The Tourist Policy
The whole tourist policy of Kashmir's bureaucrats and politicians is wrong
I was in Kashmir recently in my capacity as Chairperson of the Parliamentary Assurances Committee to see what assurances had been carried out by the Central Government for the benefit of Kashmir. In the course of the meetings I asked about the 280 crore rupees that had been given to promote tourism. I was shown the most terrible pictures of stone houses of two rooms and a hall that had been constructed by bureaucrats for huge amounts. These buildings would attract tourists, said the tourism secretary, to the villages where they could watch Kashmiris sing and dance. I was really angry. I can't see tourists going to remote villages to visit one ugly house. Kashmiris are not performing monkeys for tourists. People go to Kashmir to see its loveliness. Less trees and more houses made of stone are not going to attract them.
The whole tourist policy of Kashmir's bureaucrats and politicians is wrong. They should be attracting the high end tourists like Switzerland does: those people that spend a lot of money sightseeing. What has happened is that Kashmir attracts only the low end and middle class Indian couple who spend a few days with their children, go for a single ride on the Dal, go to Gulmarg for a day and then return after being disappointed and spending no money. This is bringing nothing to the state. But frankly, there is nothing to see. The old city of beautiful houses tightly clustered together is disappearing, the city looks like one big Garhwali market, the Dal needs a lot of work, the Wular is almost gone and there is nothing you can buy there that you cannot get in other cities.
What Kashmir should be concentrating on is developing lakes and exquisite Moghul gardens, fields of flowers and orchards. This will stabilise the increasing heat and bring the high end tourist.
The three things that Kashmir could invest in that would make everyone well off is growing guchhis, saffron and organic food. Uttarakhand has hundreds of organic farmers that have been unionised by the government and now sell to malls all over India and abroad. I know, because I buy all my household grains and dals from them and they are as cheaper or even cheaper than the market. They make awonderful oil and scrub from apricot seeds - which Kashmir could easily make - which is now used all over India.
Even Himachal Pradesh is picking up. They have a French consultant whose job it is to travel from orchard to orchard and advise farmers on how to grow their fruit better and what they can do with it. Kashmir does nothing in this area at all.
But first let me tell you about Guchchi or Truffles.
Truffles are a type of 'underground mushroom' that grow on the roots of certain tree species. They are highly prized by top chefs and connoisseurs around the world for their exquisite flavor and command exceedingly high prices. Truffles are called Guchchhi in India. They grow in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Tehri Garhwal, Kumaon, Sikkim, Darjeeling and Arunachal Pradesh, mainly as a forest product.
There are several types of truffles:
The Winter Black Truffle which is harvested mainly in Italy, Spain, and France, where it grows under the shade of oaks, hazelnut, chestnut elm and poplar trees, from November to March. Fresh black truffles which weigh 2-3 oz are the most highly sought-after variety of this mushroom for their earthy, subtle aroma, and a taste once described as mixture of "chocolate and earth". The Winter White Truffle or Italian White Truffle comes from Italy. The only difference between summer and winter white truffles is that one is harvested in the summer and the other in the winter. This truffle is noted for its garlicky flavor, reminiscent of shallots, and also an intense earthy and musky aroma. Summer Black Truffle: the season for this truffle goes from May to the end of August. They grow among oak, hazelnut, chestnut, elm and poplar trees, like the winter variety. The summer black has a very nice subtle aroma. They are better utilized by being cooked, to bring out the most of that subtly earthy chocolaty flavor. Summer White Truffle: This is the same variety of mushroom as the winter white, only harvested during the summer instead of the winter (black truffles, on the other hand, are a different species altogether in the winter and in the summer). They are much more affordable than the winter variety, so it allows for more experimentation and more quantity. The flavor is sweet and with hints of garlic, with a musky fragrance.
Truffles are also made into truffle oil, truffle paste or truffle butter. They have always been popular in India. In the eighties, the controversial Raj Narain ( of Rae Bareilly fame) who made a fetish of looking very poor never ate food without gucchis ( sent to him by the industrialist and alcohol producer Major Kapil Mohan. The first business started by the son of Maharaja Amrinder Singh was the export of Kashmir truffles to Holland. Even now few people know that Kashmir’s truffles are booked by buyers years in advance.
Now most Indian hotels have dishes with truffles. But fresh truffles are still not sold in Indian shops. They grow wild in woods in certain areas and are usually found at the base of a few species of trees.
Animals nibble on truffles and spread the spores through the woods. Scientists have tried to cultivate truffles by injecting the spores into the roots of truffle-friendly trees. This process has met with success in the case of the black truffle. Black truffles occur naturally between latitudes of 40 and 47 degrees Fahrenheit north, between 300 and 3,000 feet above sea level, but given the right conditions, they will grow farther south.
Truffles prefer cold winters and can tolerate frosts, with hot summers. The ground has to be kept moist with water. Sunlight is necessary as is free draining soil
Seedlings are sold by specialist shops and on the Net at www. garlandtruffles.com. For $1,400, you can buy 100 seedlings, and in a few years with proper conditions and care, you could have truffles at a rate of a quarter pound per tree. Companies abroad sell fresh black truffles for $800 to $1,400 per pound.
Truffles like soil that is alkaline and chalky. A simple way to test the alkalinity, or pH, of the soil is to mix a few spoonfuls of dirt with an equal amount of ordinary white vinegar in a jar with a lid. Shake the mixture and remove the lid. If you hear a soft fizzing, your soil is moderately alkaline. The more it fizzes, the higher the pH. A pH of 7 is neutral; truffles like 7.5-8 or higher.
Once the site is chosen, the soil amended and the seedlings planted, the next steps are to prune and weed as they grow. Then comes the hard part: waiting. In time, telltale truffle "marks," or bulges, may appear around the tree in late summer, indicating you may have mature truffles in four to five months.
People in France go truffle hunting with pigs or dogs who, from the time of Babylon, can smell out this fungi. Once detected the mushroom hunters dig out the treasure. Though pigs have a keener sense of smell and can find out a truffle hidden 25 cm deep in the soil from a distance of 6 m, dogs are far more easier to train. Scientists at the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology have developed an electronic nose to detect truffles.
The Jammu and Kashmir Economy should fall back into nature’s abundant lap, farming and horticulture and their spinoffs, and its traditional strengths of weaving, for instance, for its prosperity. Manufacturing is not the answer –it will create more havoc as these factories destroy the climate and water and very few jobs are actually created.
Growing truffles on a large commercial scale can go a long way in improving the state’s economy. A truffle orchid can offer incredible returns economically. Truffles are one of the most expensive fungi on the face of the planet. Wholesale prices for the black winter truffle can exceed the range of Rs. 10,000 – 35,000 per kg. Grown even on a moderate scale, truffle orchards produce significant revenue year after year for many decades, yet with low overhead and maintenance costs.
Mrs Indira Gandhi brought the Kiwi fruit to Himachal and many farmers have become rich with it. Grapes have come in the last few years to Maharashtra and the wine industry has taken off. Kashmir needs to have far more innovative bureaucrats who want to do something for Kashmir rather than just mark time in a troubled state and go from crisis to crisis.
(The author is an animal rights activist and has written this article exclusive for Greater Kashmir)
Lastupdate on : Wed, 18 Jul 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 18 Jul 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 19 Jul 2012 00:00:00 IST
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