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Published in the 1-15 July 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Tourist spots beg for attention in J&K

By Wajahat Nazki

The Milli Gazette Online

Srinagar: With Kashmir being on top of more and more tourist itineraries these days, the number of tourists this season is set to swell in what’s famously referred to as the ‘Switzerland of India’. But the lack of adequate infrastructure and attention in sprucing tourist places might only help in sending wrong signals and in effect may dampen the enthusiasm of potential tourists to the state.

The state government is trying hard to cash in on the present peace overtures between India and Pakistan, and is leaving no stone unturned in wooing the tourists to Kashmir by announcing a whole lot of packages for them. But all this could boomerang due to insufficient infrastructure and insanitary conditions at most of the tourist places.

The condition of the world famous Dal Lake is a case in point. The lake has been the cradle of kashmiri civilization from times immemorial, has been reduced from an area of 75 sq kilometers to an area of about 11 sq kilometers. Its water, which used to be delicious and sweet, is phosphoric and has nitrogenous content today. With pollutants raising alarmingly the existence of this major attraction in Kashmir has come under severe threat.

The travel agents society of Kashmir (TASK), an amalgam of different travel agents tending to the tourist inflow in the Kashmir valley have also underscored the need to develop proper infrastructure, keeping in view the increased tourist inflow and the importance of the industry to the economy of the state. Its president A.Rouf, says that the state, in spite of having all the basic ingredients for successful tourism, like scenic beauty, flora and fauna, culture, historical monuments, pilgrimage center etc.the state hasn’t been suitably benefiting from the industry, due to what many believe is the lack of integrated approach between the various government agencies and the absence of long term policy regarding the revival of tourism which could have really benefited the state.

J&K government was the first to start the tourist department in the country in 1930’s. But what’s wrong with our tourism?, questions, A.Rouf, president of TASK. “In spite of the early formation of the department, we have not achieved anything, as far as the economic benefits of tourism are concerned. Lack of infrastructure is a major hurdle. Authorities have failed to adopt a worthwhile policy all along which could have proved to be a boon for the tourism of the state,” comments A.Rouf.

The condition of the world famous Dal Lake is a case in point. The lake which has been the cradle of kashmiri civilisation from times immemorial, has been reduced from an area of 75 sq kilometers to an area of about 11 sq kilometers. Its water, which used to be delicious and sweet, is phosphoric and has nitrogenous content today. With pollutants rising alarmingly the existence of this major attraction in Kashmir has come under real threat. Thanks to the negligence by the successive governments over the years, large sized colonies have come up inside the lake that are slowly but surely eating into the lake. Add to this the improper sanitization of the houseboats in the lake, the lake may well be living its last days. Whats worse is the fact that when the tourist season is at its peak in Kashmir, one can’t find even a single dustbin on the road adjacent to the lake. With the result non-biodegradable wastes like polyethylene bags and plastic bottles are thrown in it by the people which is taking its toll on its beauty.

“People come here to see the beauty of the place but what memories will they take back on seeing the deteriorating condition of our tourist spots. There is no proper infrastructure in place and the hardest thing to digest is the fact that there is not even a single dustbin in and around the Dal Lake. It needs to be looked into immediately." Said, Bilal Ahmad an environmentalist.

Commenting on the infrastructure of the other famous resort namely Gulmarg, the president of TASK, A.Rouf says that even though the place has got a boost by having one of the worlds highest cable car, but the infrastructure is still poor when it comes to providing basic facilities like accommodation, electricity etc. Saying that all over the world governments have recognized the potential and importance of the tourist industry, he informs, “Muslim countries like Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Malaysia are way ahead in terms of tourist trade. They have made progress in leaps and bounds. In 1980s there was no tourism at these places. A place smaller than Gulmarg in Malaysia named Gang tin highlands has 10,000 double rooms. It has casinos, children parks, a helipad, a small airstrip at the height of 6200m above sea level and a mosque too. In each and every room there, an arrow points towards the holy Kaaba. Tourism and Islam go side by side in Malaysia. Every 30kms you have a tourist resort in Malaysia, it’s a place where tourism has been created, they have made it their main industry. They don’t have natural beauty like ours. Here, we are still talking of basic facilities like water, electricity, accommodation etc. We are still without a suitable room at Gulmarg.I personally feel that with the improvement in Indo-Pak relations, tourism should flourish here.”

And improve, it should. The sooner the better, as it happens to be one of the main industries in Kashmir. But to make it possible the government needs to take a serious and pragmatic view of the situation and at the same time more awareness has to be created among the masses in general so as to make them conscious about preserving the beauty, which God has bestowed on this beautiful land.
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