In a first of its kind, Kashmir is hosting an international adventure race 'Expedition India-2017' being organized by Johannesburg based adventure company Kinetic Events in collaboration with Department of Tourism and J&K Bank.
Minister of State for Tourism, Priya Sethi welcomed the guests during the opening ceremony held here at SKICC , while as the first leg of the downhill race was flagged off jointly by Commissioner Secretary Tourism, M H Malik and Chairman J&K Bank, Parvez Ahmad here at Shankarachary temple hill in presence of Director Tourism Kashmir, Mahmood A Shah, Deputy Directors of Tourism Riyaz Ahmad Beigh and Peerzada Zahoor.
Around 14 teams including 13 foreign teams and a local team is participating in the event.
On the occasion, Priya Sethi said Jammu and Kashmir is blessed with diverse culture and natural beauty and the travellers from all over the world should visit here. She said the Department would organize more such events in the future to attract more foreign travellers to the State.
She said it was very encouraging that foreigners from different countries visited this place for an international event despite travel advisories.
"This shows that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is safe for travelling and the tourists here are feeling safe," she added.
Commissioner Secretary Tourism, M H Malik also complimented the foreign teams on choosing Kashmir and Ladakh for this mega event. He said that the State is a complete package for travellers in terms of different types of tourism.
He said there is a misconception among the travellers about Kashmir not being safe.
"However with these events we want to dilute that misconception and attract travellers to State. We have all kind of tourism products to offer from pilgrim tourism to culture tourism and adventure tourism to leisure tourism, whatever you name it, we have it," said the Commissioner Secretary Tourism.
Speaking on the occasion, Chairman J&K Bank said the Bank understands its role well and has always acted as a catalyst for the various sectors of the economy. He said the bank aims to promote youth entrepreneurship in tourism.
"Tourism has a good scope in J&K and we are ready to provide any customized products for the youth so that they develop entrepreneurial skills in tourism and launch tourism products," he said.
He said J&K Bank enjoys 60 percent share of market and is the only listed company from J&K State.
"Ninety percent of the local population is directly linked with the bank. There is a lot of potential in tourism especially in adventure related activities. We are ready to play a role in developing entrepreneurs in this sector," he said.
Director Tourism Kashmir said the inflow of foreign tourists had gone down, however due to such events we want to remove the negative perception among the travellers around the world.
The biggest handicap to Kashmir tourism is the negative publicity, but such expeditions which have a maximum participation from the foreign countries will help us increase foreign influx, he added.
The Director said the Department is working on getting negative advisories removed on Kashmir by inviting more foreign teams here.
"We have best treks of Himalayas in Kashmir and Ladakah. The adventure activities like Paragliding, skiing, trekking, white water rafting, cycling, rock climbing are held here and we are conducting them on regular basis which saw good participation from adventure lovers form the country and other foreign countries," he said.
Owners of the Kinetic Events and the organizers Stephan Mulle and Heidi Mulle said though many countries have issued advisories against travelling Kashmir, they found nothing bad here.
"We have come here in the past and did all the preparations for this event. We did not find anything wrong here. Everything is good and we are enjoying the stay here besides people are also good," said Deidi Mulllee.
On the first day today, the teams ran downhill from Shankaracharya temple to Nehru Park Ghat where they rowed the shikrara to SKICC.
In the evening, the teams will move to Sonamarg where they will do hiking before moving to Leh. The race will culminate in Nobra valley in Leh on September 22.
Each team has been equipped with GPS system which is tracking their race. The GPS system attached to the athletes is also fed live on social media giving considerable publicity to the event across the globe. Around 50000 people were watching the event live on the inaugural day today.
The event is also covered by 25 foreign media persons on a daily basis who provide continuous coverage to the event.