The Meadows

On Kashmir’s tourism map, Budgam’s meadows appear icing on the cake. Amid downpour, as Tourism Minister Mufti Sayeed’s choppers landed in the meadows, he talked about linking three meadows into a Single Circuit and boost the footfalls to the virgin belts, reports Bilal Handoo

Dodhpathri KL Image: Bilal Bahadur
Dodhpathri KL Images by Bilal Bahadur

In one sweltering summer day in 2012, PDP patron Mufti Sayeed was in south Kashmir’s Kokernag, stressing upon state in his signature style to move away from the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Srinagar-Pahalgam-Gulmarg. He talked about the need of having an integrated policy to add value to Brand Kashmir.

Three years later, Mufti in a new found vigour at 79, is rallying for Brand Kashmir and promoting Budgam’s three winsome meadows as a Single Circuit. Under showering skies last week, state chopper flew Mufti to central Kashmir where he batted for Budgam’s three breathtaking meadows – Yusmarg, Doodhpathri and Tosamaidan, for tapping their “enormous tourism potential”.

At 42km from summer capital, Doodhpathri is a high-altitude bowl-shaped valley. A stretch running atop grassy slope passes adjacent to hundreds of chopped trees before opening into Doodhpathri vividly nestled amid towering peaks and pines, velvet-green meadows and gushing Doodhganga. This exotic spot dotted with Igloo-shaped log-houses is the newest sensation with tourism managers.

Legend and common sense suggest this grazing site has historically been producing rich milk in large quantity, earning it the name “valley of milk”. A combination of twin pastures – Parhacemaidan and Doodhpathri, this scenic spot is fed by two rivers, Shaliganga and Sokhnag. Beyond Shaliganga river is a snow-covered mountain range called Diskhil, equally splendid spot. A massive green field called Dhandoran and a naturally built Stadium make the sight irresistible.

“Picturesque meadows plus water give Doodhpathri an edge over Gulmarg that lacks water,” says Manzoor Qadri, chief executing officer of Doodhpathri Development Authority (DDA). “Vast landholding makes it unique and spacious among all meadows in valley.” What Qadri would not say is that unlike all other tourist spots, Doodhpathri has not been encroached upon by the armed forces.

To promote Doodhpathri and other meadows of Budgam as single-night destinations, the new dispensation has directed the Tourism Department to expedite projects including laying of a golf course, ropeways in minimum tree-line areas and amusement parks. “We are also constructing a footbridge over Doodhganga to connect Yusmarg Bowl with the proposed site for golf course,” Qadri says.

The natural setting of this tourist spot makes it treat for nature lovers. Concrete is yet to make a huge entry into this jungle. “We realise any concrete construction can promote eco-terrorism than eco-tourism,” says Qadri. “Therefore, we have only allowed 13 wooden residential huts to come up so far. We are focussing on village-type tourism.” The previous dispensation claimed to have spent Rs 4.70 crore on creation of various tourists related infrastructure at the destination.

After a metallic road, Qadri says construction of a Cable Car is on cards, connecting Doodhpathri with Diskhil. “Once the ropeway will come up,” he says, “the place will emerge as a major tourist destination of Kashmir.”

By mid-April, the spot starts hosting the tourist footfall (Qadri claims in an ongoing tourist season, 20,000 tourists have already visited Doodhpathri) lasting for six months before snow drapes the green carpet white.

Tosamaidan KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In 2006 summer, while touring Doodhpathri, the then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad called for developing Tosamaidan along with Doodhpathri as the potential tourist spots in state. That day Azad took an aerial survey of Tosamaidan without actually mustering courage to hit surface and step inside shell-littered meadow. In an ensued quiet period, nothing transpired on ground. In the din of political activities, the picturesque meadow continued to be a death trap where army had been conducting artillery drills since 1964 and thus silently piling up a population of dead, maimed and disfigured residents living around Tosamaidan.

By 2013 summer, the villagers had enough of bangs and broken lives. They put up a stiff stand and forced army to give freedom to the meadow in 2014. To cleanse meadow from stray shells, army commenced Mission Falah “to prevent untoward incidents in future”. Later Omar Abdullah would divorce his family’s political legacy by contesting 2014 polls nearby Tosamaidan in Beewah in an apparent move to cash in on opportunity created by army getaway. Though the Tosamaidan trick couldn’t give him a thumping victory, but did work to salvage his political career at eleventh hour.

After passing through twists and turns, Tosamaidan presently seems getting state’s spotlight for its tourism potential. It has been integrated with Doodhpathri. “Presently,” says Farooq A Shah, Director Tourism, “we are hiring a foreign consultant to get best out of the place.” If everything goes as per the script, continues Shah, then a world class golf course will soon come up at the meadow. “But the aim is not to tarnish the very natural look of the meadow by subjecting it to a concrete mess,” Shah clarifies. “Everything will be done as per the Master Plan, being drafted for the meadow at the moment.”

Tosamaidan is the largest pasture in its surrounding areas, 3 miles in length and 1.5 miles in width. Lofty deodars fence this pasture, presenting a view of a green carpet in summer. The meadows dotted with the camps of Gujjar community with their grazing sheep present a riveting picture.

One can reach Tosamaidan after crossing the upper mountain reaches of Drang, Zakhora and other small villages. The meadow that bore army artillery drills for a half a century isn’t only famous as adventure tourism but also for its historical background. “It is one of those pastures visited by the shepherds of neighbouring countries in ancient times,” claims Shah. “In fact, the Mughals used to go to Poonch using this route.”

Yousmarg KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In the vicinity of the alpine meadow of Tosamaidan lies another tourist spot, Yusmarg. Perched on peaks akin to European Alps and Sang-Safed valley, the spot is 47km from Srinagar. “Yusmarg is reputed for having some unique spring flowers,” says Javaid Bakshi, chief executing officer of Yusmarg Development Authority (YDA). “It also has some of the highest peaks in Pir Panjal range like Tatakoti (4725 meters) and Sunset Peak (4746 meters).” The mighty river Doodh Ganga makes this destination more thrilling. The natural slopes of Yusmarg offer skiing opportunities to experts.

Last few years of large tourist inflow into Kashmir has seen the diversification of tourism to this wonderful destination, says Bakshi: “And this has helped Yusmarg to emerge as a one day trip destination.”

Yusmarg is one of the few tourist places in valley having a potential of religious tourism. “While places like Gulmarg have only one shrine in its vicinity,” continues Bakshi, “Yusmarg has two mass-devotion shrines Charari Sharief and Pakherpora in its vicinity. So, we are also working to divert the religious tourism to this place.”

Apart from religious tourism, Yusmarg has a great scope for adventure tourism, says Bakshi: “A trek of 4 km leads to a small Lake named as Nilnag surrounded by pine trees. Another 10 km trek leads to the most interesting lake the frozen lake in Sang-e-Safed valley, most portion of this lake is covered by ice even during the summer.”

The natural slopes of Yusmarg offer skiing opportunities. School camps and adventure lovers make a week to fortnights stay at Yusmarg for the thrilling trekking routes around. “When I was given the charge of the meadow two years ago,” says Bakshi, “I thought I was sent to dead-end. But once I started exploring the tourism potential of the place, I was left astounded with the tourism potential of the place.”

Today Bakshi and his men taking care of the meadow boost over their efforts to keep the place less of a concrete mess and more of a natural locale.

Back in that summer day of 2012 at Kokernag, Mufti was recalling the major initiatives his government took for “revival and expansion of tourism” during his earlier stint as state’s chief minister. “As many as 22 tourism development authorities were set up with projects worth hundreds of crores sanctioned with assured funding,” he would tell his audience. However, higher importance must be given to promote new destinations and virgin spots all over the richly endowed state, he said.

Three years later, Mufti’s tourism director is going gaga over exploration virgin spots. “Kashmir is a complete world,” says Shah. “In natural destinations, we are the best.”

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