Kargil Festival: The Complete Story

by Tahir Bhat

KARGIL: The two-day Kargil Ladakh Tourism Festival-2018 at Khree Sultan Cho Sports Stadium, Biamathang Kargil was concluded on Wednesday. It once again brought Kargil in the newspapers and is now a yearly affair.

Artists singing during Kargil Ladakh tourism festival 2018. KL Image by Shuaib Wani

Though 86000 tourists are reported to have visited Kargil, the local hospitality sector suggested the festival should be held mid-summer as September is too late for attracting the tourists. The department is follow-up the festival with another festival in Zanskar starting September 8.

Located 204 km from Srinagar, Kargil is known worldwide for a never-ending range of differently coloured mountains and deserted plains. This scarcely populated arid district has been on the radar of the tourists, not only from India but foreign back-packers too.

Though the town has been a highway stop for centuries, it got a global branding during the 1999 ‘limited’ war between India and Pakistan. Strategic mountainous peaks like Tiger Hill in Drass and Tololing in Bhimbat which caught the world attention during this “war”. Some of these posts like Hatamata Hill on Kargil-Skardu border and Palamar hills have become major tourist attractions.

The war memorial at Drass, the main war theatre is attracting hundreds of tourists during the year. But the “war” has triggered a complete shift in the economy of the district especially from Drass to the main town. New hotels have come up and a lot many people are now working in the hospitality sector.

Artists singing multi-ethnic traditional songs and dancing at Kargil Ladakh tourism festival 2018. KL Image by Shuaib Wani

Kargil War Memorial at Drass notwithstanding, Kargil is home to various tourist destinations like Suru valley, Mulbekh  Chamba, Mulbekh Monastery, Nun Kun Mountain, Kargil Pensila Lake, and Rangdum monastery. Zanskar in itself is a huge destination itself.

The important spot that attracts more tourists from all around India is the war memorial at Drass, which was built to commemorate slain army men who were killed in Kargil war.

The war between India and Pakistan in 1999 also promotes Kargil in the tourism sector.

The two-day festival was organised by Tourism department is aimed at attracting tourists to the picnic spot and to send a message across that Kargil is one of the destinations that offer certain things which no other destination offers.

Chairman state legislative council along with tourism officials distributing awards among artists and participants.
KL image by Shuaib Wani

The festival was inaugurated by Chairman, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council, Haji Inayat Ali and Advisor to the governor, Khurshid Ahmad Ganai on Tuesday at Khree Sultan Cho Sports Stadium.

Locals as well non-locals thronged Kargil which had musical performances, comedy shows, and photo exhibitions, to offer for visitors a blend of beauty. Tourism Department had made elaborate arrangements to entertain local as well as non-local tourists. The festival provided a sneak peak of the local culture and heritage. Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation, Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, Handicrafts, Handlooms departments were also part of the festival and had set up a chain of kiosks to highlight the different facets of Ladakh region.

Local arts and craft, including Pashmina Shawls, Handloom goods and local fruits including Apricot were also available. Local chefs of Kargil also gave a live presentation of the preparations of food.

A crowd of youth holding digital cameras was seen in and around the ground taking photographs of each other as well as the events happening inside.

Besides exhibitions, many cultural events were organised which entertained the participants. The two-day event featured multi-ethnic traditional music and dance performances by the folk artists of different ethnic groups of the region including Purgi, Dalti, Dardi. It also featured traditional horse polo and archery matches. The performance was performed by locally reputed artists during the event was received a loud applause from the audience.

In horse Polo game, four teams included Bodh Kharbu, Sapi, Drass A, and Drass B participated. The final match was played between Drass A and Drass B in which Drass A team beat Drass B by 4-0 goals.

A group photo of dignitaries and artists at Kargil Ladakh tourism festival 2018. KL Image by Shuaib Wani

“It had a good response and we hope that the message goes out and it helps the sector,” a senior tourism official said. “We have already put in a lot of effort to encourage people to come and enjoy in Jammu and Kashmir especially Kargil.”

Speaking on the inaugural function the Chairman, Legislative Council, highlighted the scope of tourism in the district Kargil and said that the topography of the district makes it unique for winter sports. He said the need is to highlight it so tourists would throng the place during winters also.

He asked the tourism department to prepare a comprehensive plan in this regard.

Ganai said development of Ladakh region on modern lines is the commitment of the Governor’s Administration for which all the necessary steps would be taken.

The advisor said the main purpose of the festival is to boost the potential of tourism in district Kargil. He exhorted upon the Tourism Department to further intensify its publicity and promotional activities so as to attract the maximum number of tourists from across the country.

Praising the scenic beauty and the multi-ethnic culture of Kargil, the Advisor said that more than 86,000 domestic and 4500 foreign tourists have visited the district Kargil during the current year so far.

German tourists enjoying cultural programs during Kargil Ladakh tourism festival 2018. KL Image by Shuaib Wani

The Advisor said that a number of incentive schemes, including Prime Minister’s Development Project, are in place to encourage the private stakeholders while as due impetus is being given to raising necessary tourism infrastructure in the district.

Director Tourism Tassaduq Jeelani highlighted the importance of the Kargil festival and said that such events provide a platform to promote the tourism activities.

Residents of Kargil accused the tourism department of conducting festival late and demanded the festival should be organised in the month of July or August next year so that maximum tourists could be attracted towards the region.

They said that in September tourist do not visit the region in good numbers it is better if the festival will be held earlier.

They said the closure of the road for more than five months badly affected the tourism sector in the region. They demanded early completion of Zojilla tunnel.

“During the past three years at least 20 new hotels have come up in Kargil,” said an owner of the local guesthouse.

Artists performing during Kargil Ladakh tourism festival 2018. KL Image by Shuaib Wani

The educated and jobless youth of this desert district are finding new job avenues in the tourism sector as the tourist flow gradually picks up with each passing year.

The festival was concluded by distributing cash prizes worth over seven lakh among the artists and other participants.

The awards were distributed by Chairman, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council, Haji Inayat Ali.

The Kargil region has a very limited tourist season. It starts usually in May and comes to a close by the beginning of September.

(Tahir Bhat and Shuaib Wani had participated in the festival on the invitation of J&K Tourism Department)

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