Gateway of Kashmir proves damp squib

Greater Kashmir

Qazigund, Dec 23: The much hyped project of the tourism department, The ‘Gateway of Kashmir’ complex at Lewdoora, Qazigund, has proved to be a damp squib. With no revenue being generated from the complex, the people who have rented space in it for commercial purposes remain to be at the receiving end.
The complex, supposed to serve the literal meaning of its name, was inaugurated by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on December 5, 2012, with much fanfare.
Completed at a staggering cost of Rs seven crore the ‘Gateway of Kashmir’ Tourist Reception Center (TRC) complex comprises of lodging facilities, restaurants, shops, conference hall, library and an information center.
The TRC complex was supposed to be the entry point for all the tourists entering Kashmir via road link, which in turn would have generated revenue for the department as well as the people associated with it.
However, while the tourist inflow is touching a new high in the Valley the complex wears a deserted look, with shops closed down, restaurants shut and only half a dozen employees of the department trying to keep themselves busy by entertaining a small number of local guests they receive in the lodging complex.
The shopkeepers within the complex while talking to Greater Kashmir said the apathy on the part of the department is costing them heavily. According to them, despite repeated assurances by the higher ups of the department nothing substantial has been done to ensure the effective business of the premises built using the state exchequers money.
“We have invested a lot in these shops and had expected brisk business here given the location of the complex and the tall promises of the tourism department. But we have been disappointed the way the department has been handling the concerns of the people associated,” said a shopkeeper in the complex.
He said that on the day of the inauguration the authorities pleaded with them to open their shops so that the CM can get the inauguration part done and then their concerns would surely be addressed. After the Chief Minister left officials went into deep slumber. “Officials on many occasions have told us that we should open our shops but the problem is that there is no proper planning to attract the tourists to the premises of the complex. We will not open our shops again,” said the shopkeepers.
They said that besides lodging facility one of the restaurants is running its business despite all odds.
“As of now the only source of revenue from the complex remains the lodging house where we receive some guests occasionally,” said an employee.
The shopkeepers are also aghast over the lack of other basic facilities. “There is no proper water supply available while the electric supply and sanitation facilities are not up to the mark,” they said.
Residents also opine that the serene beauty of the Lewdoora would have attracted tourists but the lackadaisical approach of the authorities is keeping then away.
“The place has a huge tourism potential and whosoever visits the place is mesmerized by its beauty but due to the lackadaisical approach of the authorities, the place has failed to serve its purpose,” said Altaf Ahmad, a resident.
He said that it should have been mandatory for the tourists traveling in vehicles from outside state to hire local transport from Levdoora so that they (locals) get benefited. 
The Tourist Officer, Islamabad (Anantnag), Tariq Ahmad admits that a plan needs to be devised so that the tourists entering Kashmir by road are made to stop at Levdoora ‘Gateway of Kashmir’.
“The project is only in its infancy and there are certainly some shortcomings which we can be overcome by proper advertising or even  making it mandatory for the tourists to stop there,” said Tariq.
“I have taken up the issue with the higher ups and I am really hopeful that some concrete steps would be taken and hopefully by the next tourism season things would be different and the people who have invested will not also suffer,” said Tariq.
He said the Tourism Department had already outsourced shops and lodging while other facilities would soon be upgraded. “The travel agents will be made to operate their services from there and the people associated with handicrafts will also be roped in,” said he.
He said that the library, photo library section and conference hall would also be upgraded.  
The Director Tourism Department, Talat Parvez, when contacted also admitted that the project has so far failed to serve its purpose.
“When the project was inaugurated I had not assumed the charge. There has not been proper outsourcing of the project as a result of which the tourist foot fall is dismal there,” said Talat.
He, however, said the department was now devising a mechanism wherein the all the necessary information would be provided to the tourists and Yatris traveling to the Valley.
“The tour operators would also provide packaging facility to the tourists while the Kashmiri handicrafts will also be put on display,” said Talat.