Capt Anil Gour (Retd)
Since the millennia, Kashmir has been the delight of all tourists befitting the famous quote – “If there is paradise on earth it is here, it is here, it is here” and which resounds in all hearts with the same being fortified by the various flims shot in the region. People throng to visit the places shown in these films resulting in a rush of Leisure tourists. 22 May to 24 May have become Red Letter days in the History of J&K UT, as the entire world was able to see the Tourism potential of not only Kashmir Province but for the 1st time the various tourist spots of Jammu were brought to the fore proclaiming that this province too is a destination for “All Reason and All Seasons”
Politics aside, holding of the G20 Working Group on Tourism was an opportunity for the J&K UT Govt and Union Govt to show the world the achievements in various sectors in our UT even after the decades of turmoil so that the propaganda spread by Pakistan and its allies is demolished once for all. I must say the Administration succeeded very well in this endeavor and the message resounding world over today is that Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is not only an undeniable part of India but its development in all spheres is also far greater alongwith all the citizens enjoying complete freedom and facilities which have been denied by Pakistan Govts to the people in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. More than 300 hundred delegates, including the earlier Youth delegation: have seen for themselves and with their own eyes the ground reality which no amount of propaganda will convince them otherwise. This would pay dividends in the long run with the various nations removing their advisories on visiting Jammu & Kashmir.
For Jammu province, this summit has proved to be a boon and blessing as the various Cultural, Heritage and Tourist spots of Jammu province were showcased to all the International & National delegates for the 1st time. Our Secy Tourism Dr. Syed Abid Rashid Shah and his team brought to the fore the vast tourism potential of Jammu Province in an excellent 2min Video which left the audience spellbound to see the virgin and pristine locales for the first time by them. Snow Skiing in Bhadarwah, Paragliding in Anthem, Trekking and Camping amongst High Altitude Lakes in Poonch and Dudu Basant Garh, Rafting in Reasi, Miniature Paintings of Basholi, historical sites of Ambaran and Krimchi, and the various Forts in this region leading to many delegates and media personnel wanting to know more about these places and also understand how they could make a visit and the best time to do so. The members of Motion Pictures Association America and Producers Guild of India were also very keen to know more about these locales and were quite enthusiastic that new and pristine locations abound in the province which could be used for their upcoming and future films. With the Draft National Strategy for Film Tourism being unveiled and a detailed presentation on the Film Policy of J&K UT also being explained, our travel and hospitality fraternity are quite upbeat that Film Tourism will be picking up in the coming days and thus increase the tourist arrivals to the province. This indeed has been the biggest achievement, as Jammu Province has been overshadowed by Kashmir all these years. We now look forward to an increase in the Leisure, Film and Adventure tourists to these parts in the coming years.
A detailed and candid interaction was also held with Hon’ble Minister for Tourism and Culture Shri. G. Kishan Reddy and we impressed upon him that the potential for MICE, Health and Culture tourism can only be exploited if various steps could be undertaken by the Union Govt to increase the footfall to Jammu region alongwith helping in converting the vast numbers of pilgrim tourists to Leisure and Adventure Tourists. Hon’ble Minister was receptive to the idea and accordingly the following fifteen projects agenda was presented to him for his intervention:
* A 1500 Pax capacity Convention Centre in Jammu City / District to cater to the MICE segment.
* Two Cable Car / Gondola Projects from Patnitop to (a) Sanasar (b) Sudh Mahadev – Mantalai.
* Conservation and illumination of Forts in Jammu region.
* Developing the Mud Baths of Baba Chamliyal as Herbal Medicine Centre.
* Amusement / Theme Park at Sidhra area of Jammu next to Golf Course Sidhra.
* Jammu Festival as an annual program between 25th to 31st December showcasing the history, culture, tradition and cuisines of Jammu & to be put in the calendar of events of GOI Tourism Department & Incredible India campaign.
* Establishment of Adventure Skill Training Institutes on IISM lines for imparting training to youth in Paragliding, Skiing, Rafting and Camping to become instructors and leaders.
* Light and Sound Shows at Katra and Mubarak Mandi Jammu.
* UNESCO World Heritage Site status – for Mubarak Mandi Jammu.
* Wayside and Toilet facilities at Jammu, Patnitop, Bhadarwah and Kishtwar.
* Tulip Garden at Bhadarwah
* Walkway along Neeru River alongwith Tourist Kiosk from Gupt Ganga – Monda village-Bhaderwah.
* Developing Shiva Circuit of – Purmandal – Utterbehni – Buddha Amarnath – Shiv Khori – Baba Dhansar – Devi Mai – Sudh Mahadev – Mantalai – Peer Kho – Panch Bhaktar Temple Jammu.
* Establishment of Water Park / Resort in Jammu Region.
* Highlighting Tourist Spots of Jammu region in GOI Tourism Advt’s.
Keeping in view the realities of Road & Rail Connectivity to Kashmir Valley in the coming years, these projects need to be actively pursued by the Tourism dept so as to ensure when completed; will make Jammu Province a standalone destination for Domestic & International tourists & thus exploit the full potential of holding the G20 Summit in the UT. If we now fail to do so, then Jammu Province would remain in the shadows of Kashmir thus losing out on the opportunity created by the G20 Summit in Srinagar.
Apart from the above steps the Tourism Directorate needs to actively publicize all these locales, spots in print and electronic media at National and International level and raise awareness amongst common people so that their footfall starts to increase and the trickledown effect becomes noticeable. Adequate infrastructure also needs to be incorporated in these areas without which the tourist potential of these areas will not be exploited. The future is indeed bright for the tourism fraternity in Jammu Province and we all have now to only gear up to exploit it.
(The author is President Travel Agents Association of Jammu & Past Chairman Indian Association of Tour Operators J&K Chapter.)
Capt Anil Gour (Retd)