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.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"We Want Tourists!" - Now Read the Reality

Yusuf narrates the harrowing experience of a tourist group wishing to explore Gurez and implores J&K Government not to promote tourism in frontier locations without adequate infrastructure and courtesy staff

(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 57, was born in the Dalgate area of Srinagar. He attended Government Schools in Drugjan, Sonawar, and Batwara, all in Srinagar, and completed his college studies at the Sri Partap College, Srinagar. Following his graduation, he briefly attended the University of Kashmir, and in 1980, joined the Physical Education Department of the University of Kashmir. Mr. Yusuf taught aquatics and adventure sports (swimming, mountaineering, snow and water skiing, rafting, parasailing, skating, kayaking, canoeing, etc.), before retiring in 2011. His students have has won many local sports trophies. He has led many exploration expeditions in Kashmir, and has been the Treasurer of the Winter Sports Association of Jammu and Kashmir, General Secretary of J&K Aero Sports Association and the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association, Secretary of Srinagar Winter Sports Association, and Vice President of the J&K Yoga Association. He presently works as a consultant at the Adventure Call Tours and Travels. In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and blogging.)

Shape it First

Much has been discussed and written about the potential of tourism in the Dard-Shina tribe dominated Gurez valley for long. The articles written by this author and Mr. Zahid Samoon etc. earlier also highlighted the potential of tourism in Gurez. With the motive to develop Gurez as a potential tourism destination the Tourism Department is regularly conducting the Tourism festivals in this remote valley for many years now. Pertinently the first well organized and research based exploratory expedition to Gurez was undertaken by the Directorate of Physical Education and Sports, University of Kashmir way back in 2005. The historic expedition, consisting of 60 students of different colleges and post-graduate departments of the University and three TV channels, brought Gurez into the notice of the authorities and other tourism players. It is in fact cherished desire of the local MLA, Jenab Nazir Ahmad Khan (Gurezi) to put Gurez on international tourism map. Many other well-wishers of Gurez are contributing their bit to this direction.

Since there are not standard hotels or huts available in Gurez at the moment, the Tourism Department has constructed Tourist Reception Centre there with residential accommodation of 5 double bed rooms and some well-furnished log houses. There are some other Guest Houses of different departments like Fisheries, Forests and PWD etc. but a common tourist is not allowed to stay in these bungalows. The newly constructed buildings of Tourism Department have made it possible for tourists to visit Gurez.

After putting hard efforts by Kashmir University, Tourism Department, writers and locals, Gurez is being recognized as a total destination for heritage, herbal and adventure tourism in the country. Surprisingly the domestic tourists have now started planning visit this formidable Himalayan valley. Tour operators are also now giving it space in their itineraries. Gurez has tremendous potential for adventure and recreation tourism. Its challenging, majestic and lofty snow clad mountains towards Mushko valley offer great challenge for serious climbing, the hills and the pastures are ideal for bushwalking, hiking and trekking, while the smooth and virgin slopes are ideal for alpine snow skiing and paragliding. In the plain area of the valley one can also operate parasailing and during winter ski-touring could be great fun here. River Kishenganga is ideal for white water rafting, kayaking and sport angling. The rich Dard-Shina culture and the heritage log houses are yet another attraction for tourists. The rich flora and fauna is ideal for nature lovers.

The tourism in Gurez is presently formless and needs to be shaped first by the Government and thereafter recommend the tourists to visit it. Surprisingly on 29th May, 2011 a Kolkata based ‘MYNATURECLUB’ team, led by Mr. P.P. Ghosh, consisting of 17 members including 6 ladies and 5 children, left Srinagar for Dawar early in the morning. As per rules they approached the Police Station at Bandipora for acquiring the required movement pass but were told that the passes are issued in the S.P’s office. To our dismay when the team called on the S.P’s office they found just one officer available there and all other subordinate staff was enjoying holiday. There was no one to issue them the necessary passes. They were then told to come next day. Since the group had planned just two nights stay in Gurez it was not possible for them to retreat. Due to overflow of tourists at Srinagar it was not possible for them to arrange accommodation in any hotel at Srinagar. There was no alternative but to proceed towards Dawar under any circumstances. On hearing the misery faced by the team at Bandipora, the Tour Coordinator in Srinagar approached the concerned officials in Tourism Department and a political activist from Dawar for extending their help to the stranded team. But astonishingly no one could help them out till 5.00 p.m. He then approached the President, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), Mr. Rauf Ahmad Tramboo, who tried to contact the Minister for Tourism, Mr. Nawang Rigzon Jora but to the bad luck of the group, Mr. Jora’s cell was switched off as he was busy in inaugurating the Golf Course at Pahalgam. It was now about 6 o’clock when Mr. Rauf succeeded in contacting the Minister of State for Home and Tourism, Mr. Nasir Aslam Wani, who was kind enough to take immediate action and directed the Police officer in Bandipora to issue the necessary pass to the group. By then it was 6.30 pm and it was about to go dark. Due to fear the senior members of the team were showing reluctance to travel in rough mountainous terrain during night. Not only tourists but the drivers were also scared of traveling on the unseen road in the dead of the night. After great deal the team was finally motivated to move forward under any circumstances. The disgusted team finally left Bandipora for Dawar at 7.00 p.m.

One wonders why the police did not issue the pass to the group before receiving a telephone call from the Minister. The travel from Bandipora to Dawar normally takes 4 to 4.30 hours in fair weather but since the drivers were travelling on this road for the first time it took them about 6 hours. To the safety of the team the drivers drove their vehicles very carefully in the darkness.

The efforts made by the caretaker of TRC building at Dawar, Mr. Ghulam Muhammad Lone, in making this unique trip a success deserves high applauds. He was anxiously waiting for the group on roadside with torch in his hand up to 1.00 am. He had already arranged dinner for them. Mr. Ghulam Muhammad has always been in the forefront whenever there was any move towards the promotion of tourism in Gurez.

On return from Gurez Mr. Ghosh expressed that “What a disparity? The men from the valley – be it Yusuf Sahib, or the two Zahoors, or Jenab Gulam M. Lone – all of them helped us a lot to put us across the Valley to the unexplored Gurez Sector. On the other side the JKP, RR, CRPF, BSF men from down the valley, only put before us queries that made us uncomfortable, unnerved and unknown in our own land. Totally enamored by the trouble Yusuf took in convincing the Police Department of Bandipore in providing us with the permission. I thought the movement pass could have been arranged a bit earlier if we could apprehend such horrifying impasse created by the police procedure”. He further expressed that “It was a true and touching moment when I saw Jenab Gulam M. Lone standing on the entry point of Dawar with a torch at such late hours – 1 AM of the night. No words to express my gratitude to this elderly gentleman of Gurez. His team was wonderful. Always trying to help us and make us feel comfortable”.

If the tourism in Gurez is to be promoted seriously the authorities at the helm have to play their role in a coordinated manner. It is suggested that instead of issuing the travel permissions at Bandipora these must be issued at TRC Srinagar through Dy. Director (Enforcement) as is done in the case of Air-Port permissions. The Tourism Department must arrange fame tours for local tourism players, guides and commercial vehicle drivers to acquaint them to the facilities, terrain and the road conditions of the area. It was a difficult task to motivate the two tempo traveller drivers of same name, Zahoor, to take a trip to Gurez and Telail. It was their maiden trip to this hitherto unknown tourist destination.

Besides holding the tourism festival, Gurez needs lot more publicity to grow its tourism potential. Conducting of adventure sports programs for the local youth is also important because without training manpower it may not be possible to operate adventure tourism smoothly there. It was a good move to shift some ski gear from Gulmarg to Dawar last year but conducting the training camps in skiing, rafting, trekking and climbing is equally important.

1 comment:

Saurav Majumdar said...

I want to visit that Gurez valley.please tell the lodging & trip plan & procedure of booking...or any contact number..share info plz.