Gulmarg has a reputation of being a fairy land which it has earned because it once was a land of a thousand species of flowers. Flowers grow at a place that has a rich ecology and biodiversity. But today this famous flower land or margay gul popularly known as Gulmarg has lost all its sheen because it has become a difficult task to differentiate between this natural green-land and that of a concrete jungle of an urban habitat.
Nature is a competent planner in itself. When mankind fails to understand the theory of restoration, nature comes to its rescue in her own style and form. When disturbed minds of administration install unqualified people at planning, designing and execution levels, natural resources like land, water and air get misused, polluted and finally destroyed like we have destroyed ecology of our famous tourist spots like Gulmarg, Sonamarg, Pahalgam and our famous water bodies like Wular lake, Dal lake, Anchar lake and wet lands like Shalabug, Rakhe-Arth, Hokar Sar, Malgam, Chatlam Pampoor Nambal, Gharana wet lands etc.
Encroachments on wetlands, marshy lands, agricultural lands and paddy fields by erecting unauthorised colonies, haphazard habitation in the form of residential areas, commercial areas, slums and migrant clusters resulted in the in adulation of above mentioned areas along with other rich resourceful areas due to 2014 floods, which leads to a great loss in trillions but also gave us a comprehensive lesson to learn whether we were able to learn it or not is a question to ponder upon.
Recently the news of expiry of lease has come into public knowledge through different newspapers and electronic media including this esteemed paper, GK. The lease of almost 80 odd hotels in Gulmarg got expired during the current year. It has provided us with a chance to restore Gulmarg on modern lines to save it from further deterioration, ecologically as well as environmentally. It is not the modern big hotels, shopping malls or other fringe facilities which attract the tourist or visitors to Gulmarg, or any other hill station, but it is the natural landscape, beautiful environment, pleasant atmosphere, rich biodiversity, and heritage which is the main attraction for a conscious traveller as well as an ordinary tourist.
To achieve the goal of preserving the natural setup of Gulmarg we must not put emphasis on basic facilities like accommodation in the form of guest houses and hotels within the ambit of the green bowel of Gulmarg but outside the local area of main Gulmarg on satellite township basis at a distance of few kilometres. By providing these lodging-boarding facilities within the vicinity of Gulmarg itself we have facilitated the destruction of Gulmarg in its own way, be it by cutting tall pine trees, age old deodars, beautiful kail trees, destroying biodiversity such as flowers, shrubs, flora and fauna or by creating huge garbage heaps, constructions of numerous septic tanks and soakage pits and by spreading of huge concrete cover along with unnecessary tar macadam road network which has changed the very character of Gulmarg, and turned it into the most urbanised town.
Is it not in the interest of environmental safety and ecological balance to construct a tourist village outside the boundaries of Gulmarg local area. It can be planned at a distance of 5 to 10 kms somewhere in and around the vicinity of Tangmarg or on the other side on Gulmarg-Baramullah road which can be designed, constructed and developed on modern lines, as a self-contained and self-sufficient residential tourist village. A village where all the proposed dislocated hotels of Gulmarg, whose lease period got expired, shall be given land on free hold basis in phase first. The owners of these dislocated hotels can construct hotels, motels, guest houses, urban cottages, youth hostels on their allotted piece of land and in phase two other remaining hotels from the vicinity of Gulmarg can be transferred to this satellite township of tourist village on the same pattern leaving Gulmarg in its original position and shape. Department of Tourism has a great role to play in this planning and development process along with the construction of shopping malls where local art, handicrafts and handlooms besides other craft markets, food courts, gymnasium, clubs spas, reading rooms and medical facilities like dispensaries, hospitals, and pharmacies can be provided on people public participation on smart city patterns. An efficient eco-friendly transport facility can be provided to establish a smart and efficient connectivity between this tourist village and the main target of hinterland of Gulmarg proper. Those vehicles can be battery or CNG operated to safeguard the local environment against pollution. Besides a gondola link betweenTangmarg and Gulmarg via said tourist village will act as a means of transportation as well as a boon to the tourism with a recreational attraction for locals too.
Keeping all these possibilities in view, we must jointly work to gather towards devising a strategic roadmap to bring about these changes and up gradations to firstly preserve the current state of Gulmarg. Secondly, work towards restoring the past glory and most importantly to make sure that we leave behind a Gulmarg worth its name and legend, if not for our, then for the sake of future generations. Otherwise our future generations will not remember us kindly.
It is totally useless to celebrate various international days of importance like world environment day, world wetland day, world tourism day etc, unless we work practically for safeguarding our environment and ecology throughout the whole year.
Author is a town planner.