Kashmir Tourism at a Crossroads
The very onset of April this year witnessed a considerable inflow of domestic and foreign tourists in the state, who soothed their souls with the pleasant sight of the largest tulip garden of Asia in the valley. Unfortunately, an ugly turn of weather moved them away, giving a short respite of 15 days to the stakeholders especially in the valley
As soon as Mufti Mohammed Sayeed assumed the reins of Jammu-Kashmir administration, he began efforts to revitalise the sick tourism sector of the state. In this connection, he minced no words to induce the domestic as well as foreign tour operators to work in the direction of attracting tourists to Kashmir. Since Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is heading the Tourism Minstry, he left no stone unturned to rejuvenate the sector, which is one of the main sources of Kashmir economy. As a first, he brought a senior IAS officer, Farooq Shah, known for his development-related administrative skill, from administration to Director, Tourism. Secondly, Mufti Sayeed toured the Bollywood corridor in Mumbai to lure the iconic film producers and directors to shoot their films in the heaven of yesteryears. It cannot be gainsaid that the political instability of last two decades has been keeping the Bollywood stars away from the state.
However, the very onset of April this year witnessed a considerable inflow of domestic and foreign tourists in the state, who soothed their souls with the pleasant sight of the largest tulip garden of Asia in the valley. Unfortunately, an ugly turn of weather moved them away, giving a short respite of 15 days to the stakeholders especially in the valley. In the meantime, the enemies of peace and development struck in a major way targetting mobile towers in North Kashmir. This unfortunate event forced the major tour operators of Metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata to cancel or postpone a handful of bookings for touring in Kashmir Valley. Attacks on mobile towers were blown out of proportion by the national media, which proved the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The country-wide tour operators too lost no time to make the intending tourists believe that Kerala and Himachal Pradesh were the far better tourist destinations. The stakeholders in the valley, i.e. shikara owners, house boat owners, hoteliers, dry fruit sellers, and transporters felt utterly disappointed. The domestic and foreign tourists have all through been reliable ambassadors of the state’s handicrafts but the dwindling inflow of tourists told badly upon its health. The valley hotel owners have once again crossed their fingers in dismay after having borrowed lakhs of rupees from various banks to re-construct and re-beautify their establishments after the devastative floods of September last year. As a result of this worklessness, they have reduced their staff considerably.
Javaid Lone, the owner of Snow Line Travels Company, while talking to Uday India, disclosed that years 2008, 2009 and 2010 were the worst years for the tourism sector in Kashmir as the tourists opted not to visit the trouble-torn valley then. He said that the September floods of 2014 proved as the last nail in the coffin. Daring all this Javaid began to think in the term of 2015 as a new beginning but he thinks silently some dubious elements have hatched a conspiracy to reduce the tourism industry to a Skelton.
Musadiq Shah, who owns a palatial Gulmarg Hotel at Boulward Road on the bank of famous Dal Lake, told Uday India that the furious floods had left his hotel in a rubble. He spent around one crore rupees to rejuvenate his only source of income. This hotel had been feeding scores of others but this year’s trickle in tourist flow left the establishment bankrupt. A Mumbai couple on honey moon to Kashmir told this correspondent that their tourist operator advised them to give up the idea of visiting Kashmir, but could not convince them as they had been bewitched by the beauty of Kashmir, as narrated by some of their friends. The couple disclosed that some relatives, who were supposed to accompany them, had cancelled their Kashmir visit for Himachal Pradesh.
Deputy Director, Tourism Publicity, Peerzada Zahoor Ahmad is using various mediums to induce domestic and foreign tourists to visit Kashmir, though he is concerned about the role of radical elements in the valley as well as a section of national media, who always tries to make a mountain out of a molehill. In spite of all this, the Tourism Department with an active service of Peerzada Zahoor is holding tourist fairs to send a signal of prevalence of peaceful environment in the Kashmir valley so that the intending tourists do not fall in the trap of the conspirators. It is expected that the recent spate of killings in Sopore, the apple of town of Kashmir, would not deter the Kashmir lovers from exploring the beauty of the valley. In the government agencies concerned, at this point of time, are required to look into the recent innocent killings so that a positive environment could prevail in the valley.
By Manzoor Zahoor from Srinagar
(All pix: Uday India)