Tourism Trials!

With another bumper season for Kashmir tourism in full swing, famous tourist places are already feeling the heat of tourist rush. Even when the twin health resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg are turning into concrete jungles, the state is yet to develop a forward looking eco-friendly tourism policy to manage huge influx of tourists, Bilal Handoo reports.  

Tourists prefer known locations like Pahalgam (in picture) and Gulmarg because of connectivity and other facilities.
Tourists prefer known locations like Pahalgam (in picture) and Gulmarg because of connectivity and other facilities.

Over the past few years Kashmir has been reemerging as a prime tourist destination. With the huge influx of tourists in summers, the valley is witnessing a stressful situation, albeit of a different nature. As the carrying capacity of existing tourist spots is surpassing the threshold, state is now eyeing on alternative locales to divert the rush of tourists.

According to environmental experts, important glaciers in the vicinity of existing tourist destinations have melted away, many more are melting, and water bodies are gradually drying up. This is believed to have triggered a sense of immediacy within state tourism department to relieve these places from the mounting rush and to look for alternative destinations.

In fact, the Union Ministry of Tourism appointed Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) for identifying the untapped tourism destinations in the state, in their interim report they had recommended development of infrastructure at new destinations for hosting tourists.

“The tourism industry in the state plays vital role in the development of the regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Destinations like Wular, Manasbal etc have excess carrying capacities left that could be exploited,” IL&FS report noted. “This is primarily because these destinations are largely unexplored and lack necessary basic tourist infrastructure.”

These destinations, the report reads, have huge tourism potential and are round-the-year destinations, which is an asset considering that sharp seasonal variations in tourist flows in Kashmir have also contributed to difficulty in the maintenance of tourism assets and economy in off peak seasons.

“The tourist resort of Gulmarg falls short of its carrying capacity in 2020 by 11,940 tourists,” the report revealed, adding, “the carrying capacity of Gulmarg resort can be enhanced by developing Tangmarg at the base (5 km) and especially Drang (in Tangmarg) as an alternative destination.” This could be a solution to avert unsustainable exploitation of this highly eco-sensitive site and it can have additional capacity of 18060 day visitors in 2020, the report suggests.

Policy-less Tourism!

At a time, when all efforts are being put to promote tourism in the strife-stricken valley, experts have raised eye brows over the intention of the state government to see actually the sector flourishing in the state.

In absence of the much awaited Tourism Policy, valley based tourism players are terming the much publicized tourism campaign in Kashmir as hoax, besides being counterproductive for the local environment and ecology.

“Government often flaunts tall statistics to present a healthy picture of tourism sector, but the same government is incapable to preserve the tourist destinations in the state,” an official in state tourism department said.

The official questioned the approval for constructions in Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and other tourist destinations, that have posed a serious threat to the ecology and environment of these destinations already exploited beyond their carrying capacity. “Our leaders drive a sense of satisfaction from figures only. We don’t care for the regulation of our tourism,” he said.

Tourist Policy would have ensured the streamlining of the sector, the official said, and would have laid a road map for raising the infrastructure in accordance with our needs and environment, but seemingly government is not bothered.

G A Mir, the incumbent tourism minister of state, says his ministry was working on the policy and it was likely that the government would come up with a Tourism Policy soon, “We are definitely working on it, and you will see the Tourism Policy becoming a reality very soon.”

New Locales

Kashmir is known to have some exotic places with tremendous tourism potential. In the absence of a clear cut government stand on the development of these exotic locales, the tourism players have not so far, made any ventures into these.

These locations are known to provide ultimate adventure experience to the visitors. One of the least explored spot is the virgin valley of Bungus -Bun means forest and Gus means grass in Kashmiri. This upcoming tourist destination in Lolab valley has rich pastures with finest grass, considered ideal for cattle grazing. The valley is surrounded by Shamsberry Range with Leepa Valley just on the other side of Line of Control (LOC).

Doodh-e-Pather or valley of milk, a recent discovery in Kashmir valley, is identified as a tourist destination with huge potential. It is a picturesque bowl shaped valley with carpeted meadows, located in district Budgam. A flowing river resounds with soft wind passing through the pine trees at the enclosures of the valley.

Gurez, which is a gateway to the famous Silk Route and one of the most scenic and virgin destination in Kashmir valley, is said to be ultimate adventure destination towards the extreme north of Kashmir. The Gurez valley is strategically significant as the LoC, visible to the eye in the form of concertina wire runs across it. The roar of mighty Kishen-Ganga River flowing across the valley resonates with surrounding mountains. Gurez valley is also characterized by traditional log wood houses resembling European countryside.

One more upcoming tourist spot in Kashmir is Wular Lake, the largest freshwater Lake in Asia, spread over 189 sq km. The Lake is surrounded by snow covered mountains and deep forests. It is an important fish habitat and accounts for more than 60 percent of fish production in the state.

Recently state tourism minister, G A Mir underscored the need for identifying the tourism potential of the destination and its vicinity for global marketing. He also emphasized the need for promoting new tourist attractions in the area without harming the virginity of the destination.

Mir, on his recent visit to Dodpathri, said that government is exploring fully the varied tourism potential of Dodpathri, “A chair lift would be constructed soon at the destination, besides developing of a tourist circuit connecting Tosmaidan- Yusmarg-Dreng with Dodpatri.”

A view of Sonamarg.

Mir gave his consent for initiating the process for development of these attractions to attract high end tourists towards this destination, which, he said, would ultimately ease tourist rush of Gulmarg and other known tourists spots of the Valley.

Located at a distance of 120 km from summer capital, Bungus valley in Lolab is awaiting to find itself on the tourism map of the state, a move that would prove beneficial for the people of economically backward Kupwara district.

For over past four decades people of this district have been demanding declaring of the Lolab and the Bungus valleys as tourism destinations.

The ecology and environment of the valley has catastrophically suffered for lack of a clear cut tourism policy and bad planning.

Impediments!

Many believe, Kashmir has failed to fully explore its tourism potential as the state is least interested in the development of infrastructure at emerging tourist destinations. Natural beauty can’t alone woo tourists and Kashmir needs to have better infrastructure in place.

The lack of infrastructure, particularly accommodation, at destinations like Doodpathri, Manasabal, Aharbal, Tangmarg and Sonamarg are keeping these beautiful locales out of bounds for tourists visiting Kashmir.

This is despite the fact that tourism is one of the important constituents in the state’s economy.

According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the tertiary sector in the state contributes nearly 44.2 per cent to the state GSDP. Amongst the various industries coming under tertiary sector, tourism has a contribution of 8.7 per cent.

Talat Parvaiz, Director Tourism Kashmir said the Tourism department is working for the promotion of untapped destinations like Doodpathri, Aharbal, and other upcoming destinations.

“The Master Plan for tourism destinations like Doodpathri, Manasbal, Sonamarg, and other locales is currently in final stage,” Talat said. “Tourism minister G A Mir is personally monitoring the Master Plan as it will earmark specific areas for the development of infrastructure and accommodation facilities so that these areas can be fully explored and developed as full- fledged tourist destinations.”

The state witnessed a huge rush of tourists last year. The officials estimate the figure to be around 12 lakh till November, which includes more than 35,000 foreign tourists. This year, it is expected that tourist rush might touch 22 lakh.

But it remains to be seen how state will utilize the potential of new locales amidst surging tourist inflow!

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