Brig Anil Gupta
Come 01 November and a new era would dawn. We the people of Jammu will be master of our own destiny and will no longer have the luxury of shifting blame on Kashmir for our ineptitude and failures. The era of discrimination and the days of Kashmiri hegemony will become things of the past. We will be responsible for our successes and failures. For, too long we the people of Jammu have been living with the feeling of subjugation and discrimination, resulting into loss of initiative and the habit of planning our future by ourselves. For all our ills, we grumbled and blamed others but ourselves. But now under the changed circumstances we will have to chart our own future and answerable to our generations for the way we shape their future as well. There will be no hindrance in fulfilling our dreams individual as well as collective. We the people of Jammu will not only have to grab every opportunity but also display a visionary outlook to make Jammu region a prosperous and comfortable place to live and proudly claim to be the best.
Before proceeding further a thorough introspection is needed to determine the reasons for our present state. Was only hegemony and discrimination responsible for our present state? Did we lack something? Did we try to make our region prosperous or were satisfied with status quo most of the times. Did we ever unite to fight collectively for the Dogra heritage and pride? Did we have visionary leadership that could unite the people for common causes? Did we ever think of Jammu region as a whole or were mostly confined to sub-regional loyalties? A truthful answer to most of these will be a “NO”.
But it is never too late. Let us pledge to stand on our own feet and develop Jammu region as a model for others to follow. It is assumed that there would be no dearth of funds and Jammu will get its due share after the reorganisation of the state is put into effect. Jammu region has a potential to develop as hubs of pleasure tourism, border tourism, health and recuperation centres, spiritual tourism, boarding schools and heritage tourism. A workable plan to attract tourists to Jammu needs to be formulated.
Jammu region is blessed by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi ji. The holy shrine of the Mata has an annual footfall of over 80 lakh pilgrims. But most of them do not spend much time in the region except a night at Katra, if needed. The need is to convert the pilgrims to tourists by providing them attractive packages to visit nearby places. These would also attract other domestic and international tourists who want to spend their vacations or explore the nature. Border tourism is also a big attraction particularly among the youth. A few suggested packages are:-
* Explore the Natural Beauty. Katra-Mantalai- Sudh Mahadev- Patnitop (night stay)-Patnitop-Bhaderwah (2 night stay)-Udhampur/Jammu
* Explorethe heritage of Jammu. Katra-Jammu (night stay)-Visit border belt including Gharana wetlands (night stay Jammu)-Visit historical sites of Akhnoor (night stay Jammu)-Visit Surinsar and Mansar Lakes, Chichi Mata, Sidh Goriya Temple-Jammu (night stay /Departure).
* Explore Pahari Culture – Multi-faith Tourist Circuit. Katra- Shiv Khori-Shadra Sharif-Dera Ki Gali (Night stay)-Bafliaz-Mughal Road- Peer Gali-Bafliaz- Budda Amarnath-Poonch (2night stay)- Chingus-Jammu.
* Explore the unexplored Pirpanjal. 3-7 night adventurous treks to “Marg” (meadows) and “Sar” (Lakes) which nestle in abundance in the Pir Panjal Range in Rajouri and Poonch Districts. Thana Mandi, Darhal, Buddhal and Surankot/Bafliaz could act as the bases for these treks. Enjoying the hospitality of nomadic Gujjars could form an added attraction of this package. This package could be confined to summer months (June-October) only.
The aim should be to develop our region as a tourist attraction for people with varying tastes and provide them unforgetful experiences so that they visit it not only once but make it a regular feature. They could also prove to be best ambassadors to sell the virgin scenic and eye-catching beauty and hospitality of our region. “One time visitors” should become an exception rather than a norm. Effort should also be made to motivate the locals to promote “Home Stay” Concept. In order to achieve all this certain behavioural, organisational and structural changes would be needed. A few suggestions are listed below.
Pride. First of all we will have to develop pride in ourselves. Pride in our heritage, culture and language. This pride should give us the necessary identity which is a must for recognition by others. We will have to keep reminding ourselves that being proud does not mean to be arrogant.
Hospitality. “Atithi Devo Bhav” needs to be imbibed as part of our routine behaviour. We should not only welcome the tourists but also make them feel important. Our hospitality should become a motivating factor for the tourists for a re-visit.
Honesty/Ethics/Morality. Never cheat the tourist. The tourists must develop a blind faith on our society. The current practices of selling duplicate, sub-standard, under-packed and “show something else as sample and pack poor quality” stuff (Rajma, Basmati, Walnuts, Kesar, Kaladi are a few examples) have earned us a bad name. Frequent complaints are received from friends, relatives and acquaintances who have been cheated this way.
We need to be ethical because it defines who we are individually and as a society. These are the norms of behaviour everybody should follow.
We need to distinguish between wrong and right while dealing with the tourists. Overcharging, quarrelling, taunting and use of unparliamentarily language should not be resorted to while dealing with the tourists particularly those who have a language problem and are not able to communicate effectively.
Cleanliness. Cleanliness attracts tourists. To ensure a safe and clean environment a total ban on plastic should be imposed. Otherwise our tourist destinations after a period of time will start degrading. Our rivers and lakes need to be kept neat, clean and garbage free. Suitable garbage disposal mechanisms need to be installed at all potential tourist destinations.
Innovation. Tourism promotion should not be restricted to occasional tourist festivals. Innovative programmes and schemes must be launched to invite and attract the tourists throughout the year. Promotion of tourism should not be left merely to the government departments but must be a combined effort of the trade, tourism industry and government.
Cooperation. There should be complete cooperation between different agencies and stakeholders dealing with the tourists. A seamless chain needs to be developed between the transporters /taxi operators, hoteliers, tour operators, tourism department/ tourist centres, guides, trekking agencies and travel agents. A tourist should not feel harassed by anyone of them.
Skill Development. This would generate employment. Tourism industry, hospitality industry and travel industry requires varied skills. Our youth needs to acquire these skills and the government needs to develop tailor-made Skill Development Centres.
Infrastructure. All our present and potential tourist destinations woefully lack the infrastructure required for housing and travel. Roads needs to be widened, repaired and maintained. Adequate appropriate accommodation for tourists with different budgets needs to be catered for. Tourist destinations need to have parking facilities, washroom and toilet facilities, restaurant, reception centre, souvenir shop and emergency accommodation. Mobile and internet facilities also need to be provided.
Art & Culture. Our region has very rich art & culture which needs to be promoted. Restaurants specialising in local cuisines as well as “Home Stay” hosts need to provide local delicacies.
As far as organisational changes are concerned, a revamping of various Tourism Development Authorities/ Boards to make them professional is needed. Regretfully, these have failed to come up to the expectations for which they were established.
I have made an attempt to create awareness about the potential of our region which will help in boosting the economy of our region. More we earn, more we can spend and more and more people would be attracted to our region. This will make us master of our own destinies.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)
Brig Anil Gupta