For Aussie ultra-marathon runner, Patrick Francis Daniel "Pat" Farmer, Kashmir is a place that every person on this planet should visit to see its magnificence and beauty.
Farmer who was recently in the town, in an exclusive chat with Greater Kashmir praises the Valley in his beautiful words thus: To come through the tunnel from Jammu into the Valley of Kashmir, to look back on the snow-capped mountains against the backdrop of Srinagar lake and to find myself here at the finishing point of my run amongst the most magnificent tulips, botanical gardens, superb landscape, it is absolutely magnificent and it is a highlight to my career.
Farmer, a motivational speaker, who has combined his passion and love for run and for humanity, has a word for Government of Jammu and Kashmir: he believes this place can best be promoted for health and sports tourism.
"Well I think tourism is often seen as an opportunity for people to travel, to look at the landscape, to buy some dinner, etc, etc. But tourism is so much more than that," he says.
Farmer calls tourism an opportunity. "There are opportunities from medical tourism. I see this (Kashmir) as a wonderful place to come over here at an affordable price." He suggests that some of the best surgeons of the world can be motivated to come over here to have various surgeries needed from time to time to people all over the world. "You have a pristine environment to recover. So medical tourism is one aspect I think the Government here in Kashmir could certainly look into it and invest in and expand."
Secondly, Farmer believes that Kashmir has huge potential for sports tourism. "You already have wonderful ski fields . . . you need investments in events so that you can bring people in this area."
Farmer with his running career spanning more than 35 years has travelled across the world. He has successfully completed the world's longest ultra-marathon, a "Pole to Pole Run" from the North Pole to the South Pole. But he believes that every person on this planet should see the magnificence and beauty of Kashmir.
On adverse travel advisories issued by some European countries against Kashmir, he says: "These travel advisories have been put in place by various departments of each of the governments . . . but at the end of the day it comes down to the individual's decision whether they believe that the place is safe or not.
"There is no country in the planet where there is no crime. Back home in Sydney, which is my home town, people get robbed, murdered. Things go wrong. There is not a European city or town where there is not crime in one or the other degree. So I think the people need to look at things in that context."
About his experience to visit Kashmir where he came running 4600 kms from Kanyakumari under 'Spirit of India'— part of Incredible India campaign, he says: "All that I can say is what I have seen firsthand. I have never ever throughout this journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir felt any fear whatsoever from anything other than perhaps the traffic. And, there are traffic problems all over the world."
Farmer has a mission: He says once back to his country, "the first thing I will do is to meet the prime minister, minister for trade and the minister for foreign affairs at Canberra. I will make them very clear what I have seen. I would advise all travellers to do the same to write to their parliament members to let them know their experience of visiting Kashmir. Then of course it is up to the government of Kashmir and then the federal government to make sure that this is a safe environment for everybody."
Farmer believes that governments (who have imposed travel advisories on Kashmir) certainly need to reassess their thoughts on Kashmir because "from what I have seen it is really a magnificent place, and it is an opportunity for the people to experience what this place has to offer— its pristine lakes, magnificent ski resorts, landscape and of course spring time atmosphere, tulip gardens, flowers and not to mention the shopping that is available on the outskirts of the city as well.
Farmer says he would be more than happy to work with the government on a running program. "It may be a marathon along the two lakes of Kashmir. Run festivals could be held here. These concepts would attract the audiences."
About the bad perception that Kashmir, many believe, has got over the years in the minds of many people in India and abroad, he responds: "I can say for myself, for what I have seen. I have seen this is a magnificent, beautiful and friendly place that I would have no hesitation in sending my children, their friends, myself and anyone of my family for holidays to. And, I will definitely return back to this place."
"Another point that I would like to make is that the greatest way to advertise and promote the areas is through a third party endorsement so that they get people here. And once the people who come here will see this place they will talk to their friends about this place.
On his return from Kashmir, Farmer says he has a plan to get the film over his journey under 'Spirit of India' developed. "Throughout this journey, we have been filming from the very first step that we have taken into this point so far. We will do a series of screening of this film in Australia and of course in India."
About the film he explains: "It is more than a documentary. It is the Spirit of India. A documentary is just like a photograph of an area. But this is a film not only showing the picture of what the person is saying but also his feelings, his emotions, smells, and that is the spirit of India."