Bhaderwah (J-K), May 22: The 'Valley of Flowers', which was a major attraction for visitors to Bhaderwah between May and mid-June before the Covid outbreak, wears a deserted look this season, much to the dismay of tourism stakeholders.
The striking view of the Foxglove, a flower that grows in the woods and high-altitude meadows of Bhaderwah, failed to draw tourists this time around.
The tourism players have put the blame squarely on the Bhaderwah Development Authority (BDA) for "failing" to showcase the valley to tourists.
A native of temperate Europe, Foxglove is a delicate and fragrant bell-shaped flower that looks like wind chimes in pink and white. It presents a rare view to the visitors who in the past used to throng the valley every year, marking the beginning of the tourism season.
"We were relying heavily on the Foxglove for the increase in the footfall of visitors and revival of tourism after the pandemic.
"But for unknown reasons, authorities did not project this major attraction to the flower lovers and skipped one of the most important events of Bhadarwah's tourism calendar," Secretary of Tour and Travels Association, Bhadarwah, Sheikh Mohd Ishaq said.
Bhaderwah was virtually out of bounds for tourists for three years in a row. First, following the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and then there were the two years of the Covid pandemic.
This season, people associated with tourism were hopeful of an increased footfall of visitors.
"The failure of the BDA to project the 'valley of flowers' severely dented the prospects of a revival of tourism," Ishaq said.
"Now our only hope rests on the Indian Army as they helped in projecting Bhaderwah as a winter sports destination by organising a mega snow festival at Jai valley in February this year. We hope they will come to our rescue again by doing the needful."
Small-time tourism players who rely solely on the visitors during this season to make a living are the worst sufferers.
"There is hardly any person making it to the Valley of flowers this year as well. Before Covid, this season used to be the most productive for us," pony ride provider Saif-din-Dhakar said.
He said the tourists enjoy the view of the foxglove flowers, which last for just a month.
On September 3 last year, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha launched the Jammu and Kashmir Tourist Village Network under Mission Youth to transform 32 areas of the Union Territory which are known for historical, picturesque beauty and cultural significance into tourist villages.
Out of 32 areas, Dhara, Khellani, Lanchar, Mounda, Noorihanga and Thanala are in Bhadarwah.
Elected Panchayati Raj Institution members are also concerned about the present state of affairs of tourism and expressed their dismay about the functioning of BDA.
"Earlier, BDA used to organise flower festivals in Noori-Hanga and Jai.
"The government declared Hanga-Noori, Dhara and Thanhala as tourist villages because of this flower, but the BDA officers concerned have made a mockery of the government order," said Thakur Yudhvir Singh Baloria a District Development Council (DDC) member from the BJP.
He alleged that the "failure" of the BDA has dented the prospect of a good tourism season and therefore responsibility should be fixed and the officers concerned should be taken to task.
"From hoteliers, guest house owners, and tour operators to ponywallahs and street vendors, all were relying heavily on Foxglove for the revival of tourism in Bhadarwah.
"But official apathy and indifferent attitude of BDA has left everyone here high and dry. The BDA failed to cash in the platform provided by the Army by organising a snow festival earlier this year," Sarpanch of Kursari Sajid Mir said.
When contacted, the District Development Commissioner of Doda Vikas Sharma said he will raise the issue with the BDA and ensure that an event is planned at Hanga valley at the earliest.
"The district administration will take all necessary measures for tourism promotion and will also initiate developmental works as well," Sharma said.