(Mr. Mohammad Shafi Ayaz, 47, was born in Anantnag, and continues to live in the same town. He studied in various state schools, colleges and universities. He has completed his MBA, and is a Certified Associate of the Indian Institute of Bankers(CAIIB), and is working on a doctorate thesis on “Non Performing Assets in Indian Banks." He is a banker and presently associated with the Jammu & Kashmir Bank as Senior Executive. Mr. Ayaz has three publications - two in Urdu, one comprising of fictions/short stories titled as “Dard-i-Pinhan” (Hidden Pain), and the third comprising of poetry titled as “Talash-i-Sahar”(In Search of Dawn). He has also published another short book in “Interest Free Banking.” He writes on various topics in the Daily Kashmir Images, Weekly Shuhab and Weekly Sabzar. Earlier he contributed articles to two leading Urdu dailies of the Valley - ‘Aftab’ and ‘Srinagar Times’.)
Ecotourism in J&K
Ecotourism or in other words ‘Nature Tourism’ is about conservation of nature and promotion of communities through sustainable travel and tourism. It is a responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people.
Ecotourism is based on the principles of minimum impact, building environmental and cultural awareness and respect while as providing positive experiences for both the visitors and hosts is an integral part. This is the type of tourism which provides direct financial benefits for conservation and empowerment of local people and also tries to raise sensitivity to the host country’s political, environmental and social climate.
Kashmir valley is described as a paradise on earth. Its natural beauty is unique and has ample attractions for the tourists reaching here from all over the world. With its clean and pleasant environment, dense forest cover and rare species of fauna and flora, the state exhibits excellent potential for ecotourism and cultural tourism.
The state government has been developing various tourist attractions including Golf courses, Water Skiing, Tobogganing, sledge-riding etc, besides upgrading tourist infrastructure. Jammu & Kashmir has immense potential for ecotourism which provides basic frame work for ecologically sustainable tourism with livelihood opportunities for local communities.
Tourism is one of the major sectors for generating resources of state economy and to sustain this activity, development with a vision of environmental and ecological concern is needed.
Natural landscapes, forests and water bodies are the essence of tourism besides our lush green villages and picturesque health resorts. Famous Poet and Philosopher Dr. Iqbal has put the attraction and hospitality of the valley’s nature in this Urdu verse “Zarra Zarra Hai Meray Kashmir Ka Mehmaan Nawaz Rastay Kay Pathroon Nay Diya Pani Mujay” ( every pore of my Kashmir is such hospitable that even the stones on the waysides offered me water)
As ecotourism is becoming a major attraction for nature-lovers and a new concept to carve out a decent place for itself across the globe, the State Government is also prioritizing efforts meant for identifying and introducing the places of ecotourism. In this regard, the state tourism ministry and the tourism ministry of India have already identified villages which would be called tourist villages. These villages would be the first to welcome ecotourism in Kashmir and the people are being imparted training and necessary information is being shared with them about the Ecotourism.
The Government is initiating measures for highlighting the wetlands as major destinations. The forest department has constructed eco-friendly constructions like wooden huts and log huts at Dodhi Pthri, Gumarg and Sonamarg while as the tourist villages are also coming up with eco-friendly infrastructure to host the guests or tourists. These measures are aimed to save the environment from degradation and also raise awareness among the people, or the beneficiaries, regarding sustained and environment friendly procedures and patterns.
For promotion of the tourism in the state, Central Government has approved a grant of Rs.3622 lakh rupees, out of which 800 lakh rupees stand already released. These funds are primarily to be used for strengthening the basic infrastructure of tourism and identification of new tourist attraction places. Till date eight such places have been identified at Srinagar, Jammu and Zanskar areas of the state. Every now and then we see that state tourism department is organizing various festivals and events within as well as outside the state for promotion of this industry which are a welcome step though much more is to be done.
We are still far behind when it comes to comparing ourselves with places of tourist attraction in India or otherwise. Out of 24 fresh water lakes in the Himalayan region of Pahalgam only 3, namely Sheeshnag, Tarsar and Marsar have been brought on tourism map while as the rest are yet to be explored for tourism purpose. There are so many beautiful places in our state and particularly in our valley which have not been identified yet.
There is a great scope for eco-tourism in our state which is blessed with such a natural beauty and geography which has virtually no match in the world. We are blessed with unique geographical beauty which is a great attraction for tourists from all over world while as our villages present a picturesque look with meadows, water streams and fresh water springs almost everywhere.
Having said this, we have to understand the importance of tourism as a major source of income for our people and the state. While we are rich in resources and have tremendous tourism potential, the myth that Kashmir is an ill resourced place is however strengthened by the very presence of the state government in front of the central government with a begging bowl in hand. The state government must be innovative in realizing the tourism potential of the state which, it portrayed and projected in a positive and creative way, could end many an economic miseries of our people.
As of now, the major portion of our budget is spent on wages Bill of state employees and we are left with meager amount for our developmental works. Fortunately we are observing that people at the helm of affairs of state as well as civil societies here are concentrating on the natural resources of the state which can boost our income.
Recently utilization of water resources and its exploitation has been well in news. It gives satisfaction to one and all when people, particularly, those who are the decision makers, think like this. We should identify our resources and get more and more benefit from them. It is not only water resource, we have forests, medicinal plants and the most important and income fetching resource- tourism. Our tourism is multi-dimensional and if exploited in a better way, it could compete with bigger names in world tourism.