Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tourism Economy is Incompatible With Tourist Exploitation

Some house boat owners have a long way to go in improving their reputation with visiting tourists

Tourism can help strengthen our economy in a significant way if done professionally, opines Dr. Ali Mohammad Rather

Srinagar: Let us discuss the attitude of our tourism traders. This involves house boat owners, Kashmir Art dealers, hoteliers, transporters. It has been observed that many tourists visiting Kashmir complain about the house boat owners’ attitude. It is not a generalized statement. But often there are complaints that the people who deal with tourists in boats and work as their guides are not generally sincere to their customers.

Here it is the case of same gold egg laying hen. If one wants to get the eggs slowly and prudently, they will not like to create misunderstanding with the guests visiting their boats. I shall cite some cases, where the tourists visiting Kashmir complained about the ill treatment by the boat person dealing with them. Last year I was traveling to Ladakh, I met some Swiss youth, who had been in Kashmir for about a week. They complained that they were as if imprisoned in a boat in Dal Lake. The guides rather guards didn’t allow them to move freely. They were not allowed to see any hawker or shop keeper of their own free will. They were charged exuberant prices. They said that they no longer wanted to visit or stay in a boat. They said that on their return from Ladakh, as they had planned, they would stay in a hotel rather going to a house boat.

I am again saying that I am not including all other boat owners, by making a generalized statement. There may be many tourists who get satisfied with the boat owners. Probably many attendants and guides of the tourists in order to get commission from the shop keepers want the tourists to purchase from particular dealers. The guests feel that their freedom of choice is being snatched. They consider them cheats and complain that exorbitant prices were charged to them.

We should let visitors enjoy the freedom of choice and ensure that no force or compulsion is placed on them. They should be treated like guests. Then they surely will never express ingratitude. This is not the only example. Last year a tourist from Delhi met me while visiting a Mughal garden. He too complained like this and expressed that he had escaped with great difficulty from a boat, which were going to almost loot him.

This attitude towards tourists sends wrong messages. People who deal with tourists must themselves take steps to avoid such situations. There is also one more complaint about the reception of tourists in our valley. Though government has to some extent succeeded in controlling it. Many a time, I have observed that people pounce over tourists when they get down from their vehicles. This makes them feel bad about our land and people.

On the other hand our own Ladakh has seen great boost in the inflow of tourists. All praise their attitude. They are earning in diverse ways from the tourists. Each and every Ladakhi is involved in the tourist business. There, it is not the monopoly of a few like Kashmir. They do not discourage others of their brethren from taking part in tourist related activities. In far flung areas of Ladakh, villagers have opened trekking routes for the tourists. They work in a cooperative way and earn more.

In Kashmir it is a misfortune that in spite of so much tourist potential the new entrants to business are discouraged. The tourism could be a potential industry for the new graduates. Government can train new guides, trekkers and other persons and involve them in this industry. The lake dwellers can utilize their land for making resorts within and along the lakeside to attract more and more tourists. New trekking routes, tourist spots, hill stations etc. can be brought to the tourist map.

Apart from Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Dal Lake and some Mughal gardens there are many other places in Kashmir that can attract huge number of tourists. All it needs is a will to identify and later develop those areas. Adequate infrastructure needs to be arranged so that tourists feel comfortable in those areas. This way many more people can be linked with the economy associated with tourism. Further it will increase the chances of money directly flowing into the remote areas of our valley and thus help stabilize a vast number of people. This will in turn make them actively participate in other economic activities.

(Rising Kashmir)

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