When it comes to Kashmir, images of verdant slopes, flushing meadows, breath-taking snow-clad mountains, gushing rivers, scrumptious Wazwaan, delectable fruits, etc, flash in the mind. Kashmir’s majestic beauty is without equal because nature has chiselled it with utmost care.
Led by the Golden Triangle – Gulmarg, Srinagar and Pahalgam – Kashmir tourism is indescribable in words and incomprehensible in essence as nature is found at every spot one visits. Be it the elevation of Gulmarg Gondola dancing atop the Affarwat mountains, or the adventurous skier gliding down on snow glistening beneath his feet, the romance of Kashmir is inexhaustible.
Similar enchantment is to be found in the soul-soothing environs and eye-catching scenery in Pahalgam, Sonamarg or any destination in the valley. But scenic spots like Yusmarg, Dodhpathri, Bangus, etc, are less visited while Kashmir tourism has been kept confined to the Golden Triangle. There have been some concerted efforts taken by the central and state governments to shore up infra development In many tourist spots in Kashmir, besides new destinations have been identified as potential attractions. In 2004, the then Chief Minister, late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had planned 24 Development Authorities in J&K to promote tourism. However, the progress achieved hasn’t been encouraging as Gulmarg, Srinagar, Pahalgam and Sonamarg continue to dominate the footfalls.
In 2018, the Cable Car Ride, known as Gulmarg Gondola, generated ?50 crore revenue for the state government. Despite potential to generate massive revenue and employ thousands, it’s disheartening to see that the tourism sector contributes less than 8% to the GSDP of J&K. There’s huge potential in leisure, adventure, pilgrim and heritage tourism from Srinagar to Gulmarg but unfavourable situation since 1990s has acted as a big deterrent.
The diversity of Kashmir tourism makes the Valley an ideal place for every tourist’s pursuit. Agricultural and allied activities like horticulture have immense potential to not only prop up the saffron business but attract private capital, too.
There should, in fact, be joint ventures or PPP forays into tapping the full market and tourism potential of agri tourism and medical tourism, including the herbal one. The lavender flower in Gulmarg is mostly used to make expensive scents that are sold in European markets. Similarly, the world famous saffron crop in Pampore can get massive infusion of private capital to boost its business prospects. The golden-hued saffron fields could also attract footfalls in thousands.
Time and again, the government has put in efforts to promote tourism by organising roadshows in different parts of India or some East Asian countries but the unpredictable volatile political situation is playing a spoilsport. The second-biggest entertainment industry in the world, Bollywood, too has been apathetic in promoting our tourism sector as film makers focus more on extremism than the majestic beauty we have in oodles.
We can’t imagine how much the Mumbai film industry could do for our tourism sector as its movies are watched in more than 110 countries. However, directors who shoot Kashmir through their lens choose extremism as USP of their works rather than the glorious landscape laced with enchanting swathes of beauty.
The govt of UT in J&K has started a slew of initiatives like Swadesh Darshan and Prasad. It has also refurbished some existing schemes like Hunar-e-Rogzar to promote local tourism on good scale. However, one of the most prudent moves for the Kashmir administration can be going for massive roadshows in every major city of India. Celebrities from Bollywood or the cricketing world can also be roped in to launch a campaign for promotion of tourism activities here.
The J&K Department of Tourism and JKTDC should organise more festivals in all the leading tourist places. Local celebrities from cricket and many political faces should chip in with their useful contribution, becoming ambassadors of our tourism sector.
Situation permitting, we’ve everything to promote Kashmir as one of the most-sought after tourist spots in the world. Tourist spots like Kerala, Goa or Shimla don’t stand a chance before Kashmir, except their tourist activities aren’t affected the way Kashmiri stakeholders face it. Despite tourism the sector contributing less than its potential to the GSDP of J&K, we can’t brush aside the fact that hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris are employed in various tourism activities, directly or indirectly. More than 50,000 stakeholders are engaged in Gulmarg tourism (directly and indirectly) alone.
The heritage tourism potential in downtown Srinagar is unparalleled, if realised. From Jamia Masjid to Hari Parbat fort, and from the Kalia to the Shankarachaarya temple, the blend of heritage and pilgrim tourism in Srinagar can absorb thousands, besides generating billions in revenue.
The Tulip Garden, Asia’s largest, has spurred on footfalls in the summer capital despite being seasonal in duration. Similarly, Kashmir is dotted with many unexplored destinations which if tapped can usher in a new era of economic prosperity in our Valley.
Introduction of Cable Car at Makhdoom Sahib or throwing open of Todamaidan on the tourism scene might not have generated much buzz but it has definitely raised hopes of charting new courses vis-à-vis our efforts to put Kashmir truly on the global tourism map.
One hopes the Government of India will invest in the right avenues and allow massive infusion of private capital to catapult Kashmir into the big league of global tourist spots. Need of the hour is more swanky and luxurious hotels like the Khyber Spa & Resort or the Taj Vivanta to attract high-end tourists from across the world.
The government should encourage educated youth by giving them loans for opening restaurants and fast food chains. The existing political situation is definitely a challenge but it won’t create much obstacle if one invests both the money and the mind in the right perspective. Kashmir is a jewel in the crown and she should remain jewel among the crown of all the tourist destinations in the country.