Blessed with natural scenic beauty, Jammu and Kashmir has emerged as one of the major tourist places.
Pre-1947, J&K was the favorite haunt of rulers including Mughals, Maharajas and even British who used to spend their holidays in its breathtaking destinations. Visitors from Europe were spellbound by Kashmir’s natural beauty.
They were instrumental in developing houseboats and adventure sports on professional lines. The Emporium building along The Bund was originally a British Residency.
The stretch from The Bund to Shivpora was known as European Quarters as it used to bustle with the British. It is said that a British Colonel living in a houseboat near the Bund introduced water sports in the river.
Decades passed and gradually J&K made its place on the global tourism map. Visitors were impressed by the natural beauty and importantly hospitality of people of J&K.
Hill stations like Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Yousmarg, in Kashmir became world famous for snow-capped mountains, lush meadows and gushing streams.
Tourist places like Mughal Gardens, Tulip Garden, Dal Lake, Doodhpathri, Achabal, Sanasar, Mansar and Patnitop also are in the must-see itinerary of visitors.
Official date states that 1.88 crore visitors including pilgrims came to J&K in 2022. Of this 26.73 lakh tourists visited Kashmir which is more than double the previous highest of 12.99 lakh in the year 2016.
Union Minister for Tourism G Kishan Reddy recently said that it is expected that there will be 20 million tourist arrivals including foreigners to J&K this year.
In view of increasing rush of tourists, there is a need to promote lesser known tourist destinations in J&K. It is a welcome step that the Government has started the process to promote 75 off-beat tourist destinations. This will lessen the burden on most frequently visited tourism destinations in the union territory.
J&K is dotted with religious, heritage and cultural sites and these should be included in the tourist itinerary. Improving facilities for tourists is important to make their stay comfortable. But care has to be taken not to disturb environs of these offbeat eco-fragile tourist destinations. There is a need to promote sustainable tourism.
We have an example of the famous ski-resort Gulmarg in north Kashmir, which is witnessing a huge rush of tourists far above its carrying capacity. This can have serious ramifications on wildlife including bears and snow leopards besides hundreds of plant species and avifauna in the ski-resort.
We have seen the ski-restore has been witnessing frequent avalanches for the last several years. Experts blame increased footfall of tourists exceeding carrying capacity for affecting snow cover, triggering rise in temperature which results in avalanches.
Environmentalists warn that if the carrying capacity of eco-fragile areas is disturbed, damage will be irreparable. Subsequently it results in disasters like flash floods, water shortage and massive waste generation.
Eco-tourism has emerged as one of the most important sectors of the international tourism industry.
This form of sustainable tourism has assumed importance as it encourages people to learn and conserve diverse landscapes, wildlife and cultures.
Many places in the world are thriving due to the promotion of Eco-tourism. Dotted with rainforests, beaches, volcanoes and mountains, Costa Rica is one of the preferred eco-tourism destinations.
Kenya is billed as one of the best eco-tourism sites in Africa. Authorities created an organisation called ‘Ecotourism Kenya’. Their work involves promoting sustainable tourism that will conserve Kenya’s natural environment and improve the livelihoods of local communities.
Home to 54 national parks, over one million tourists every year visit Kenya. This has led the government to stop illegal poaching, ban single-use plastics and plastic bags while promoting sustainable tourism.
Being an eco-tourist destination for the past 33 years, Bhutan has been charging visitors a daily Sustainable Development Fee. Originally $65/day, the fee has now jumped to $200/day.
The money is used on eco-projects including offsetting Bhutan’s carbon footprint from tourism, supporting community education, organic farming and upskilling workers in the tourism industry. In 2017, Bhutan became the first carbon-negative country.
Having unique landscape, cultural diversity and heritage value, J&K can become one of the leaders of Eco-Tourism. It has natural places, lush green forests, springs, rivers, lakes, wetlands, pleasant weather, and diversity of culture. Kashmir has immense potential for golf and adventure tourism.
The sprawling Royal Springs Golf Course (RSGC) on the banks of Dal Lake has won praise world over for its unique topography. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, a well-known American golf course designer, in 2001.
G20 delegates from various countries were left spellbound recently by the 300-acre RSGC comprising greens, rolling hills, forest, ponds, wilderness and marsh amid backdrop of Zabarwan mountain draped by thick conifer cover.
Health and wellness tourism can also be started in J&K.
We can also promote trekking on an international scale but in a regulated manner. But visit near glaciers must be restricted.
The Government has selected 300 destinations for promoting film tourism in J&K this year. Bollywood is resuming its date with the natural beauty of Kashmir. Songs in the backdrop of the waters of Dal lake, scenic landscapes of Pahalgam and Gulmarg have been appreciated.
Secretary Tourism, Syed Abid Rasheed, who is spearheading J&K’s tourism promotion, believes that there are many destinations much better than European destinations in the UT. “Film tourism will be promoted in a major way so that many untouched destinations are explored.”
People are fascinated to see scenic places of J&K,that is why filmmakers are fascinated to make its forests, lakes and landscapes part of their film.
The Gurez area in Bandipora district is fast emerging as a tourist destination. Government must ensure to promote Gurez and other similar far-off places as eco-tourism destinations.
Instead of concrete structures, tented tourist villages can be set-up. Existing traditional houses can be converted into homestays for tourists in picturesque Gurez of Bangus valleys. This way, tourists can enjoy scenic beauty of these offbeat destinations but also experience rich culture and heritage.
Tourists, especially foreigners, love to stay close to nature.
Lieutenant Governor of J&K Manoj Sinha has been making all efforts to promote the Union Territory as a preferred eco tourist destination. Home-stays and tented accommodations are becoming popular among domestic and foreign tourists as well as backpackers. “J&K UT government is making efforts to promote tent stay at scenic locations that will deliver rapid growth to the tourism industry,” the LG had stated.
The LG last year launched 75 Home-Stays in Rural areas to commemorate ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ in partnership with JLRLM and OYO Group under project ‘Crown of Incredible India’.
“The launch of Tourist Village Network, in which Mission Youth has selected 75 such villages under both the Jammu, and Kashmir divisions, known for their unique landscape, cultural diversity and heritage value will go a long way in expanding the tourism ecosystem to rural areas of UT,” the LG had stated.
Tourism sector is one of the main drivers of the economy of J&K. We have to understand that tourism will sustain only if nature sustains. Eco-tourism can facilitate tourists to experience nature as well as culture prevailing in natural areas without damaging the environment.
J&K Government and stakeholders need to encourage Eco-tourism activities as the UT is one of the environmentally fragile zones prone to natural disasters. Sustainable tourism will empower us economically and ecologically.
Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.