Pune NGO Plans to Promote ‘Border Tourism’ in Kashmir

SRINAGAR: With Kashmir continuing to be the tourist pulling spot, Sarhad, a Pune-Based NGO is planning to make far-flung villages of the valley accessible and hospitable to tourists, The Hindu reported.

Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, PK Pole, formally inaugurated a public school at Dardpora Kupwara on April 10, 2022. The school was constructed by a Pune based NGO, Sarhad, whose key functionary Sanjay Nahar was also present.

The NGO, which is known for its work with students and orphans living in India’s conflict zones, is set to launch its ‘border tourism’ project in Kashmir. The aim as per the people working on the project is “making hitherto inaccessible strife-hit border villages hospitable to tourists.”

As details are revealed, in the next five years around 2,000 youths, many of them orphans, hailing from the lower-income groups are to be trained as part of the project over the next five years.

“We plan to train orphaned youths from the social margins, who have expressed a desire to do something for the development of their backwater, but scenic villages,” The Hindu quotes Sarhad founder-president Sanjay Nahar.

He had said that this initiative has the potential to develop new tourist places and provide employment to local villagers on India’s border. “It would also help restore dignity, give the locals confidence and bring prosperity to the Valley’s backwater regions.”

“This project germinated after a successful exchange last year between Pune’s horticulturalists and apple-growers in the Valley, which helped boost agricultural ties between Maharashtra and Kashmir. So, we started thinking about border tourism along these lines… this project will help strengthen bonds between the people from border areas, who have fallen prey to the ravages of militancy for far too long and have been cut-off from the rest of the country,” the newspaper quotes him saying.

If reports are believed, the NGO has already begun training youths from Dardpora village in Kupwara district — one of the villages that is to be developed as part of the project, which is to be formally launched in July this year.  Pertinent to mention, Sarhad is already running a school for small children afflicted by the long strife in Dardpora, village known for widows and half-widows.

“We have been in touch with local authorities, a number of whom have been very supportive of the border tourism initiative. The Indian Army authorities are naturally in the loop on this. This will help spread awareness about the tourism potential of the bordering villages in J&K while helping tourists get sensitised with the condition of villagers on India’s border with Pakistan,” he Nahar said, adding that tourists will also get an opportunity to interact with Army jawans and officers on the India-Pakistan and Indo-China border.

As per the report, the project has a notable Pune connection as well. Sarhad plans to involve Ganesh mandals, educational institutes as well as IT firms that have shown an interest in this venture.

Eleven villages (including Dardpora) have been chosen in the first phase, including some on the Pakistan border in Punjab, Lehota in Doda district, Hunderman in Kargil district, Aragam in Bandipora district, Sopore in Baramulla and Leh on the China border among others. “All have experienced horrific episodes of militancy.”

“Owing to the unfavourable political situation, these areas have till now remained out of bounds for most tourists who usually visit popular places like Gulmarg, Pahalgam or Sonmarg. When this project comes to fruition, those interested can visit these off-the-beaten-track villages which have spectacular vistas and rich history associated with them,” Nahar had said.

This initiative apart, Sarhad in June 2020 had given a proposal to set up what it claims will be the ‘world’s biggest book village’ (besides being the highest in terms of altitude) at Mitrigam in Pulwama district, the birthplace of legendary Kashmiri poet Peerzada Ghulam Ahmad known by his nom de plume Mahjoor.

Sarhad has already published several translated literary works of Mahjoor in Marathi during the last two decades.

“We have submitted a letter of intent to the divisional administration for approval in this regard. We are conceiving the book village on the lines of the Hay-on-Wye on the England-Wales border replete with reading halls, libraries and other literature-related activities,” Nahar told the newspaper.

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