A trip from Jammu to Mansar leaves one mesmerized with the picturesque zigzag roads, chugging trains at number of points, pine, silver oak, wild trees, bushes, wild hens, old ponds, sand and mud rocks, chirping birds and many more scenic things, too much for a person living in the hustling bustling cities with almost no greenery leave alone natural ambience. God has really bestowed its best natural resources to this area and one can feel it in abundance but the facilities during journey and infrastructure at lake sites just leaves one dejected due to condition of the water bodies and infrastructure.
First water body of this tourism belt is Suriansar and the pathetic patches of road where ever small villages like Cooper, Bajalta, Aitham come enroute really states the sorry state of affairs. Things become more complicated with the presence of number of sand and stone crushers just on the highway causing dust pollution in kilometers of area along with mud and stone gravel from crushers coming directly on the highway. With the JCB machines and heavy dumpers frequently carrying construction material roads at these points are bound to be damaged. One really wonders how these crushers are there on highway itself and doubts whether any of these observations have been taken into account while giving permission to these crushers.
Though some View Points have been made enroute but without any maintenance or planning. Wild grass is the only vegetation at such points with no flowering, no drinking water, no toilet or for that matter no dustbin. With no eat point of tourism or toilet facility from Development Authority on the entire route right from Sidhra to Suriansar one can imagine the plight of tourists with families especially small kids. Only eatables available at one of these view point is Maggi and in fact people have named that point as Maggi Point. Just when we are entering Surinsar a narrow lane type dilapidated road stretch is there from where even two cars cannot pass in parallel leave alone two buses. Why no efforts have been made till now to remove this bottleneck by respective Development Authority, can anyone explain? Locked gates of only available government Tourist Reception Centre (guest house/ restaurant) welcome tourists. Inaugurated in 2008 by Director Tourism of that time, was being run for some time by tourism department and then left to be outsourced to local vendors. But exorbitant reserved price of around six lakh yearly is a big deterrent as monthly rental expenses of around fifty thousand in addition to electricity and staff expenses is too much for such a place with not so much footfall right now. Year after year it’s lying defunct with electricity connection cut; generator lying in open for rusting, broken glasses of doors and things scattered here and there just shows how sincere is administration towards promotion of tourism and public money. Only utility which one finds of this place is people coming for their Kuldevtaas (deities) and cooking for community lunch for their own gathering and ultimately leaving the waste in the premises itself. Dogs and cows greet tourists in the lawns of premises with ultimately cow dung and dog poo on the grass are the other visible things. Broken lawn lights and electricity meter with wires cut from the pole itself is just too much of the reality of much hyped tourism push in the Jammu division. No residential accommodation is available right now despite the TRC building and two rooms of Tourism department on the back of this TRC building but everything is under lock right now.
A walk around the periphery reveals further muck of the reality. There is no separate walkway around the lake, practically it’s just tiled road which pedestrians along with all vehicles use right now. Instead of a proper coal tar road and separate walkway, so called experts have put tiles as if it is pavement or on foot walkway and not main road. This tile road practically is not meant for heavy vehicular traffic which results in broken and bumpy road with lots of dust. A board depicting ‘Say No to Plastic’ by Director Tourism meant to greet and educate public but with plastic bottles lying around it shows the actual sanitation situation at Surinsar. There is no proper parking place and haphazardly parked vehicles on main road just gives a feeling of shabby patch on natural beauty of the place.
Surinsar lake itself is with algae and weeds now visible in the vast patch but no de-weeding or algae removal efforts are in place. There is no proper dumping site, no solid waste management plan or sewage treatment plan in place resulting continuous pollution of the lake but again no visible efforts are there on ground to address these issues. Authorities seem to be least perturbed by these grave lapses. Further up another park is there with swings and slides for children. With no signage, front gate is locked. One tea-coffee, snacks shop has been built in the park but like TRC building it is also locked reasons better known to authorities. It seems every available local employment opportunity has been continuously wasted deliberately. One toilet block is there adjacent to park but without electricity. Only saving grace seems to be one recently installed water cooler.
Further walk towards Suriansar town, a board of Amphi Theatre is visible but with a locked gate with rocks and mud in the premises. One artificial rock climbing project along with Zipliner is also proposed. Boating has been allowed in the lake and one hopes it becomes an added attraction for visitors. Also proposed is repair of Jetty (wooden viewing deck of the lake) and protection work of the boundary wall of the lake. Also proposed are artificial breeding place for lake tortoises on the far of bank of the lake. A servo voltage stabilizer has been commissioned recently and four of the five fountains in the lake have been made functional. Also projected in the next year is floating Jetty if sanctioned under Capex budget. A paragliding project is also in pipeline at Aitham when will it start nobody knows.
Situation at Mansar also depicts same callousness and attitude. Dilapidated main gate with closed main block shops and scattered junk along with rusted iron shutters of closed shops greet the tourists. All shops have been leased for long term on a meager rent of five hundred to near and dear ones who never intended to open the shops. A toilet block is definitely there but just adjacent to it is air filled sliding game installed with a food point just opposite to it. Once one gets on the walkway two round moving swings are there along with a vendor selling hats and dresses again questioning the logic of closed main complex where shops of photography, food points and utility items can be easily opened providing employment to locals and revenue to Development Authority. Quality of so called these fun games is really pathetic and it’s better not to have these there and let tourists enjoy nature’s beauty. Two JKTDC huts are available along with eight rooms Dak Bungalow with restaurant. Two restaurants are also functional one at Boat Club and another one Lajawaab on main road. With no master plan for both Suriansar and Mansar in place its scarcity of land for development work which is a big hindrance to the extent that even parking cannot be expanded. Here also no solid waste management plan, no sewage treatment plan adds to the pollution of lake. It seems only cosmetic patch works are projected and done. A Zip Liner across the lake was proposed and even tender was floated but ultimately no sanction from Wildlife Department as usual shelved the project. Now even one ropeway is projected but will it also see the same fate in the end remains to be seen.
With not much efforts being put up for development or sightseeing one wonders for what purpose Development Authorities are in fact conceptualized at very first place. Scarcity of engineering staff is a major issue as Surinsar Mansar Development Authority has to look after Uttarbehani and Parmandal also in addition to these two lake areas and with only two sanctioned JE Civil works post of which only one is posted right now making task of site survey, plans, designs and DPRs to be a herculean one. Absence of Master Plan is the major issue as despite numerous proposals sent to Civil Secretariat no plan has been passed till now. Is administration serious about these things, doesn’t seem so. Short tenure of CEOs with interruption in continuity raises practical hindrances.
Samba to Mansar road is also full of potholes and problem is further complicated due to double lane parking of Kashmir bound trucks resulting in frequent traffic jams and even if open at snarling speed. It seems nothing is planned by any department and all talks of making these two picnic spots as main tourist attraction of Jammu region are just plans on papers only with nothing tangible on ground. With practically six directors in last six years in Directorate of Tourism, Jammu, much delay in appointments of Project Management Consultants no one seems to be serious about Jammu tourism despite this particular area being in PMO constituency. Will administration act now to put extra efforts to streamline things or scuttling of Jammu Tourism Projects will continue despite BJP government at Centre and State, only time will tell.