Not a bad idea, but it needs a lot more than mere comparing the two!
Dreaming big is prelude to successes. The best part of Mufti Muhammad Syeed’s public life has been to dream big. Be it politics or anything else, his visionary zeal always made him to go for the bull’s eye. Political dreams apart, his ideas about development and promotion are noteworthy. His strategy for developing Kashmir as tourist destination has always been innovative. During his earlier tenure as Chief Minister, as a small fry in states tourism department I am witness to well thought process of restoration of Gulmarg to some semblance under his orders. His keenness to get the Gulmarg to its pristine glory was worth observing. And interestingly, then onwards the term ‘ pristine glory’ became a buzz word in Kashmir tourism parlance.
Mufti Muhammad Syeed’s latest, but wonderful dream to carve out a Davos like destination out of Gulmarg is appreciable, that too when Gulmarg for long, is identified within national and international tourism fraternity. Practically, whole of Kashmir with snow clad mountains, pine forests and vast lush green meadows look a lot like Switzerland. But, Davos as conferencing destination has something more to offer than natural beauty and serene atmosphere that attracts the international corporate sector to it. World class high- end tourism and conferencing infrastructure and highest levels of professionalism places Davos as first choice for international business and professional community.
Competing Gulmarg with Davos at this juncture will not only be out of place but unfair. Like any other international tourist place Gulmarg has the distinction of being an all- weather destination.
Nature has bestowed Gulmarg with lot of natural beauty, towering mountains, vast forest area and much more; its name Gulmarg— the meadow of flowers signifies its beauty: infrastructure at Gulmarg too has improved reasonably, but the sense of politeness and fair play has always eluded Gulmarg as world class tourist destination.
Post 1947, unlike other tourist places in Kashmir, Gulmarg maintained its distinctive identity for several years. No doubt that unique identity carried the baggage of autocracy from ‘ Raj’ era and discrimination with natives was evident. However, in the garb of misconstrued democracy many political leaders and representatives deprived working class in and around Gulmarg, thus ruining the much prized concept of polite hospitality, otherwise visible at every place in Gulmarg. Then onwards Gulmarg turned brasher, uncouth and less caring. The neo- riches unfamiliar with newly arrived freedom along with corrupt political class mutilated the beauty of Gulmarg. They defaced its splendor and even placed their ill intended footprints on the much preserved golf courses and the calmer outer circular road. Unplanned expansion of existing High Altitude Warfare School ( HAWS) changed the whole landscape of Gulmarg from serene environs to concrete jungle.
Creating a place for Gulmarg in national and international conference and summit tourism, this once calm hill station requires complete overhauling both in administration and infrastructure. On administrative front Gulmarg has to be administrated by a high- powered professional administrative setup beyond the existing concept of tourism development authority, independent pressures.
For justified infrastructure development local population engaged with tourist trade as petty labourers, pony and sledge operators, and guides need to be taken on board as otherwise they will be always genuinely irritable and annoyed, creating a negative image of Gulmarg. Presently a simple visit to Gulmarg exposes the whole gamut of our preparedness as decent hosts.
At entry points of Gulmarg noise, hackling, and filthy behavior of foul mouthed operators make the visitors sick.
Real independence demanded that since long they should have been part of tourism wealth at Gulmarg. But alas! For last more than sixty years the so- called saviors of common- man used them as fodder for their political canons. Within the ownership of one additional cable car project or a state of the art conference center at Gulmarg the whole lot of this angry, poor and exploited work force can be absorbed with dignity and their services utilized for creating a greater, green and courteous Gulmarg.
Branding and marketing Gulmarg as Davos of India or for that matter of whole Asia is not a bad idea, but it requires a firm political will, highest degree of administrative acumen, quality hospitality and marketing professionalism, keen eye and understanding for environment and ecology and above all highest levels of sincerity.
Good luck Mufti Sahib.