In Bad Light

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The J&K tourism department’s hoardings are asking the natives to behave with tourists. Sameer Yasir offers an alternate narrative on how Goa, one of the most frequented places in India, treats its tourists.

A Hoarding with messages portraying Kashmiris as Cheats -- Photo:Bilal Bahadur.

A Hoarding with messages portraying Kashmiris as Cheats — Photo:Bilal Bahadur.

It was a cloudy afternoon in early September 2005. The mist had covered Dambolim Airport in Indian’s eastern state of Goa when I stepped out of an aircraft. The ambivalence of life in any other India state without inviting danger of being a suspect forced me many times to choose Goa for the next three years.

I had heard that in Goa, Kashmiris are not militants but only ‘drug lords’. The innumerable wealth attuned by selling Kashmiri handicrafts made Kashmir businessman soft targets for rumour mongers, that most of them were associated with drugs smuggling.

But there was something which could not have been denied. Most of them had married Russian, Portuguese or German girls. Some had married three times and left Goa for these countries to earn their livelihood. In my case I didn’t wanted to do either.

This was my first visit to the tourist heaven famous for its stunning virgin beaches and casinos for hippy tourists. Outside the age old airport, which is still managed by Air force, taxi drivers were jostling for space. But there was method to the madness. No one grabbed tourists by their shoulders for a ride or to take them to a hotel. They would not ‘promise moon and take you to a gutter’ as a western tourist told me.

A hoarding, almost six feet high, caught my attention which declared that the tourists had to respect the local culture “and wear cloths which would be modest and suitable to the local culture in the cities.” Although this is not what Goa was famous for.

But there was one thing no tourist would complain of; that Goans were cheats or that a Goan robbed a foreigner. Off all the three years I lived there, I never came across a news item that would announce the cheating of a tourist.

That may be the reason Goa is still a heaven for tourists. Even if an incident would happen, once in a blue moon, no one would give it publicity knowing that tourism was a major contributor to Goa’s economy and any attempt to present it as a tourist unfriendly place was always sidelines for the larger good.

That may be the reason for a high number of tourists visiting Goa every year. In 2010, the department of tourism said the state received over 26.42 lakh tourists, the largest ever number. In 2010, new records were set. The number of foreign tourists crossed four lakh with as many as 4.41 lakh of foreign tourists visiting Goa in 2010 as compared to 3.76 lakh in 2009.

This was a time when global recessions had hit global economies. Tourism industry was badly affected. But the image of Goa being a tourist friendly place also changed when Scarlett Keeling, a 15 year old British citizen, was sexually assaulted and left dead on a beach after taking a cocktail of drugs. After her killing, the British embassy started issuing advisory to its citizens. That incident changed Goa forever.

Before I came back to Kashmir, I worked for a Singapore based policy institute and my work took me to different places across the world. From Manila to Almaty, I have never seen a place where the state would advice locals to be careful with tourists as is happening in Kashmir.

There was a boom in the number of tourists visiting the valley. Although most of them were pilgrims but are we ready to cater to a boom that Goa has witnessed. We lack services in our hotels. Even though you might pay a lot for the hotels in Srinagar but you get a service which any cheap hotel in Pahargunj would offer. But no one would say that we are cheats.
This year, more than one million tourists have visited Jammu and Kashmir, making it one of the most successful tourism years in the scenic valley which has witnessed a relative claim over the last two years.

So far this year, 27,596 foreigners, 10,42,431 domestic and 6,21,104 Amarnath Yatris visited Kashmir while a total of 1,40,288 tourists visited Ladakh region. The number of pilgrims visiting Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu was 76,88,291. If the negative peace prevails, the number of tourists might increase. But the only thing that we should not do is become another Goa.

Perceptions matter. By raising hoarding which portray natives in a bad light and asking them to behave, instead of the tourists who are spreading litter in every nook and corner of the valley, we are sending a wrong message.

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About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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