Jammu and Kashmir: Return of peace spurs revival of tourism

Sun Online Desk

1st April, 2021 07:49:54 printer

Jammu and Kashmir: Return of peace spurs revival of tourism

In the 2021-22 annual budget recently approved by the parliament, the government has allocated Rs 786 crore to the tourism sector a hike of Rs 509 crore from this year’s budget. The infrastructure that is building road and bridges has been sanctioned Rs 408 crore. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented Rs 1.08 lakh crore worth budget focused on socio-economic development, infrastructure, agriculture & horticulture.

While sharing pictures of the majestic tulip garden on the foothills of the Zabarwan Mountains last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked people to visit the garden in a bid to promote tourism. Tweeting about the gardens, the prime minister said: “Whenever you get the opportunity, do visit Jammu and Kashmir and witness the scenic Tulip festival. “In addition to the tulips, you will experience the warm hospitality of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. The Tulip garden was thrown open to the public on Thursday. The garden will see over 15 lakh flowers of more than 64 varieties in bloom.

It is an irony that Jammu and Kashmir with its world-famous lush green grazing grounds has to import sheep worth Rs. 3,000 crores annually to supply mutton to its inhabitants. While it is true that local governments never tried to make Kashmir self-reliant and always eyed on central grants, the continuous ceasefire violations by Pakistan also contributed to not allowing the development of these grazing grounds, which are mostly located near the Line of Control (LoC). Now with director generals of military operations of India and Pakistan agreeing to stop shelling it is now hoped that not only the tourism sector but the economic activity will also pick up in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel informed Rajya Sabha recently that domestic visitors supported Indian tourism in pandemic times Tourist inflow in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir went up from over 3,700 persons in January 2020 to 19,000 persons in January 2021, on Friday. He also said that after the Tourism Ministry met with the Hindi film industry, 26 films were currently being shot in the Union Territory.

Although Kashmir is believed to be internationally popular as a tourist attraction, a look at the neighbouring state of Himachal shows that tourist footfall in J&K is far less than its potential. Terrorism and the occasional strikes called by separatists in the past in Kashmir have been the main causes why tourism potential has not been fully exploited. Another major cause is the lack of promotion of various regions as tourist destinations.
According to the Economic Survey itself, the “tourism sector accounts for around 6.98% of GDP of Jammu and Kashmir. But amazingly it is not among the top 10 domestic destinations in the country based on the number of tourist arrival.

Therefore, Kashmir being a sought-out tourist destination internationally is a myth since it is not even among the top 10 domestic tourist destinations. Even more so, Jammu province caters to the majority of the pilgrims, who are also listed as tourists.


Pakistan’s assurance brings hope
With peace now arriving in the region, there is enough to promote the UT as a tourist destination as the region is known for its scenic landscape, beautiful valleys, lakes, snow capped mountains, cool climate, skiing, trekking and fishing opportunities archaeological, historical, cultural and religious places all over the world.

With most tourist destinations world over shut due to COVID-19 restrictions, Pakistan’s assurance of engagement brings hope that tourism will grow in the region. With a well-oiled security architecture in place and people’s patients running thin to tolerate violence and liberal budgetary allocations have brought together all factors to mainstream Kashmir and revive its glorious pluralistic identity.

The mountainous landscape of the Kashmir valley has attracted tourists for centuries across the globe. Some notable tourist places in Kashmir valley are Dal Lake, Mughal gardens, Nishat Bagh, Gulmarg, Yeusmarg, Pahalgam etc. Kashmiri’s natural landscape has made it one of the popular destinations for adventure tourism in South Asia. Marked by four distinct seasons, ski enthusiasts can enjoy the exotic Himalayan powder during winters. Jammu is known for its ancient temples, Hindu shrines, gardens and forts. The Hindu holy shrine of Amarnath in Kashmir attracts millions of Hindu devotees every year.

And Vaishno Devi shrine in the Jammu region also attracts tens of thousands of Hindu devotees every year. Jammu’s historic monuments feature a unique blend of Islamic and Hindu architecture styles. Ladakh, now a separate UT has also emerged as a major hub for adventure tourism. This part of Greater Himalaya called “Moon on Earth” comprising of naked peaks and deep gorges was once known for the silk route to Asia from the subcontinent.

Tourism can play an important role in developing the economy, particularly in the valley and Ladakh. Being a labour-intensive industry, it gives different jobs to a very large number of people and generates economic activities in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors.

Kashmir has been a centre of attention for different people for different reasons all over the world. There are various places of tourist attraction in the state visited by tourists. However, most of the places with ample tourism potential are untapped.

Mixed topography
The UT is blessed with a varied topography that is an unusual mix of rugged mountains, green hills, holy caves and rocky deep-water fjords. It is said to be a treasure house of geological information due to the diversity of its geographical features. It represents the century’s old heritage of culture, religion, language, traditions, architecture and art forms.

All these provide immense potential for developing a fabulous variety of tourist attractions. Its strategic location within India enhances the scope of dual or multiple destinations tour package promotions.
Overall the photographic and verbal stimuli in promotions amplify the geography, nature, culture, life and historical importance of the place. Srinagar, being an ancient city, many attractions can attract even the most unwilling of tourists to this magical land. Dal Lake, Nishat Bagh, Shalimar Bagh, and Chashme Shahi are some of the best-known tourist spots in Srinagar. In Jammu, the temple of Maha Kali (better known as Bahu or Bawey Wali Mata), located in the Bahu Fort, is considered second only to Mata Vaishno Devi in terms of mystical power.

The temple was built shortly after the coronation of Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1822. Other temples in the city include the Gauri Kund Temple, Shudh Mahadev Temple, Shiva Temple, Peer Khoh Cave Temple, Ranbireshwar Temple, and the Parmandal Temple Complex. Ladakh is home to the minority Buddhist community in the state. They have preserved their unique culture for the past hundreds of years. The major points of attraction are the Leh Palace, Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, Sankar Gompa, Shanti Stupa, and Soma Gompa.

Tourism in Kashmir depends greatly on the natural resources that this place has to offer for economic profitability. Tourism provides good sustenance to the local population and revenue to the State exchequer. The visits from domestic and international tourists provide a valuable source of earning. Visitors spending generate income for both public and private sectors besides affecting wages and employment opportunities. Till the year 2010, there was a negative growth rate in tourist arrivals. But during 2011-12 there was a significant increase in the volume of domestic as well as foreign tourist arrivals in Kashmir.


Since the scope of large-scale industrial development is very limited in the UT, tourism opens vast employment opportunities, which are comparatively higher than other industries. Tourism is regarded as a multi-segmental industry; therefore, it provides different types of jobs like hotel managers, receptionists, accountants, clerks, guides, travel agents, chefs, transport operators etc. The positive economic benefits of the tourism industry in Jammu and Kashmir are, contribution to income generations, expansion of employment opportunities, increase in tax revenue, generation of foreign exchange, transformation of regional economy, social and cultural effect, up-gradation and expansion of basic infrastructure.

Marketable products
The region offers a very large number of marketable products. While looking from the tourist point of view, each district has so much to offer such as Vast Natural Resources, Adventure Tourism (River Rafting, Mountain climbing), Numerous Trekking routes, Pilgrimage Tourism (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist), Wildlife Tourism, Heritage Tourism, Springs, Festivals and Cultural activities, Handicrafts etc.


The region is also full of history. Jammu and Kashmir is a land with more enormous potential for heritage tourism. The land is full of natural beauty that is unique to the state. It is also bestowed with a variety of cultural forms and manifestations that has a distinct flavour. It has diverse practices in religion, rites and rituals, fairs and festivals, landscape and people, language and culture. The valley of Kashmir offers sparkling streams, high mountains and verdant land that has a classic beauty and attracts people from every corner of the world.

The Kashmir valley has been the chosen place for many filmmakers and artists in India. The history of the state still lives in the forts, museums, ancient buildings and other heritage spots within the State.

Heritage tourism
Jammu and Kashmir is also home to famous Hindu pilgrimages in India, where thousands of Hindu community people visit the shrine of Amarnath cave and Mata Vaishno Devi every year. Jammu and Kashmir are blessed with both tangible and intangible heritage which should be incorporated into the wider tourism circuit. The need is to treat heritage tourism in this region as the function of tourism only then it can thrive in the true tourism sense.

First, the heritage tourism assets of the region should be identified and then a proper documentation mechanism has to be devised so that a proper inventory is developed which can be integrated into a well-defined tourism product by employing the proper marketing strategy with the help of the multidisciplinary approach of the varied professionals, who can constitute a task force for the application of the mechanism developed from this integrated process. Once this procedure is brought into action it will lead to the heritage tourism development model that will lead to the bright prospects of the overall tourism business in the region.


Jammu and Kashmir has been a seat of reference to all major religions of the world. This state is full of holy sites and most of these sites are located in between the scenic surroundings of the great Himalayas. This aspect is responsible for attracting a large number of tourists every year, which has ultimately led to a boom in the tourism industry. This way, tourists not only just explore the spectacular landscapes but have the opportunity to worship at the respective religious shrines.


Besides Shankaracharya and Kheer Bhavani temples, which are most valued and sanctified for Hindus, for Muslims, there is the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar where the sacred hair ( Moi-e-Muqqadas ) of Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) is preserved and the faithful come to pay homage. The Shahdara Sharief located in the Rajouri District of the State is like an emblem of communal harmony. Baba Ghulam Shah, who was born in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, made Shahdara his house and Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus visit this shrine for offering prayers and seeking the blessings of Pir (Saint). Ladakh has a captivating barren landscape and attracts innumerable tourists who are keen to experience the lush atmosphere which forms the background to several monasteries and monastic festivals here.

Need for better infrastructure
Travel and tourism depend on a wide range of infrastructure services- airports, roads, railheads and ports, as well as basic infrastructure services required by hotels, restaurants, shops and recreation facilities (e.g. telecommunications and utilities). It is the combination of tourism and good infrastructure that underpins the economic, environmental and social benefits. It is important to balance any decision to develop an area for tourism against the need to preserve fragile or threatened environments and cultures. However, once a decision has been taken where an area is appropriate for near tourism development or that an existing tourist site should be developed further, then good infrastructure will be essential to sustain the quality, economic viability and growth of travel and tourism.


Good infrastructure will also be a key factor in the industry’s ability to manage visitors flow in ways that do not affect the natural or built heritage, nor counteract local interest.


If travel and tourism is not managed well, it can have a detrimental effect- it can damage fragile environments and destroy local cultures. The challenge is to manage the future growth of the industry to minimize its negative impacts on the environment and host communities whilst maximizing the benefits it brings in terms of jobs, wealth and support for local culture and industry, and protection of the built and natural environment.


As tourism increases, environmental and socio-economic impacts can also be expected to increase. Environmental pollution poses a serious threat to life on earth not only in industrial areas but also in areas where there is a great concentration of tourists. The areas with tourists’ concentration become dumping ground for municipal and industrial waste. This needs the direct involvement of local communities within a climate of supportive regional or national policy. Policymakers, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders must, therefore, work in coordination to create opportunities that centre on local communities, promote conservation efforts and link conservation with enterprise development.


Tourism is also the only sector that starts paying off immediately as it has no gestation period. The other developmental activities like roads, railways, construction, megaprojects etc take time to complete, function and pay-off. Sometimes these projects are delayed due to displacement, land acquisition, environmental problem etc. But in the case of tourism, no such delays take place and people are benefited immediately.
Commenting on the estimated growth figures on tourism arrived at in a study conducted by ASSOCHAM (The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) and Yes Bank, the survey recommends that Jammu and Kashmir should gear up itself by putting in place all tourism-related activities well in time so that tourists can enjoy their tour to the state.


Tourism can become a lifeline for Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, all possible efforts need to be undertaken for retaining, maintaining and sustaining it. Tourism can play an effective role in integrating the entire universe. Tourism opens up a new window for resources, both investment generation and revenue generation leading to employment generation as well as the socio-economic development of the local populace.


The different terrains of the UT coupled with law-and-order problems have contributed to poor connectivity in the region. There is a dire need to build alternative roads in some places to ensure better connectivity.

 

Source: Sunday Guardian Live


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