To explore new places and interact with people belonging to other cultures and faiths has been an important part of man’s life on earth. All of us at one point of time or the other have taken part in some tourism activity; whether it is a visit to our friends or relatives staying at a nearby city or a day trip to visit shrines, mausoleums or monuments of a city, or maybe a trip to a foreign country for a holiday and so on. During any of these tourism activities you must have noticed that many people are involved in providing services, such as the travel agent, guide, transporter, ushers, souvenir sellers and so on. They together form the tourism industry.
The tourism industry is constantly changing and evolving, primarily because of its linkage with other industries such as aviation, accommodation, surface transportation, water transportation, telecommunication, event management, travel facilitators, manufacturers of handicraft and souvenirs, retail outlets and so on. Religious Tourism is a new idea in the tourism industry. Religious tourism is defined in a specific way by tourism practitioners, who offer ‘packages’ to tourists who wish to visit exclusively religious destinations and for religious purposes. But it actually means more than that. A person who encounters any religious destination during travel can be considered as a religious tourist. In this broader context, a trip from Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri, to Shadrah Sharif and from main city of Rajouri to Chingus Fort was undertaken by myself (as a researcher of religio-historic tourism) with my fellow colleagues for leisure purpose but we encountered various destinations of religio-historic nature, such as Jamia Masjid Rajouri, Shrine of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah at Shadrah Sharif, Thanamandi, Law Bawli, Dhanidhar Fort, and Chingus Fort. Being concerned with religion, Sufism, shrines, architecture, etc, and journeying to experience the destinations made us ‘religious tourists’ and the activity as ‘religious tourism’.
Indeed, it needs deep scholarship in both the disciplines of tourism and religion to explore the issue. But as a humble student of Islamic Studies researching on religious tourism, the author considers it as religious tourism. For, to call this band of tourists as religious tourists is not in any way contradictory. Surely, we have enjoyed the natural beauty of Rajouri, situated at the foothills of the snow-clad Pir Panjal Range which has its own attraction. In fact, it stands out more prominent than the Himalayas as it is nearer to the plains and its majestic slopes are awe-inspiring. At the same time, we gained valuable information and experience regarding the diverse aspects of religious and historic destinations. We came across the history and biography of the famous saint of Pir Panjal, Hazrat Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah. The faith and attachment of Muslims including people of other communities with these religious destinations became evident to a great extent.
Further, we were familiarised with the history of the Mughals in and outside the city of Rajouri. Chingus Fort in this context is important as it underlines the death of Mughal Emperor Jahangir who died on way from Kashmir to Dehli in 1627 A.D. It is believed that in order to avoid war of succession, the Empress Noor Jahan buried the intestines and other abdominal parts of his body in the fort and made his dead body to sit on the elephant as if he was alive (Chingus derives its name from Persian ‘Chingun’ meaning ‘Intestines’).
In the whole of the tourism programme, the most worrisome thing we observed was the environmental degradation at tourism destinations. From the university to Shadrah and from the university to Chingus Fort, whether religious or secular tourism, environmental conservation is nowhere considered important. From the bottom to top, everyone acts just as mere spectators and is busy in looting the valuable treasure of natural resources. It may somewhat be understood why political leaders are silent but it really worries a serious student how religious organisations and preachers are not doing anything for the preservation of environment. The Mujawirs and others associated with religious destinations are also not paying any attention towards the environmental predicament.
Religious tourism must also be ‘responsible tourism’, fully conversant with the teachings of environmental conservation. Religion is an effective tool to cope with environmental crisis; the only need is to propagate the message of Islam in terms of environmental pollution. For the sake of humanity, it is our prime responsibility to work collectively and contribute in various ways for the conservation of the environment.
One more thing we experienced is how we are actually degrading our tourism industry. The cheating by religious stakeholders of consumers/ tourists is a known thing. The unbridled greed of humans seems to be the main cause behind such kind of immoralities. It is high time to consider the issues of tourism in general and religious tourism in particular and follow ethical teachings of Islam to minimise the problems faced by the tourism industry in Jammu and Kashmir.
The writer is Assistant Professor at Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, [email protected]