What Ails the Jammu Tourism?

Dr Mahesh Kaul
Tourism is not a mere recreational activity but a comprehensive system that involves the incorporation of all the instruments of governance if it has to be institutionalised as the mainstay of economy.It cannot thrive on adhoc measures that are devised in reaction to the demands of the pressure groups.The policy makers who don’t understand the intangible importance of tourism for the peaceful governance and peaceful investment for all times to come cannot achieve the goals that are set by developed nations to sow the seeds of vibrant societies.
The Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir state has been witnessing continuous lack of tourism policy that takes into account these measures leading to the institutionalisation the tourism sector in this region and develop an economy that can give dividends in terms of multiplier effect.The success story of tourism in any destination depends on investment by the tourism players in one area and then its beneficial effects can be felt in another allied area that is associated with tourism.
All the segments that define tourism sector should be integrated and have phased development.This is not visible in Jammu region.A disconnectedness between the destination and the tourist is profound as the infrastructuraldevelopment has not taken off.Moreover, a sense of tourism is not infused neither among those who are the decision makers nor among the stakeholders that includes the host populations.
An interesting thing that should have caught the imagination of the policymakers and the tourism marketers is the way the common people of Jammu and the people who visit the detinations in Jammu think as far as the mainstay of tourism is concerned in this region.There is not an iota of doubt that Jammu region has marked its presence as the tourism destination not through artificial means and then sustained it.It is a classic example of a place that has attracted tourists from the religious point of view having pilgrimage sense. That is the Shree Mata Vaishno Devi in the Trikuta Hills has been the upholder of all the tourist activity of this region.It has acted as the natural point of convergence for all the people from entire India and abroad to register the presence of Jammu in the geographical map.Nearly one crore tourists converge in Katra annually to pay obeisance at this Shakti Peeth.And this has been possible only due to religious significance and pilgrimage aspect.
It should have given the tourism policy makers and marketers an easy space to devise the strategies to innovate and infuse a sense of integrated tourism mechanism to expand the tourism circuit of Jammu region when a bulk of tourist is present at the door step.Jammu is not an artificial destination- it has evolved as a place by virtue of being the seat of governance of the whole state in the modern times and shaped the governance mechanism that is still functioning and adopted by the people.The historical value of Jammu is beyond being the mere pilgrimage centre.
The whole landscape of Jammu from urban to rural is rich with the presence of various monuments that speak volumes about its progressive culture.It includes the presence of architectural marvels that represent the times when art forms of myraid hues were patronised by the rules. It includes the urban historic city centre -DarbarGarh popularly known as Mubarak Mandi located in the heart of Jammu’s old city ;still present with all its majesty and grandeur facing the river Tawi from the rear side.
Then this cultural landscape extends into the another realm and shows its vibrancy in the rural landscape in Jaffer Chak where Sui and Burj Temples depict the pan Indian representation of the religious and civilizational moorings of the rulers who have given shape to the popular belief in the murals through various art forms.
Connecting the dots if one just moves ahead in the same route, Akhnoor located on the banks of river Chanderbagha reveals the antiquity of Jammu and its civilizational value where Akhnoor fort and its linkage with the Pandavas is matter of curiosity.Not only that Ambaran the site that has revealed many truths about the Buddhism and its evolution through excavations giving more food for thought to all who are concerned about the development of tourism thorough civilizational sensitivity.
Kathua and Samba districts have the distinction of being witness to many historical upheavals that must have kept the Dogra rulers on the tenterhooks.The range of forts in these two places is a matter of serious research and their incorporation into the flexible but integrated tourism circuit of Jammu region is an urgent requirement. The forts of Hiranagar, Jasrota, Lakhanpur and Samba can be developed into a very vibrant fort circuit that can rope in tourists with a least effort.
This is just a glimpse of the circuits that can be developed without much effort as these are natural destinations that have evolved with the social and historical progression.Not only these destinations unapproachable but have been kept disconnected from the mainstream tourism circuit due to lack of involvement of the qualified tourism professionals in the policy making and marketing. Recently in the front page cover story in this newspaper by Nishikant Khajuria a virgin destination that has historical significance and speaks volumes about the heritage assets of Jammu region has been brought to the fore . Gool town has a rich heritage in terms of Ghora Gali and it has not been deciphered in terms of time period as to what lead to the evolution of these sculptural marvels.Imagine the tourist activity when it is supported with an apt historical narrative.
Many more destinations like the pilgrimage centre of Baba Shivo in Goran,Samba are spots that have both cultural and historical significance to map the presence of Jammu as the civilizational nucleus of various religious currents that had immense impact on the society and the ruling dynasties.This destination can link the pan Indian assertion of Nath Pathis.Thus shaping the place consciousness.
The whole thrust of the above argument is to bring home the point that in spite of the presence of significant tourists in Jammu due to Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage,the policymakers and the stakeholders have failed to develop a narrative that projects Jammu as an integrated tourism destination.They have failed to integrate the peripheral cultural,heritage and religious spots as integral to the Shree Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrimage. It would have been a God sent boon in other destination to convert even a fraction of these tourists visiting Katra and develop segmented circuits but integrated to the main attraction.
Once this fact is internalised by the policy makers and a fraction of pilgrimage tourists are converted into a broader integrated circuit then it would be easier to develop other segments in a phased manner.There are many classifications that can act as the markers of development for the Jammu tourism and the one includes the urban and ruler classification in terms of locale and aesthetics that can add vibrancy to the tourism business.
It is not only the policy makers that are to be blamed for the policy lapse but the major stakeholders are equal partners in relegating Jammu to the background ;when it comes to tourism development.
We have witnessed insensitivity of the stakeholders that includes the common people who are both the witness and the participants in the making of Jammu as a cultural progressive zone that includes both tangible and intangible heritage of the region.An example can elucidate this issue more profoundly than any rationalist conceptual argument.A few years back there was a lot of hue and cry about the parking space that was supposed to be a very urgent need of the city areas of the Jammu. And the idea that germinated sprouted in a very vicious form.At the cost of urban development;heritage of the city was dismantled without realising its importance in the narrative of Jammu in making. AKowali located in the city Chowk area near the road leading to Kanak Mandi, PuraniMandi and Ragunath Bazar trijunction was razed to the ground to create a multi storeyed state of art parking. At the cost of heritage!
Another example will make it more clear as to why Jammu tourism is lagging behind as the lack of sensitisation about heritage assets and culture is making stakeholders just mute spectators to the symbols that define the antiquity and identity of Jammu and its heritage. A few years back when the restoration of Mubarak Mandi complex gained momentum after the civil society started campaign to restore this urban historic city centre there was a paradoxical act operationalized by those who are supposed to preserve the monument and showcase it as the symbol of cultural sophistication of the region. The central marble platform located in the Mubarak Mandi park was demolished though it was in perfect shape. It was integral to the evolution of the aesthetics of the whole Mubarak Mandi complex as this heritage marvel is integral to the combination of nearly 10 palaces that have been erected with additional additions from time to time from the era of Raja Maldev.Instead of focussing on the preservation and conservation of the monument non-professional bureaucrats who have no inclination about the tourism and the heritage management acted as the half baked green horns and violated and vandalised the already damaged complex.And till this date the platform is in shabby condition with heaps of building material and clay around it.
These examples have been cited to make it clear that the ailment of Jammu tourism lies in non -professional approach in sensitising the stakeholders and then non application of mind by policy makers while formulating the tourism policy.Tourism cannot function in isolation,it needs multidisciplinary approach.It is a highly sophisticated sector that needs the expertise of the well trained and qualified tourism professionals who should have the added qualification of being heritage managers when they have to work in a rich cultural landscape of Jammu.It needs the services of conservation architects, historians and many more.Tourism development is not a hit and trail business.
It has to be borne in mind that the international experiences based on the case studies developed by the UNESCO, ICCROM, ICOMOS and WTO have shown that tourism can flourish only when the locale and its aesthetics are preserved and not violated.Its violation is not tourism development it is a state sponsored vandalisation. Tourism is the showcasing of culture, heritage, folklore and history in natural habitat with sustainable support system provided by the policy makers and it can be sustained only when the decisions are based on the advice of the professionals who are trained in tourism and not by bureaucracy that is generalised and clerical.It needs specialised human resource that has adopted tourism as a discipline.The failure of Jammu tourism’s sustainability lies in abandoning the professionals and adopting the disrupters,who are novices and in their hit and trial methods they have done more damage to the tourism sector.
(The author is Chairman, Himalayan Heritage Foundation.)