On World Tourism Day, celebrated annually on September 27, we are reminded of the profound joy and enrichment that travel brings to our lives. It is a journey from the ordinary to the extraordinary, a chance to break away from the monotony of daily life, and a respite to rejuvenate our spirits. Two contrasting tourism slogans, “One State, Many Worlds” for Karnataka and “Chalo Kashmir” for Jammu and Kashmir, symbolize the diversity and allure of travel destinations. In this article, we embark on a virtual tour of the beautiful land of Kashmir, delving into its rich cultural heritage and exploring its lesser-known gems.
Kashmir: A Land of Diversity
Kashmir, often referred to as “Paradise on Earth,” boasts a mesmerizing landscape that attracts millions of tourists throughout the year. The region offers something for everyone, from the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas to the serene lakes and lush valleys. While the COVID-19 pandemic presented various challenges over the past four years, the tourism sector in Jammu and Kashmir has shown remarkable resilience. The year 2021-22 witnessed a historic high in tourist footfall, with 1.88 crore visitors, including a significant 59% increase in foreign tourists.
Government Initiatives and Infrastructure Development
The positive transformation in Jammu and Kashmir’s tourism sector can be attributed to the government’s proactive approach and various initiatives. Considerable efforts have been made to enhance infrastructure and connectivity, creating a conducive environment for tourism. Tourist village networks have been established, and adventure tourism is being promoted alongside traditional sightseeing. Visitors now have the opportunity to savor the local Kashmiri cuisine and immerse themselves in the region’s rich culture and traditions. Spiritual tourism, encompassing pilgrimages to places like Vaishno Devi, Amarnath Yatra, and sufi shrines, continues to draw devotees from across the country.
Unveiling the Hidden Charms
While popular destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Srinagar are perennial favorites, the true beauty of Kashmir often lies hidden in its lesser-known spots. Northern regions such as Gurez Valley, Bangus Valley, Kishanganga River, Neelam Valley, and Border Tourism in Keran and Teetwal offer a unique and unexplored experience. Southern areas boast their own charm with Chiranbal meadows, Kausar Nag glacial lakes, Aharbal cascading waterfall, and more. These offbeat locations, nestled in the lap of nature, remain relatively undiscovered by tourists.
A Cluster-Based Approach for Sustainable Tourism
To maintain the pristine charm of these hidden gems and alleviate overcrowding in popular destinations, a cluster-based approach is imperative. This approach involves collaboration between development partners, private players, and local communities to develop a comprehensive roadmap for tourism promotion. Recent administrative efforts, including fairs, festivals, nature walks, trekking expeditions, and sports activities, have actively engaged the local youth in tourism promotion.
Promoting Homestays and Cultural Exchange
One noteworthy initiative is the Tourist Village Development Programme (TVDP), which encourages the establishment of homestays in rural areas. Residents living near tourist sites can provide rental accommodations, offering tourists a taste of Kashmiri hospitality. This aligns with the warm and welcoming culture of the region. Homestays, once operational, can provide tourists with affordable lodging options, stabilizing hotel prices in the capital.
The Role of Tourism Providers
Both tourists and tour providers have a crucial role to play in promoting offbeat destinations in Kashmir. Travel agents, tourist guides, tour operators, hoteliers, and adventure groups can work together to educate travelers about the lesser-known places and experiences that await them in the Valley.
As we celebrate World Tourism Day, we must remember that the true essence of travel lies in discovering the unexplored and appreciating the beauty of diversity. In 2023, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, hosts the UN World Tourism Day celebrations with the theme “Tourism and Green Investment.” This theme resonates deeply with the fragile Himalayan ecosystem of Jammu and Kashmir. While infrastructure development is essential, sustainable green investments are equally vital to preserve the local environment and community.
To ensure the long-term sustainability of tourism in Jammu and Kashmir, a region-specific approach is needed. This involves creating pollution-free, environmentally sustainable projects, reducing the carbon footprint, and involving the local community in decision-making. By prioritizing the preservation of ecology and environment, we can reap the economic benefits of tourism without compromising the natural beauty that makes Kashmir truly a “Paradise on Earth.”