Boosting Jammu tourism

Kashmir has attained world fame as a rare tourist destination. Historically speaking, it were the Mughal rulers who had discovered Kashmir as a tourist place. Jehangir Padishah was enormously fascinated by snow clad peaks, lush green fields, lakes, mountains and springs of Kashmir. It was he who had ordered laying of famous Nishat and Shalimar gardens on the foothills of Zabarwan Mountain overlooking the Dal Lake. During the days of British Raj, J&K being a princely state under the suzerainty of the British became a much cherished summer resort of British civil and military officers and their guests from Europe. It were the British visitors who developed the idea of House Boat construction on the Dal Lake. Pahalgam and Gulmarg were discovered and partially developed on the behest of the British visiting dignitaries. Maharaja Hari Singh had lived for some time in Britain and visited some European countries especially France and found interest in modelling the boulevard, Gulmarg and other spots on the British or French models. During those days, mostly the Europeans visited Kashmir and Kashmir tourism was essentially meant to cater to the taste of the Europeans. Just imagine the names of houseboats and you will get a glimpse of cultural background of Kashmir tourism of those days.

After independence, evidently the number of European tourists began dwindling and instead tourists from within the country began to take their place. The beginning was slow and tardy but with the establishment of the Department of Tourism, the State, for the first time, paid attention to tourist industry as a source of income and an industry that has the potential of employment on a big scale. Therefore allocations began to be made in the State budget which went an increase year after year. Today, we have the viable tourist industry in Kashmir and thousands of people are directly or indirectly linked to it.

However, we find that though the tourist industry has come into focus as a very important source of income, yet uniform development of other tourist destinations in the State has escaped the attention of policy planners. It was in fitness of things that unidentified destinations, too, should have been discovered and developed to whatever level of development it was possible. In particular, Jammu region remained unattended though Ladakh did make some progress to be on the tourist map of India.

In Jammu region, the Chenab-basin hilly region has a number of spots which have excellent potential of getting developed as tourist destination. Exploration and exploitation of these destinations needs to be undertaken to boost the economy of Jammu region especially of Doda district. In his ongoing visit to Bhaderwah, where a cultural-cum-tourist festival has bee set afoot, the Union Minister for Health and Family Planning has very rightly impressed upon the State Government as well as the people of the region to energize tourism industry because it has the potential to grow. It is true that Bhaderwah as the assembly constituency of the Union Minister was lucky enough to be brought on the urban-rural development map of the State. It has the potential to become the hub of tourism in Jammu region. Therefore the Union and State Tourism Ministries shall have to combine their efforts to bring Jammu region on the tourist map of India. Bhaderwah has a colourful picture of harmonious living among people of different faiths and tastes. It has rich traditions of folk lore and folk music/dance, and it has many hilly spots of exquisite natural and scenic beauty, which when developed, would become great attraction for the tourists. Fortunately tourist infrastructure is maximally available; it has only to be streamlined. There are spots in Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Reasi, Rajouri and Poonch sector, lying all along the Pir Panchal range, that yield numerous spots for tourist visitation. This area was infested with militancy and thus remained outside the ambit of tourist activity for last two decades. But now that militancy has been controlled, the Government and all concerned should pay attention to its development. Azad has initiated the idea of developing Jammu regions tourist destinations in all seriousness and this augurs well for the region. Once attention is turned towards developing this area as the new destination for tourists, related developments will also take place like roads, bridges, hotels, restaurants, handicrafts and above all overland connectivity like upgrading and augmenting Bhaderwah-Chamba and Bhaderwah- Bani-Basohli road; an alternate road connectivity, will certainly help in giving a fillip to tourism, trade and people to people contact. The number of tourists to Kashmir is multiplying fast and this is the proper time that diversification of tourist destinations in the State should be publicized. The large number of tourists coming for visits to Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine could be induced through proper information disseminating process to include Bhaderwah-Doda-Kishtwar in their tour itinerary. Likewise after the opening of Mughal Road viz. Thanna Mandi to Shopian, numerous tourist destinations will come up provided the department means to develop them. Even in Kashmir, a large number of new destinations can be explored to diversify the map of tourism in J&K.

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