Gloves were out as tourists, hoteliers and even a minister today targeted tourism department for its non-serious approach to develop the vital sector.
As the floor was opened for comments, people from wide range of fields came up with their set of grievances.
Education Minister Nayeem Akhtar while addressing the seminar titled "Restoration, Preservation, Conservation and Promotion of Built and Cultural Heritage through Tourism," said that Kashmir is milking the legacy built by its forefathers.
"We as a generation, me included, have failed as we couldn't add anything new to it," Akhter said. "If Kashmir is known globally today it is only due to our forefathers and their skill. Even its name has a history of one of the finest fabrics. What have we added? Nothing!"
Akhter lamented that majority of the entities are getting destroyed in one way or the other and there is a strong need of introspection. "We built one of the finest golf courses at Pahalgam along with the club house. Now look at the structure of club-house, it looks like a pump shed or a primary school. In no way does it represent the character of Kashmir," Akhter said.
"Similarly all buildings are becoming same with latest craze being glass façade. Now tell me what is the difference between a building in Delhi and one in Kashmir?"
The minister said that Kashmir has a multidimensional character, which needs to be preserved and exploited. "Ours is not a uni-dimensional character. We have everything from gardens to crafts to heritage buildings," he said.
"At INTACH we have 800 listed heritage properties. I propose to private hoteliers to take over some of the properties and turn them into hotels. We will provide access roads, electricity, water and other basic amenities. When these buildings get money only then will the owners be interested in their preservation."
Akhter said the state needs to learn from desert state of Rajasthan and its own region of Ladakh. "Look how the two desert places have galloped towards sustainable and profitable tourism. We were pioneers once but now we are laggards and we need to take inspiration from them," he said.
One of the participant tourists lamented over the pathetic condition of Mughal gardens. "We visited their yesterday and we were pained to see trash, no washroom amenities and lack of other facilities," said a tourist.
Another participant asked the government to take immediate steps to train local tourist guides. "Outside the state we see trained guides which help the tourists and inform them about the history and significance of the place, but nothing of that is seen," said a participant.
"We have couple of gardens and a lake and nobody knows anything about them."
The condition of heritage buildings also came up during the interactive session. "Our monuments and heritage buildings are crumbling. Sometimes a new building comes up adjacent to it and entire sheen of old building is taken away," said a participant. "Where is the protection?"
Some of the Non-Resident Kashmiris also chipped in with their complaints. "I came here after so many years and I am pained to see the condition. Cement factories, stone quarries and other such industries are destroying Kashmir," a non-resident Kashmiri hotelier said.
One of the participants asked the tourism department to learn from Kazakhstan which is benefiting from its shrines. "Like Kashmir the central Asian state has number of shrines and they have turned them into tourism hubs. We can also adopt the same model for our shrines and temples. This way we can preserve them and also benefit from them," said a participant.
A panel member said that Discovery channel had once agreed to sponsor a cycle rally, but till date tourism department never replied anything in written. "They are still waiting for the reply from our side," said a participant.
To this Director tourism Farooq Shah said he will surely look into the matter as the department has already approved the Discovery channel proposal.
Shah said that Kashmir has a huge potential in heritage tourism. "We have so many heritage places and we are trying to attract tourists towards them," said Shah. "We are trying to renovate number of heritage properties. They will surely play a big role in promoting tourism."