Anantnag: As Kashmir witnesses a tourist boom with all major attractions - Pahalgam, Gulmarg, and Sonmarg jam-packed, visitors are slowly turning to offbeat scenic destinations.
Among them is Kokernag in the heart of Brengi Valley, known for its freshwater springs, virgin forests, and Brengi stream, a major tributary of River Jhelum.
The water of its springs is believed to stimulate the digestive mechanism in humans.
The botanical garden and Asia’s largest trout fish farm, remain the major attraction in Kokernag.
It is connected on one side to Achabal and on another side to Daksum and Sinthan Top bought under Kokernag Development Authority (KDA) in the year 2005-06.
However, the eco-friendly but inadequate infrastructure is preventing visitors from night stay and enjoying the mesmerising scenic beauty.
“I have been to Kashmir several times but always confined my tour plan to Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg, and Sonmarg. However, this time, a local friend convinced me to visit Kokernag, Daksum, and Sinthan Top. So, I, along with my family, decided to go for a day trip. Even though we left early in the morning from Srinagar, it took us 2 hours to reach Kokernag and then 3 more hours to reach Sinthan Top. Its beauty fascinated me. However, due to the paucity of time, we barely stayed at Achabal and, Kokernag botanical gardens, Daksum and Sinthan Top,” says Satish Patel of Mumbai.
He said that they would have loved to spend two to three days in this vast area.
For now the destination serves as a single-day picnic-spot.
“I also visited this place for the first time but the lack of proper accommodation and food joints stopped me from prolonging my stay. So, I returned to Srinagar in the evening,” says another tourist from Kolkata, Bhaskar Mukherjee.
The only infrastructure in place at Kokernag is a few odd JKTDC and tourist huts, one fishery hut, and low budgeted accommodation rooms of KDA currently occupied by village heads.
Even as the locals here are against raising concrete structures, they are for developing the place as an eco-friendly tourism destination to regain its glory.
“We don’t want this place to be turned into a concrete jungle like Pahalgam. But to woo both locals and tourists, the basic infrastructure should be provided,” said Aadil Wani, a local.
He said that the government should facilitate the construction of a few huts, eateries, and restaurants in the area.
“We don’t want the ecology of the place with lush green forests, meadows, streams, and freshwater springs to be spoiled at the cost of development. So, the government instead of inviting the hoteliers to construct huge hotels should focus on the beautification of villages like Vailoo, Gohan, Bidihaad, Bidar, Hillar, Wangam, Larnoo, Matigawran, Dandipora, Ahlan, and Gadole,” said another local, Muhammad Salim.
He said locals at these designated spots could construct small eco-friendly guesthouses and huts.
“Daksum Wildlife Sanctuary and fish farm in Kokernag should be properly maintained,” Salim said.
Situated en-route Kishtwar, the small hill resort of Daksum, located at 8000 feet along the Brengi river valley could be an attraction for tourists as it has a wildlife sanctuary, sheep farm, and dense forest.
However, it too is devoid of basic tourist infrastructure.
“The condition of Wildlife, Animal Husbandry, JKTDC hut, and Tourist bungalow of KDA isn’t up to the mark,” Salim said.
The place is known for plenty of camping spots and from Daksum the trail rises fairly steeply to the Sinthan Pass located at a height of 12,300 feet.
“So far we have one amusement park and a hut at Dandipora, Achabal,” a KDA official said.
However, he said that the accommodation was not sufficient for the tourists.
Chief Executive Officer, (CEO), KDA Roman Sheikh also acknowledged the lack of infrastructure in the area.
“I have recently taken the charge and renovated the huts under KDA. However, we need more infrastructure if we have to cater to tourists and make this place a holiday destination,” he said.
Sheikh said he has written to the district administration for arranging the accommodation for village heads elsewhere and handing over the budget accommodation in Kokernag to them.
The locals said that the proposed Vialoo-Singhpora tunnel connecting the valley to Kishtwar headquarters would also help people from accruing economic benefits.
“If this project is executed at the earliest, it, besides developing tourism would promote trade activities,” locals said.
Another road, from Mati-Gawran, leads to the breathtaking Warwan and Marwah valleys of Kishtwar district but remain inaccessible for several months.
People also are for expediting work on the upgradation of Matigawran-Inshan-Warwan-Marwa road project and constructing tunnels to make it all weather.
“Only light vehicles ply on this route during summer but it is fraught with dangers,” said Manzoor Ahmad.
Inshan Top, Margan Top, Dachan, Aalwi Maidan, Fambar Nallah, which is known for trout fish, and Chohar Nag is a trekker's delight.
“Efforts should be made to promote trekking expeditions,” locals said.
They said that nearly three decades back its mountains used to be the favourite destination of foreign trekkers.
Achabal also known for its freshwater springs and botanical garden has also failed to woo tourists for lack of infrastructure.
“Apart from a Dak Banglow and tourist cafeteria, there is nothing much here,” said Fayaz Ahmed of Achabal.
A link road from Kokernag via Lissar leads to Verinag, another scenic resort also known for freshwater springs and the origin of the River Jhelum.
"If the government is able to develop proper eco-friendly infrastructure in these scenic spots, it would ease the burden on Pahalgam and Gulmarg which remain jam-packed due to ever-increasing tourist rush," a KDA official said.