Exploring Jammu Tourism People, Place and Policy

Arjun Singh Rathore
A couple of days back, I found one of my journalist friends reporting on tourism potential of Jammu with a punch line ‘Jammu ky pass kya hai?’ He was reporting on a new tourist destination virgin & unexplored, discovered recently on the tourist map of Jammu. Jammu for the political reasons better known to all, was never promoted as major tourist destination, despite of the fact that Jammu region is having Shri Mata Vaishno Devi with an annual potential to attract and accommodate ten million devotees and even ten percent of that number could have been easily converted/diverted as potential tourist, to put the Jammu region on the map of well deserved tourist industry.
Tourism is on the rise and understandably so, the Jammu region is full of spectacular sights and unique flora & fauna that everyone should see in their lifetime. However, this increased exploration is sometimes being auctioned in a manner that is impacting the very existence of tourist places, local communities and resources. Recently we have noticed some strong campaigns are in motion to stand up for the well-being of these tourist places. Our continued mistreatment is leaving damning effects on People, Place and Policy associated with Tourism.
Right from Lakhanpur Jammu region is having it’s potential both as pilgrim tourism and regular tourist destinations. In the past some governments tried to create and distribute Jammu province in different tourist circuits by creating Tourism Development authorities. Basohli (Ranjit Sagar dam & Atal Sethu), Bani (Sewa Valley & Sarthal), Billawar (Sukrala Mata), Samba (Mansar & Sunisar Lakes), RS Pura (Suchetgarh Border), Jammu City (Raghunath Temple, Bawe Wali Mata, Bagh-e-Bahu, Amar Mahal & Raje di Mandi, Sidhra Golf Course, Cable Car), Udhampur (Devika & Krimchi Temple, Latti, Dudu, Basantgarh, Patnitop & Sanasar), Katra (Vaishno Devi), Reasi (Shiv Khori, Salal Dam, Bhimgarh Fort), Akhnoor (Jio Pota Fort), Rajouri (Baba Guhlam Shah Badshah Shrine & Moghal Road), Poonch (Buda Amarnath, Nangali Sahab), Bhaderwah (Jai Valley, Padri, Seoj Meadow, Bhal Padri, Gulli Danda), Kishtwar (Shrine of Shah Asrar, Chowgan, Mughal Maidan, Machail Mata, Sinthan Top) are some of the places having full potential to beat any of the tourist destinations.
All these destinations are both manmade and natural which need a sincere attention for their maintenance and perseverance. And who is responsible to do so, the locals who are the permanent habitants of these places, the Government through the local administration, the Private Sector Community who establish their business setups and generate employment for locals and last but not the least the Tourists themselves. The answer is all are equally responsible but mainly we put the onus on Government and the Business Community, whereas I think the major role is of locals and the tourists.
Local communities play an important role in tourism development and perseverance. They are legitimate and moral stakeholders in tourism development. Local Community has to be involved in policy and decision making so that it will enhance the trust and confidence of the local people on the tourism industry.
One of the core elements of tourism development is to encourage local communities’ participation as it is central to the sustainability of tourism industry. While the literature suggests a number of roles local communities could take in tourism development, little emphasis has so far been given as to how local communities themselves feel about this. As a result, there has been little evidence, especially from the grassroots, on what communities really think of their role(s) in tourism development. Local community participation provides residents with a range of opportunities to participate effectively in tourism development activities, to mobilise their capacities as social actors rather than as passive subjects, to make decisions, and to control the activities that affect their lives. Community participation in tourism is the process of involving all relevant and interested parties (local government officials, local citizens, architects, developers, business people and planners) in such a way that decision making is shared.
Government and the private sector have traditionally played an important role in supporting tourism development of local areas. This included the provision of infrastructure, the development of tourist attractions and experiences, support for festivals and events and the implementation of tourist promotion plans. Tourism plans, policies and development objectives are core elements of the development and perseverance of tourist destinations. The Government and the private sector should use successful experiences available around the world to foster the adaptive re-use of heritage buildings, monuments and ensembles for tourism purposes in a way that protects, enhances and respects the values carried by the heritage and the rich culture of the area. Tourism, if developed in a responsible, balanced and sustainable manner, can become a driving force for environmental protection, heritage conservation and cultural pride. Unplanned development, as we have seen too often in the past, means chaos and depletion of the fragile resources on which the white industry relies. The Government and the private sector players should ensure that the sustainability of both the tourist destinations and the heritage sites are properly addressed and avoid transforming them into an object of visits with only limited economic impact on its surroundings.
Tourists visit the tourist destinations as tourists without having any emotional attachment to the place. We need to grow and from just a tourist, we have to be a traveller while not just visiting but exploring the destinations. I probably don’t need to tell you why travelling is one of the most enriching experience of life: we all need to understand though that travelling in a responsible way is possible, easy and doesn’t require any compromise. You might be wondering though, what you can do concretely, in your own small way, to be a responsible tourist anytime you travel.
By choosing responsible travel, your vacation could be as fabulous as you have always dreamed of while ensuring that the money you spent is supporting the environment and the local people.
Tourists should keep in mind that we are entering a place that is someone else’s home. As travellers, we should not avoid our responsibility to sustain the natural and cultural wonders of the tourist place so that future generations can enjoy the same life-charging adventures we have shared. The growing number of travellers should execute their journeys to be less invasive and more beneficial to the local community. This is known as ‘Responsible Travel’. We must ensure the respect for the local culture, environment and people wherever we visit.
Responsible travel encourages travellers to think about the impact of their trip and it is about making choices to reduce the environmental impact of travel while enhancing positive impacts on the people and places we visit. Responsible travel provides a better understanding of the culture of the people they meet in the places they visit. It aims to facilitate interactions between travellers and locals – where each may learn from the other. In a nutshell, a responsible travel is travel that is environmentally, socially, culturally and economically sustainable.
For our next holidays, to make our travel more responsible and meaningful, we must get involved with the following-
i) Protect the environment during our trip as hordes of tourists can often spell disaster for the environment, so we can try to help with little things by pick up our trash and never litter, limit energy use, save water and say no to plastics, napkins and disposables.
ii) Save water, it is such a lacking resource in many parts of our planet, so please don’t waste it, always close the faucets. When you get out of your hotel room, make sure you have switched off all of the lights and the air-conditioning.
iii) Protect Wildlife, think twice before you buy any products made from any endangered species, including animal hides and body parts and wild herbs and plants with medicinal value. As on date the buying and selling of wildlife products is illegal in India.
iv) Change your commute, try out some cool transportation including cyclo, where you can travel like a local. Explore the streets on a cyclo ride, and get your heart pumping with a cycling trip & jump into nature with a trek. Simple walking is eco-sustainable transportation solution, inexpensive and often more fulfilling.
v) Respect local culture, finding out more about how other cultures work is not only interesting and exciting; it reflects how grateful we are to be welcomed by locals. Ensure that you are familiar with what is acceptable to photograph in the destination you are traveling to.
vi) Dig deep into local culture, culturally conscious activities, such as visiting villages, home-stay, trying local cuisine and learning about traditional crafts, invite travellers to experience the authentic lifestyle of locals. Seeing these sides of life is not only fascinating but essential to our true understanding of the place we visit. Like the long-lasting memories that come from them, the experiences are what makes it priceless and unique;
vii) Keep the tradition alive, shop locally from traditional artisans. Buying goods from local businesses also supports the continuation of traditional, culturally important skills that have been passed down through generations;
Best education comes from travel! It broadens the mind and enriches our lives. It is then up to us to protect these places we set out to explore. Even the smallest changes to our itinerary can transform how it impacts local communities, wildlife, and the environment. We are invited to explore our world with vigor and compassion, respect and wonder, and to fully understand how good it feels to be responsible in our travels and adventures. Building a culture of sustainability will, however, take time and we, the traveller, can become part of the solution.
(The author is Executive Manager & Branch Head at JK Bank Marble Market, Jammu)