Tourism in India is important for the country’s economy and is growing rapidly. The World Travel and Tourism Council calculated that tourism generated 9.2% of India’s GDP, supporting around fifty million jobs, 10 % of its total employment.
The sector is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 9%. But our own Jammu does not appear even in top ten cities in number of domestic tourists despite the fact that we have around footfall of one crore plus at Jammu itself. Reasons for not featuring in top ten are not hard to find out; lack of development of alternative tourists destinations in addition to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi as such we are not able to tap even 5 % of those coming for pilgrims to alternative tourists places. Though everyone talks about ‘Village Tourism’ but nothing tangible has been done on ground by administration in fact non-agricultural conversions are taking place at a much higher rate for residential as well as commercial purposes. With all these factors working against rural population along with almost zero industrial activity in the area resulting in meager and low salary job prospects, tourism is one unexplored area which can turn around the rural Jammu to gold mine. Tourism worldwide is one industry with continuous more than 10 percent growth rate; in fact travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest industries with a global economic contribution -direct, indirect and induced
All said and done one man Uttam Singh, doctor by profession, one day decided to turn his dream of typical village tourism true, purchased large chunk of land on the banks of Tawi at village Bajalta, few kilometers from Jammu and turned it into a farm house initially. His passion just didn’t end here as year after year he planted different trees along the pathway, in fact all over the places and his collection of trees include medicinal Arjun, Peepal, Mango, Kinnow, Amla, Teak, Silver Oaks and Pine with bird houses dangling from all the trees and pillars, in fact he has successfully created a small jungle with peacocks, parrots, ducks, hens and numerous other species which has virtually turned this small jungle into a bird sanctuary. Bamboo plantations are in full swing not only at his farm house but at many places along the whole route planted by him only. Bougainvillea, raat ki rani, roses and other aroma plants just makes one’s experience a mesmerizing one, a place never to forget, having a lifelong impact, an urge to visit again and again.
Now same farm house has been turned into Hunter’s Ranch in the midst of sprawling fields of almost eighty kanals, in fact a paradise open for everyone to see for themselves and enjoy. A walk on foot around the whole area leaves one just spell bound how passion of a single person can transform a barren area into a lush green wonderful place just in the outer periphery of Jammu. Being an ex army man he has utilized all his experiences and the mark can be felt at every level, no plastic used, in fact well painted iron drums as dustbins and standing tables with aluminum tops, tree swings, stone tables with open kitchen with nothing to hide from clients. Series of dangling kerosene lanterns are the creators of an aura at night. A peek into the backside brings one more closer to nature with army of desi hens with chicks, ducks, peacocks roaming, cows with calves, in fact one can have firsthand experience of cow milking or butter making, a rare sight now in busy, congested, polluted city life. Cow dung and kitchen waste are put in separate compost pits and are used as organic manure as this whole area use nothing from outside, a self sufficient kitchen for guests also as seasonal vegetable fields can be seen over huge area. Two swimming pools wait for city enthusiasts to enjoy the natural surroundings in summers. A walk down the area brings one to the bank of Tawi where one can enjoy fishing if interested or otherwise a memorable safe boat ride across Tawi.
Passion of Dr. Uttam didn’t stop here only as he turned part of his fields into adventure sports with Zipline, Burma-bridge, Commando Net, Artificial Wall Climbing, Fun rides on ATV and Paint Ball Games. Most amazing being Zipline with fields running down the entire line one gets an amazing lifelong gratification. A battery of trained expert certified trainers are there to let one enjoy the adventures. One can even have a tractor ride also. A simulated well within open air sitting arrangement with restaurant is itself highly enjoyable with appetizing aroma of different cuisines filled in the whole atmosphere. Here a separate traditional Dogra kitchen has been built to serve ‘Makki ki Roti with Sarson ka Saag’ made and served by a lady and one can have it there in the kitchen itself, wow a lifelong memory to cherish. A modern restaurant is also in place just besides pools in case it’s raining outside. Two huts with all the facilities and four rooms are available for night stay on first cum first served basis. In addition to these residential facilities at this place, another ten room facility along with conference halls is available at sister concern SHIKARGAH, on main highway, another level of beautiful experience with open terrace valley view dining facilities, sprawling lawns and scenic rooms await for one to have the divine feeling of Trikuta hills, with Suriansar lake just few kilometers away. At Hunters Ranch separate garden of Indian Gooseberry (Amala) and Kinnows await the visitors which are visited by wild goats in the din of night to have amala feast. Though himself a keen hunter, at this place he has ensure that this entire zone is no hunting zone with the result birds and small wild animals can be seen fearlessly roaming, a rare sight in modern days. Chirping of birds/crickets/grasshoppers, screaming of peacocks, squawk of parrots, coo of pigeons, honking of goose, caw of crows, moo of cows and what not, all sounds are just music to ears. Hunter’s Ranch is truly a family only resort where one can go with own family groups, enjoy exclusiveness with the nature with tasty traditional food and enjoy a night in the lap of nature. Experience an amazing day with the stress free zone of nature in absolute lush green cover of trees, a true outback life of rural agricultural flavor. Feel more energized and fresh, unwind and relax after staying at lush green and peaceful environment.
Being oversaturated and congested, people are looking for such quieter places which provide them the right escape from the maddening city life. Tourism Department on their part can empanel more persons with residential area to be used as Guest Houses for tourists with proper background and quality assurance checks by department persons. Today’s world is the world of smart phones and as such Tourism Department shall immediately get an App developed for online availability of rural homes, facilities, rent , services for tourists along with online booking option. Department can deduct its own facilitation charges and transfer rest of the money online to the villagers. If OLA and UBER can become largest taxi operators without even a single taxi of their own, success is guaranteed if all agencies plan seriously on the project. However, these remote rural places can be developed only if the locals are trained to offer the visitors professional services in their own premises. The local villagers can be imparted training to set up their home stay units after they are given lessons in home keeping, cooking, adventure training, cultural guide training, handicraft production, solid waste management and tourist guide activities under Prime Minister’s Skill development programme. Banks on their part can provide easy, lower rate of interest loans to the youth to establish the hotels, huts, residential guest houses, restaurants as well as for taxis , rafts etc wherever water sports is possible. Government on their part can go for infrastructure development on war footing providing good road connectivity which is lacking here at Hunter’s Ranch also along with highway ambulances at strategic locations for immediate medical emergencies and police pickets to name a few.
While providing direct employment support to around fifty locals, this one person’s initiative has turned this place in reality into a paradise on earth with even departments from Kashmir visiting the place to emulate same at Kashmir but local Directorate of Tourism has not even found it worth even to be mentioned on their website. This village with so much being already done has still not been declared as Tourism Village. First step towards Village Tourism has been taken by an individual and if the administration is really sincere in promotion of Rural Tourism, the least Jammu Tourism Department can do is put a signage of Hunter’s Raunch at railway station Jammu and at Katra along with that of Suriansar and Mansar. This is just tip of iceberg, a personal passion has created a marvelous environmental showpiece; administration can rope in such passionate person to create a chain of such places all over Jammu. Official paralysis has to be shaken up otherwise all Village Tourism initiatives are just verbal sermons and nothing else.