Heritage Tourism Framework

Established in 2001 with 13 members, Indian Heritage Hotels Association (IHHA) has grown into one of country’s major heritage organizations with 184 members. It met recently in Srinagar where its delegates also convened an Executive Committee meeting. The Chief Minister, who also happens to be in charge of Tourism portfolio, has evinced interest in imitating the policy of Rajasthan of converting palaces, forts, havelies and other historical monuments into heritage tourism destinations by turning these into hotels, cafes, museums and other cultural assets. Interestingly, Kashmir being a premier tourist attraction in the country and for foreign tourists also, the idea did not strike the State Government for 14 long years to dovetail the Tourism Department to the IHHA as has been done in Rajasthan and thus give a new direction to the entire tourism industry by making it financially more or less self sufficient.
Theoretically speaking, this is not a bad idea. However, there are some unavoidable questions that must be answered. First of all, there is the question of preserving the heritage sites, monuments, structures and destinations. These are subject to vagaries of weather. The task of preserving these heritage destinations is already under the care of the State unit of the Archaeological Survey of India.  We have the case of Mubarak Mandi in Jammu before us. Despite a very prominent site of heritage that could have become a very attractive destination for the tourists, its repair and renovation are not in sight. A number of issues have cropped up that have hindered and delayed reconstruction of the monument facing the threat of dilapidation. We are aware that if this site is preserved and converted into heritage tourism, it will attract a large number of visitors. But nobody can say how many years will the task of its reconstruction take.
Secondly, it is easy to say that a heritage site will be converted into a museum. Let us have a look at the museums that already exist in the State. Raising a museum does not require only funding; it requires historical vision, and futuristic perception. A museum is to be constantly enriched by adding more and more artifacts. If a few houseboats are taken over as objects for heritage tourism, will these be maintained for that purpose effectively? We do not say that the idea is not workable. We know there are many examples especially in the western world where heritage tourism has flourished. We can emulate their experience.
Interest and participation of the people in general is the basics of heritage tourism. No doubt the State is a mine of cultural heritage yet identification of the memorabilia is of much significance. After identification, comes the task of their conversion into cafes, parlours, museums etc. which is a long and expensive exercise. All that we think would be feasible is to constitute a committee of experts preferably including one or two from abroad to study the sites that have the potential for conversion and cater to the requirements of heritage tourists. This committee should submit a comprehensive report starting from Ladakh region and then surveying Kashmir and finally Jammu region. It has to be remembered that a large number of such destinations will be found not necessarily in the cities of Jammu and Srinagar only but in other nooks and corners of the regions which will have to be explored for inclusion in the tourist map of the State.
In final analysis, we have to say that heritage tourism is a very good and novel idea that should be pursued systematically. It needs vision, planning and dedication. It is a long range project no doubt, but if the State decides to go along the way, it should begin now.

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