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, July 31, 2011

2011- Year of Adventure Tourism

Yusuf advocates for a celebration both in letter and spirit

(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.)

Celebrating Adventure Tourism Year

Declaration of 2011 as the ‘Year of Adventure Tourism’ by the Tourism Ministry of Jammu and Kashmir state was a step in right direction towards revival and development of adventure and recreation tourism in the state but half of the year has already passed and non of the celebration events have been organised.
It was expected that the Ministry will arrange seminars, sympsiums, meets, adventure training camps, adventure expos and festivals, distribute informative brochures, fix hoardings at focal points within and outside the state, organise trekking programmes for local youth and conduct international rafting championship at Sonamarg etc. during this festive year.

Astonishingly this very important sector of our tourism industry received big setback in Jammu and Kashmir particularly in Kashmir and Kishtwar Himalayas during last two decades because all the mountain sports activities came stand still and remained restricted here during this period. The inflow of adventurers considerably fell which badly dent upon our economy.

Adventure Tourism was in fact operative in J&K since time immemorial. The scores of foreign and national mountaineering and trekking expeditions were regularly attempting our virgin and challenging peaks much before independence. Not many know that Lord John Hunt first climbed Mount. Kolahoi in Kashmir and later he led the first successful Everest expedition in 1952. Kolahoi was his favorite peak and was recommending Europeans to Kashmir Himalayas for seeking high adventures here. Our state has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the development of snow and water skiing in India during British Raj. Similarly, the J&K Ski and Mountaineering Association has done a commendable pioneering work in introducing Paragliding and Ski-mountaineering in early eighties. Col N. Kumar, a famous climber, led first-ever white water rafting expedition on the treacherous waters of river Indus in Ladakh in mid-seventies. Surprisingly our neighboring Himalayan states could find opportunity to hijack all these out door pursuits due to our negligence. They gladly adopted adventure tourism and is now flourishing it there. The reason for decline of adventure tourism in Kashmir is perhaps due to the prolonged turmoil, the wrong policies adopted by our tourism ministry and the callous attitude of Union Tourism Ministry.

The concept of tourism has altogether changed in the modern times. People earlier used to wander from one place to another with the intention either to undertake pilgrimage or explore different cultures and places but today Adventure Tourism has become increasingly popular amongst the youth all over the world. The youth today has the desire to explore new and virgin areas, know more about unknown places, and reach to the highest and lowest points of the blue planet. They dare to face all odds and challenges of life boldly. They venture out in deep sea, fly high in the air, run down the treacherous running rivers, climb difficult and virgin peaks, ski down impossible snow terrains, undertake bungee jumps into deep gorges and undertake many other extreme adventures. They are now gladly accepting all challenges of the nature, because a trip to mountains has a soothing effect on soul. There may be number of reasons as to why people today take to Mountain Sports but I think the most appropriate is that they are “fully alive on the high altitudes or in the depths of the sea”.

The mountain Sports were previously simply considered adventure outdoor pursuits but the influence of competition has made adventure more popular. This is another reason as why youth take up to adventure. The mountaineers are attempting more and more high peaks through more difficult and challenging routes in shortest possible time and set records. Similarly someone is trying to run down the high graded treacherous rivers and someone is trying to fly in the air for longer periods. Competitions are also held in many adventure sports at state, national and international levels. Adventure Tourism has in fact today gained world-wide recognition as an activity.

At this juncture our Tourism Ministry and other tourism players have a vital role to play. They have to be more responsive and more dedicative. Merely dedicating the year 2011 as the "Year of Adventure Tourism" is not enough. It will not help state unless the long term policies for development of adventure are formulated and the stakeholders are taken into confidence by the Government. There is need of encouraging the private sector and giving them incentives instead of charging them huge royalty by Tourism Development Authorities for operating adventure activities in their domian. There is also need of setting up the J&K Adventure Tour Operators Association which would act as mediator between the Government and adventure tour operators. There is also need of monitoring the working of all the Government tourism agencies like Tourism Departments, JKTDC and Tourism Development Authorities and other tourism players. Those who fail to deliver should be put to task. There is also need of creating and patronizing new adventure related products which we could offer to the intended tourists.

There is need of reviewing the functioning of the Tourism Development Authorities. The working of some Development Authorities is observed not satisfactory for some time. Since adventure is a risk taking segment of tourism so most of these authorities are discouraging them. Some Development Authorities have turned into commercial institutions. Instead of encouraging adventure tourism in their areas they put the adventure related tourism activities to tender and charge huge royalty to adventure tour operators, which is not healthy step. We have high scope of promoting adventure related activities at several places like Sonamarg, Gurez, and Drass etc but these ramained out of focus of the Government.

Sonamarg was considered the play field of adventure sports. It has the potential of holding all kinds of adventures like rafting, kayaking, climbing, trekking, ski-touring, camping, grass skiing, orienteering, scree running, paragliding and riding etc. It has the potential of becoming the world class Adventure Park. There is possibility of holding Adventure Expos here but the resort always remained out of focus of the authorities, though the present Chief Minister shows deep concern for development of adventure. Felling of gree jungle and construction of concrete jungle is at its peak at Sonamarg. A person who has some adventure background should be deputed here as Chief Executive Officer.

Some years back the Kashmir University and Tourism Department were organizing rock-climbing courses for the youth at Kud in Patnitop area. The granite rocks were ideal for teaching climbing to the novices there. But alas! the Patnitop Development Authority could not protect these rocks. The greedy people broke them into pieces for construction purposes. While training youth to adventure or providing pleasure rides to tourists one must ensure professional competence, adequate safety and proper infrastructure. There is need of encouraging these healthy outdoor pursuits among our youth through Schools, Colleges, Universities, voluntary Clubs, Associations and NGOs. Not only imparting training in adventure but the participants must be aware about preservation of flora and fauna and of the state. The organizing agencies must have the acquaintance with First-aid, rescue work, high altitude sickness, navigation, survival in the mountains Only those tour operators should be permitted to operate adventure who possess ample knowledge and have proper equipment. The borrowed equipment should not be allowed which could sometimes prove very fatal.

Merely dedicating the year 2011 to adventure tourism can no way help state promote adventure and recreation tourism unless necessary steps are not taken in the right direction. There is need to develop trained manpower who could work as guides and instructors, develop modern infrastructure, explore new and virgin areas, clean mass on rocks at hill resorts, aware people about the incentives, provided by the Government from time to time, develop base camps and construct shelter huts in Lidder and sindh valleys etc.

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