Introduction to KashmirForum.org 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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Grounding the Tourist Mania

Ashraf discusses the on going debate in the valley between preserving natural beauty and creating artificial beauty to look natural

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

The Great Tulip Failure!

If one keenly ponders, Kashmir is a bundle of tragedies and quite a few of these are the result of sycophancy which seems somehow to be ingrained in our genes. It may be something in the air also which forces people to run way from the stark reality and lose their selves in utopian dreams. We neither have the courage to call a spade a spade nor have the heart to take it, if someone does so. We always choose the path of least resistance and like the typical yes men say the “boss is always right!” A couple of years back the then Chief Minister took fancy to the Tulips growing in the Floriculture seed farm at Siraj-i- Bagh. He ordered conversion of the farm into a Tulip Garden. Unfortunately, probably no one seems to have had the moral courage to explain to him that it would be a better proposition to utilize the funds to give a tremendous boost to cut flower project which had been stagnating for last of couple of decades than developing a show piece garden for recreation lasting just couple of weeks. Present day Kashmir is in need of a visionary ruler who could redeem it as the famous King Zain-ul-Abidin (Budshah) did it few centuries back. For past few years due to our ill luck, we are being ruled by the likes of the Mughal King Jahangir, a lover of romance and entertainment or the famous King Mohammad Shah Tughlaq, the initiator of the most senseless projects such as the striking of leather coins and the shifting of the capital of India from Delhi to Daulatabad.

The problem with Kashmiris is their susceptibility in developing manias of all varieties and types. For past some time we are having the “Tourism Mania”. In the field of environment, every project is being seen in terms of a tourist attraction under the mistaken belief of Tourism being the back bone of Kashmir’s economy. It has been repeatedly pointed out by the top economists that Tourism is not the back bone of Kashmir’s economy. It comes only after Agriculture, Horticulture, and Handicrafts. In real terms it does not constitute more than 10% of the State’s GDP. This is more so in the present uncertain situation. There can be no two opinions that tourism is a peace time activity. People do not seek recreation and leisure in conflict zones.

Even though we have to keep the tourism flag flying in spite of unprecedented challenges to keep Kashmir in circulation as a wonderful tourist destination of the future, yet this cannot be done at the cost of other more reliable and productive economic activities. If Floriculture is to be developed it will not be for tourists only. It is to be developed as a very viable commercial proposition which has immense scope including massive export potential. Cut flower market in the world exceeds $ 5 Billion. If Dal needs to be saved, it is not for tourists but because it is the very throbbing heart of Kashmir. If lush green forests are to be saved from ruthless cutting by timber smugglers, it is not for the pleasure of tourists only but for the very survival of this place as a human habitation. We need to understand that basic tourist attractions of Kashmir are not the gardens, parks, and other man made recreational facilities but the wild and unspoilt beauty of nature. We need to preserve this natural beauty rather than destroy it by artificial make up. The typical example of this destruction of nature is the amusement park on the banks of Lidder in Pahalgam. More than four crores have been spent in last two years in creating what can be termed as the largest Tulip farm in Asia. By all definitions it is not a Garden but an oversized farm. There is absolutely no shade in the entire park. Unfortunately, the shade giving fruit trees of Central Asian origin which existed in the garden have been cut to provide more space for Tulips. This particular flower has a life of hardly a couple of weeks and spending such a huge amount and using the entire available land meant for growing flower seeds of different types just for a fancy Tulip Show is not really worth it.

This year the supposed to be Asia’s largest Tulip garden was a flop show. The Tulips did not bloom properly and also did not last long. In spite of much hype and holding of a Festival, the Garden did not have the impact it was intended to have in attracting tourists in large numbers. Interestingly more tourists went to Pampore to see naturally growing Tulips in the wild. Kashmir, which is known as the “Land of Tulips” (Sarzameen-e-Lala Gul), has three types of Tulips growing on their own in the wild! In case we are interested in beautifying nature, it would be worthwhile to plant Lupines on hill slopes around Srinagar and other tourist resorts. Gulmarg has plenty of these growing in the wild. The other suggestion can be planting of Japanese ornamental (fruitless) cherry trees in various open spaces. Washington’s main attraction in spring is the “Cherry Blossoms”. Japanese in large numbers come to see these as they believe they are the only ones to have the “Cherry Blossoms”!

We had planned to beat Holland in Tulips. However, it is not the Tulip farms which can make us surpass Holland but our entrepreneurship in producing and marketing these and other cut flowers. Kashmir can easily grow and market cut flowers like Gladiolus, Lillium, Gerbera, Alestromeria, Carnations, and Roses of all varieties. We have the added advantage of having the most appropriate season for growing flowers when the rest of the places in our neighbourhood are experiencing scorching heat. The recent opening of an International air route to a potential market area is an added advantage. Holland had once really suffered a Tulip-o-Mania and it was a real craze among all local people to go in for Tulip cultivation. One could see Tulips everywhere. However, it was not for a fancy show or short lived recreational event but for the development of Floriculture as a viable economic alternative. They have made their country a leader in cut flower production and export. Why can’t we do the same thing in Kashmir? The Floriculture employees have done a commendable job. They have put in lot of efforts in creating such a huge Tulip Garden claimed to be Asia’s largest. If motivated and rightly patronised, they can do equally good job in promoting Commercial Floriculture. The fantastic views of lines upon lines of multi-coloured Tulips did excite people all over. This would have been an excellent occasion to make people in general aware about the extensive possibilities of Commercial Floriculture. The project has been in the pipeline for a long time and if given the right directions, and incentives, it could bloom like the horticulture sector. First requirement is the right people in right jobs with total sincerity and dedication. There are two main parts of the project. One concerns the production of cut flowers and the other is marketing of the same. Production can be in the open or in green houses. Kashmir has the advantage of producing cut flowers round the year, both in the open and in green houses. Production on a mass scale requires a comprehensive extension programme. Potential growers need to be identified, trained, and provided germ plasm (flower seeds). Then follows the post-harvest technology for collection, transportation, and marketing of the crops in the pre-identified potential markets. This facility is totally missing in Kashmir at present. Even now there are over 300 growers but they are totally handicapped on account of post-harvest facilities. In fact, recently some outside agencies have contacted these growers and offered seeds and other facilities on buy back arrangements. It is possible to entrust the entire project of collection, transportation, and marketing to a single resourceful private agency on a turnkey basis. If such a thing materialises and takes away the worry of marketing, there will be tremendous rise in production which can generate sizeable employment for the local youth.

The recent opening of a direct air link to Middle East has thrown open a vast market for Kashmir’s Floriculture and other similar products. At the moment these people import such things all the way from Europe. Kashmir can supply the same items of a better quality at cheaper rates and in a shorter period of time. To tap this potential the authorities at the highest level need to directly intervene and ensure implementation of requisite measures. It is hoped that the present rulers who appear to be more rational, realistic, and practical will seize the opportunity to remind us once again of Budshah and not of Jahangir and Tughlaq!

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