The Tourism arrivals these days seem to be on a very low key. May used to be the peak month as regards domestic tourism. Unfortunately, some out of control electronic media channels have painted such a scary picture of Kashmir that no one dares to come here! The situation resembles early nineties of the last century when tourist inflow had been reduced to virtual zero! The Tourism in Kashmir has two main aspects. One is the leisure tourism which represents people coming to enjoy the climate, landscape and visit various resorts and historical gardens and so on. These are the bulk of tourists who had been coming right from the start of the opening of Kashmir to outsiders after the abolition of entry permit system in mid-fifties. People come in groups or as free independent travelers. This constitutes almost 90% of the tourists visiting Kashmir. It has two main types, the budget and middle class tourists forming the bulk and the up market tourists who are limited in numbers because of the absence of world class facilities. The other segment is the active tourism which includes persons coming for undertaking various physical activities like trekking, mountaineering, skiing, rafting and so on. Kashmir has unlimited potential for these activities with its mountains, streams and vast snow covered areas. In fact, it could be called the destination for ultimate adventure! Most of the adventure activities are away from the populated areas and these tourists come and go straight to their chosen spots.
Before 1947, Kashmir had two types of adventure tourism activities. One was the skiing at Gulmarg which had started in early thirties by setting up of the Ski Club of India by the British Army Officers. The other was the Maharaja style trekking with folding chairs, tables and luxury food started by the House Boat owners for some British visitors. The real adventure as understood now was missing. Subsequently in seventies or so some travel agents conducted trekking and small climbing trips to Kolahoi and Gangabal Lake. The real adventure tourism on a sizeable scale started in early seventies after the setting up an Adventure Tourism Wing in the State Tourism Directorate. The government set up the wing called the Recreation Wing headed by Deputy Director Tourism (Recreation) and the seven national level instructors of skiing and mountaineering who had passed out as the first batch of National Ski Instructors from the Gulmarg Ski School run by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, were appointed as Assistant Directors Tourism (Recreation).
The Adventure or the Recreation wing gave a boost to Adventure Tourism throughout the state. Simultaneously a large number of travel agencies conducting groups for adventure travel especially trekking started functioning. About 40 to 50 mountaineering expedition every year came to climb various mountain peaks in Kashmir and Ladakh. A number of foreign rafting and canoeing experts were invited from New Zealand and USA who introduced these activities and trained local youth in white water canoeing and rafting. A water sports unit was set up at Manasbal. In order to facilitate adventure tourism, skiing, mountaineering and rafting equipment worth more than 10 crores was imported through the State Trading Corporation of India. The equipment was kept readily available for tourists as well as local youth interested in adventure through various hiring shops in Gulmarg and Srinagar. The Adventure Wing set up a rescue coordinating unit with Air Force, Army and Police. A hi-frequency wireless network was set up connecting Leh, Padam, Kargil, Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi. A number of rescues of mountaineers and trekkers in distress were arranged through this wireless set up. In fact, during eighties adventure tourism both from within the country and abroad was at its peak. Unfortunately, the events of nineties gave a setback to adventure tourism. However, in spite of disturbed conditions heli-skiing and skiing at Gulmarg continued all through the turmoil of nineties.
The recent experience has shown that leisure tourism is prone to the disturbed situation in different parts of the state. Any incident highlighted by media gives a setback. However, adventure tourism is not so much affected and people have been coming for taking part in these activities. Unfortunately, the adventure wing in the Tourism Department has virtually ceased to exist. One of the reasons was the absorption of the first batch of trained instructors in normal administrative services and getting posted out of the department. Almost all of these officers have now retired from service. In order to fully revive adventure tourism it is essential to either revive the wing on similar basis as it existed in seventies and eighties or set up an independent directorate of adventure tourism. This directorate could be headed by a well-known adventure sportsperson and could have instructors from various disciplines as officers looking after these activities. The set up should be self-contained without the linkage with various administrative services for transfers etc. The promotional prospects of the officers should be within the directorate at various levels depending upon their training and experience. Himachal has a set up called the Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports which co-ordinates with Himachal Tourism for all adventure tourism activities. The existing Tourism Directorate could look after Tourism activities as per past practice. They could undertake promotion and marketing in general. They would be responsible for the regulation of trade under J & K Registration of Tourist Trade Act 1978/82. The functioning of Tourist Offices within the state in various resorts and promotional offices in different metros would be supervised by the existing directorate. It will also formulate and implement plans for future development. If the Tourism activities are to continue and especially the potential of Adventure Tourism is to be fully exploited, the Government has to seriously consider these proposals.