The Valley of Discontent
THE Valley Of Discontent may have been a poem by David Lewis Paget. But right here, on the Bijbehara-Langanbal-Pahalgam road, stands our own valley of discontent. It’s called the Apple Valley. This valley had been a major tourist puller once. But for some time now, it’s been forced to see huge economic losses owing to the inconsiderate orders of the local administration denying permission to tourists to travel through this famed route towards Pahalgam.
The Apple Valley, it may be mentioned, has been the most famous tourist stop-over in the recent years. Located in the middle of the famous apple producing area at Chenewader, just ahead of the Srigufwara town, the valley has had a good reason for its attractiveness. This lush green area surrounded by serene waters of Nalla Lidder, was developed by local stakeholders as a stop-over for tourists and gradually, it became a famous spot on the tourism map in South Kashmir. In fact more and more people were inspired to open tourism-related businesses at Apple Valley. Resultantly, every single stakeholder has taken loans from commercial banks to build their units at Apple Valley.
However, over the last couple of years the hoteliers, handicraft and handloom unit holders and restaurant owners here have incurred huge financial losses owing to an inconsiderate decision by the local administration to not to allow the tourists to ply on this route. The businesses are wearing a deserted look and the stakeholders are in distress.
- Open the world for the locals
It isn’t merely about the businesses at Apple Valley alone; the administration needs to look at the issue from a broader perspective. The area, no doubt, was highly infested in the deadly phase of militancy. The people on both sides of Bijbehara-Langanbal road remained cocooned for decades. And because there was less intervention and interaction, the people of the area were vulnerable to the extremist ideology. But now, when the situation has improved phenomenally, it would be appropriate to streamline the thought processes of the people living along the Bijbehara-Langabal road. It’s time they began to enjoy the fruits of diversity. Let them mingle with tourists – people of varied races, colours, castes and creeds to understand the dynamics of a pluralistic world. Why should the local administration deny this section of people the opportunity of mainstreaming?
- Let ’em know, all is well!
Secondly, by keeping this area out of bonds for tourists, isn’t the administration giving in to the enemies of peace and progress. It only reminds us of the hugely consequential retreat of the administration from many designated areas which virtually provided these separatists a reason to celebrate.
The Bijbehara-Langanbal road has been developed and upgraded at a cost to the state exchequer. It is very foolish to deny its use to tourists. The UT administration has done a lot to improve and upgrade the basic infrastructure here and LG Manoj Sinha should see to it that the money does not go waste.
There may be genuine security issues but the situation demands that the administration ensure that the tourists ply on this road, so as to send a clear message that all is well. People need to be assured that the government is not only competent enough to explore the untapped tourism potential but has the will to establish its right all through the geographical boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Why waste investment?
The Apple Valley has been a recreational stop-over for tourists who have always enjoyed a relaxing time here in the lap of lush green apple orchards, doing random shopping and then moving on to their destination. The people here have spent crores establishing restaurants, dry-fruit shops, handicrafts showrooms, and the small-time tea and juice vendors. It is unfortunate that now they all have been left high and dry even as almost the entire Kashmir valley is enjoying a record tourist influx. “We had been banking heavily on this year’s tourist season after little or no business activity for the past more than three years now,” says the owner of the Handicraft Showroom. He adds: “Our business runs entirely on the tourist footfall. The businesses here are mainly tourist-centric; so when tourists are not allowed to take this route to Pahalgam, who is going to buy our products?”
Another businessman who owns a high-end restaurant tells Kashmir Central that “the local administration has assured us on many occasions about permitting tourists to ply on this road but every time, there are hiccups which we don’t have any idea about. Also, it is strange to see an incident like the one when a non-local was killed in Anantnag and the Bijbehara-Langanbal road was closed for the tourists!”
Haji Abdul Majeed Bhat, a local from the area who runs a restaurant, shares: “I took a loan from a bank riding on the hope that tourism would revive. I set up a restaurant. But I have witnessed almost no business and I am in severe debt. Hundreds of youth were earning their livelihood manning stalls of varied products here but now their businesses and families are getting badly affected as they are unable to earn a single penny. The last three years have seen them suffer huge losses and most have been unable to clear the bank loans they took for setting up their businesses”.
Majeed further talks about how this year, everyone expected things to look up and many businessmen here hired workers at their shops and restaurants but they have been unable to pay them.
- A case of exclusive control?
A hotelier, on request of anonymity, says that the highly influential handlers of KP Road are the ones actually creating roadblocks. “It looks like some officials are hand-in-glove with the businesses on KP Road who don’t want to have any competitors on the parallel road leading to Pahalgam. These are simply their machinations and nothing more. An excuse is being manufactured on the pretext of security cover”.
The stakeholders here have, once again, urged upon LG Manoj Sinha for immediate intervention to save the livelihood of hundreds of people here Apple Valley.