourism, due to the unrest in the Valley.
With God’s grace, the lively state of Kashmir has been restored to such an extent that people from all parts of the country are not hesitant to visit the place. The year 2021 saw a boost in the tourism sector as 6.6 lakh tourists from across the country visited Kashmir, a considerable increase from 41,000 in 2020, an all-time 10-year high.
It is safe to say, that much of tourism has been boosted due to the people feeling secure and welcomed. Leading Bollywood production houses and filmmakers were kept at the forefront of reviving the connection with Jammu and Kashmir. Last September, the authorities also launched a film policy to provide various incentives for producers. A generous provision provided was a special grant of half the cost of production for any film based on J&K or Rs 5 crore, whichever is less.
Similarly, a comprehensive provision of subsidies for TV shows, web series, original shows on the OTT platform, and documentary films to be shot in Jammu and Kashmir was spelled out in the policy.
The use of social media platforms has acted up as a major power boost for the population. Seeing influencers and known celebrities vacation in the Valley has certainly given a showbiz spark to the Valley.
The major tourist destinations of Kashmir are Srinagar, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam, and with the boom in tourism, they certainly have upped their games to invite friendly crowds coming from all over the country.
In the case of Srinagar, the amenities at Dal Lake have increased with the increasing tourism in the Valley, from clothes to kebabs to groceries everything seems to be available in the floating waters. Even the Tata Hitachi EX 200 Hydraulic Excavator, which is used to clean the mighty Dal is being used prominently as to the prior reports when it was only used once every 3-4 months. And if we move from the lakes to the gardens, the many beautiful Mughal gardens at Nishat, Shalimar, Chashma Shahi, and Harwan are among the main attractions for tourists in Srinagar. And when it comes to basic foodstuff, Kashmir has willingly opened its arms to different cuisines, to incorporate the needs of eager tourists.
In the case of Gulmarg, Gondola rides are truly the winner of all hearts, being Asia’s highest and longest Cable Car, it is a crowd pleaser for many as it not only offers a unique experience but also many adventurous activities once you reach the first peak, Kongdori Station. There is no doubt in saying that Gulmarg is a sight for sore eyes, there was a turnout of almost 80 thousand tourists in Gulmarg for the year 2021, making it among the top 10 places to visit in the whole of India.
And when the tourists get sick and tired of all the crowding, they move to the scenic Pahalgam, making it the third most visited place in the Valley. Pahalgam as described by many tourists is the pictorial representation of Heaven from their respective holy books. Blooming with stunning views, it is also a place for trekking, skiing, and camping for all travellers.
The tourist rush and interest have led to many new destinations being opened to diversify the choice for tourists. The claim is backed by figures as thousands of tourists are rushing to Bungus, Lolab, Dodipathri in central Kashmir’s Budgam district and Gurez in north Kashmir which is very famous for pyramid-shaped peak Habba Khatoon, named after a famous Kashmiri poetess. Even young girls in groups can be seen camping in Bungus and Gurez, reflecting the improving security situation in the region.
With booming tourists, there is a downside as well, for example, the environmental degradation due to crowds and workload on the civil administration personnel who were not prepared to welcome such an influx of tourists. The sold-out hotels and the chaos at the Airport have been a big inconvenience not only for travellers but also the travel agencies.
Nevertheless, the returned tourism in Kashmir has brought many positives, cancelling out the negatives mentioned above. Many people who were denied employment, due to the lockdown are happy to be able to go to work every day to earn bread for their families. And now with the announcement of private investments in the Valley, people are hopeful that this would open new opportunities for employment and a better economy for people.
(The Delhi-based author is an academic who spent a significant part of 2022, exploring the interiors of Kashmir. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)