It’s Bloom Time

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SHEIKH ABID

With the Tulip Garden being thrown open, it’s time for the tourism season to pick in Kashmir. Here’s glimpsing the ever-increasing options in tourism here and how they can really boost the economic status of our people besides bringing us a happy change from the lives we have lead across the last few decades.

‘’Wande cxali, sheen gali, beyi yii bahaar’’…

(Winter will flee, snow will melt… Spring shall return again).

With the ending of harsh chilly winters in Kashmir, Spring has, yet again, knocked at the doors of the misty aired Valley, bringing us a new hope and an aura of blissful beginnings.

A Spring and without tulips here? Impossible! Particularly, when we are a proud host to Asia’s largest Tulip garden. Situated in the lap of tall standing Zabarwan range on one side and majestic Dal Lake on the other, the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden and Siraj Bagh was thrown open to the public last Saturday.

And with the garden being open now, there is a hope that we are set to witness yet another record breaking tourist inflow to our breathtaking valley, as we witnessed in 2023. According to official figures, Jammu & Kashmir while surpassing all previous records since independence, saw more than 2.11 crore tourists come in, marking a significant milestone in its tourism trajectory.

Well as per officials, the garden this year will see 17 lakh varied varieties of tulips bloom with five new red, yellow and pink flower varieties with alternate early and late blooming flower bulbs giving an extra blooming time benefit to tourists coming to garden.

  • Tapping the potential

Indeed the administration’s efforts in context of tourism have accelerated manifold over the last few years. The government has been operating a new tourism policy which has indeed yielded results as is evident from the numbers. The Department Of Tourism has identified around 300 new unexplored tourist sites in Jammu and Kashmir among which 75 new sufi/religious sites, 75 new cultural and heritage sites and 75 new tracks are included. Moreover, focus on improving the existing tourist infrastructure and creating infrastructure at 75 new tourist destinations is also being executed along the plan.

Having said that, a lot needs to be done to explore the full tourism potential of the Valley. There still are a number of amazing places yet undiscovered and unexplored. We watched happily when authorities lifted the ban on border tourism and opened the ways to areas like Keran, Teetwal, Uri, Gurez etc. And indeed, a huge influx of tourists, ranging from local to national to international, thronged these places in lakhs. Keran alone witnessed more than 1 lakh tourists visiting in 2023, the highest ever in history. Similarly, Gurez saw over 35,000 adventure lovers last year. Along these, other places like Lolab, Tanghdar, Machil and Bangus valley, which had been silently hidden and unexplored for years, are now coming into the limelight fast.

It would not be an exaggeration to claim that Kashmir has a tourist spot hidden every here and there. Almost all the districts of the Valley nestle a number of unexplored jewels. It is high time for us to shift our focus from Gulmarg and Pahalgam and start exploring and enjoying new places. Places like Warwan valley, Naranag, Tosamaidan, Gogaldara, Yousmarg, Nilnag deserve to be known and appreciated. Then there are adventurous trekking sites like Badi Bahek, D K Marg, Tarsar Marsar, Gangbal, Vishnusar, Krishnasar, Gadsar etc… all these need to be brought into focus.

Among the attempts to uphold tourism in such far-flung areas, recently, the district administration of Ganderbal has circulated a public notice asking the general public about the unexplored and unseen places in their district which as per them have a potential for tourism. Residents from a particular area can easily pitch their ideas to the district administration about places with tourist potential, which can eventually pave way for creating a source of employment for the local population. A similar idea can be replicated across all districts.

An official from the district administration of Ganderbal shares with KC: “The idea was to explore new potentially rich tourist destinations in Ganderbal and surprisingly, we have received a good response from people. We are now filtering and inspecting the places and soon you will see some new tourist places in the district”.

  • Exploring the options

The tourism in J&K offers a wide array of options. The delightful backwaters, hill stations and the landscape make J&K a beautiful tourist destination. Historical monuments, forts, places of religious importance, hill resorts, etc. add to the grandeur of the UT as it attract tourists from all over the world.

We have a huge potential in various tourism beats be it cultural tourism, religious tourism, adventure tourism or medical tourism. All these areas could be fully explored. We are one of the rarest places with such an amazing historical cross-cultural and ethnic synchronisation and a lesson in religious tolerance and co-existence. Our history is rich and diversified. We have witnessed Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam along different phases of our times. You would witness a Buddhist site where the 4th Buddhist Council was held and a Hindu Sun temple of Lord Vishnu, and a Catholic church along with a number of Islamic Sufi shrines spread across lengths and breadths of the Valley. This peaceful co-existence is testimony to our secular peace-loving historical records which, despite witnessing the deadliest blow of conflict laden bloodshed, still stand tall and intact.

As a part of a strategic move to diversify its tourism offerings, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government is setting its sights on unlocking the untapped potential of cultural and eco-tourism.

The government’s latest vision document outlines a comprehensive plan to develop new types of tourism experiences, including adventure tourism, heritage tourism, and cultural tourism.

According to the report, the focus is on providing personalised services, creating unique destination experiences, exploring unusual venues, developing new products, promoting eco-friendly destinations, offering economical services, and leveraging online marketing strategies.

Moreover, this plays a key role in fostering cross-cultural exchanges between different societies. It facilitates the learning of different languages, lifestyles, and traditions, providing opportunities to adopt and appreciate the qualities of different cultures.

According to the estimates from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in 2011, tourism generates around 270.7 million jobs globally and accounts for over 10% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It also plays key role in cross-cultural exchange of the two cultures.

Therefore in a place like Kashmir that has witnessed an indefinite era of bloodshed and terrorism, tourism can offer a healing touch to the bruised wounds of its people. We have seen enough of the purposeless hartaals and stilling of the public systems, results of which are evident to all of us. Now we deserve a sigh of relief, we deserve to live a happy and peaceful life like the rest of the people across the globe. We have known enough restless nights and economic distress. Now we too want to earn good money and feed well our families. Nature has gifted us enormous amounts of natural resources along with breathtaking beauty. A sustainable and environment friendly tourism can be a game changer. Let us hope that our fortunes will favour us this time too and we would witness an ever increasing footfall of both national and international tourists this year that we can host with love and warmth.

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