The Myth of Kashmir Tourism

By K.N. Pandit

Loud noise is raised about Kashmir tourism as the mainstay of Kashmir economy. It is not nor can it be.

This claim is made on the basis of luxuriant nature, abundant verdure and enervating climate of the valley. Are these really meaningful allurements for a tourist and a visitor to Kashmir?

An excursion or a picnic to some attractive spot is different from a tour of a landlocked region with only one serpentine mountain road connecting it to outside world.

A region earmarked for international tourism must have accompanying infrastructure. Kashmir does not have any.

A place does not become a tourist spot just because it has woods and meadows and springs and streams. At best, these objects become a catalyst to tourism industry only when supported and complemented by a viable, ultra-modern and sustainable infrastructure. If famished, poverty-stricken, illiterate and conservative people inhabit the peripheries and suburbs of these locales of natural beauty, then that kills the very spirit of tourism.

Euphoric tourist industry propagators among official and non official circles in J&K call it the “Geneva of Asia”, or the “Paradise on Earth” (firdaus bar ru-e zamin). I wish they had visited Geneva once to know what paradise on earth is like.

A paradise on earth has to be made through the instrument of planning; it does not fall from sky. What we have in Kashmir, is a region fallen from sky with no contribution whatsoever by human brain or brawn for its beautification and attraction.

Yes, there is one conspicuous contribution by human beings in Kashmir. It is depletion of ecology, wanton devastation of forest wealth, stupendous pollution of water resources, mushrooming of unplanned ghettos with abysmal sanitary conditions, stinking pools and puddles that are the breeding ground for mosquitoes and other harmful insects, and what not.

Vibrant and economy generating tourism asks for open and progressive society, highly developed human resource, trained and groomed manpower, and above all a combination of human values and internationally accepted commercial pursuits.

J&K government cannot afford to build infrastructure of high international level. The worse is that the government and the bureaucracy responsible for development of tourism both are unimaginative and non-visionary. They are driving a dead horse.

In the valley and at its tourist spots, there is not a single restaurant worth the name that could become a place of attraction for the tourists.

Hotels, motels, restaurants, habitats, paying guest houses, eateries etc. have to be designed and modelled for people who work the year round and save a bit to enjoy. In Srinagar we have these places only for black marketers, drug peddlers and scammers who desire and deserve to be looted by their unassuming Kashmiri looters in the garb of hosts to tourists.

Transport is of vital importance in tourist industry. Where means of transport are monopolised in connivance with corrupt officialdom, poor tourists let themselves be skinned. Show me a single taxi or a three-wheeler carrier in entire valley which runs according to meter. It is free for all the transporters to fleece the tourists.

A general approach to tourism in the valley is that since it is only a half-year industry, profits should be made rapidly and ruthlessly to compensate for the slum winter season.

Can an industry grow with this syndrome? Never. What the government has to do is to make the industry year round affair. And that asks for infrastructure.

With this ground situation, J&K government should stop misleading the people outside Kashmir. It should stop wasting its enormous funds for useless and meaningless publicity campaigns in the country and abroad.

If the government is able to deal with a vast humanity obsessed with conservative and regressive predilections, if it is able to change their entire mindset and revolutionise their life and behavioural style, then alone can one think of building the desired infrastructure that would promote tourism. If that is not done, and the population grows at present stunning rate, Kashmir will turn into a desolated region. Kashmiris will have to work like Israelis who changed deserts into gardens. In the case of Kashmiris the reverse is the norm.

(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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