Kashmir tourism and environment!

The two are inseparably linked.

Next to horticulture if properly explored within the parameters of the ecosystem, tourism is the most significant for Kashmir’s economy and employment. Tourism has a long history in Kashmir, Europeans gave direction and push to Kashmir tourism by introducing Kashmir, its natural beauty and adventure prospects to outside world. They laid the foundation of Kashmir tourism by introducing basics of the tourist trade. The place like Gulmarg which was established by British to have a good time during harsh summers ultimately became the bedrock of modern tourism in Kashmir. Kashmir was a favorite destination with international tourists, particularly adventure lovers.

Quality domestic tourists would also contribute considerably to our tourist trade. However, for last two decades either because of travel advisories or negative coverage by a section of media foreign tourist are not impressed to visit Kashmir in big numbers. The pioneers of the tourist trade in Kashmir had identified Kashmir only for adventure and vacation tourism that would coexist with its fragile ecosystem. However, immediately after independence, the popular governments in a bid to extract the maximum out of every available resource without proper planning and expertise made a mess of tourism industry by promoting whatever came in their way in the name of tourism. Vandalizing hill stations and banks of Dal Lake by the influential and protégés of political opportunists in the name of tourism are worst examples of defacing beauty and ecological system of Kashmir.

Undoubtedly, seven decades after the departure of British our tourism sector has progressed a lot, but at a huge cost of our very delicate environs. As a case study to analyses, the multilateral growth of tourism in Kashmir and its impact on ecosystem let us dissect the tourism scenario at Gulmarg. Having Just one established commercial hotel in 1947 Gulmarg is now a full-fledged all season resort with state of the art traditional and adventure tourism facilities. However, this exponential growth in tourist infrastructure compelled to make numerous compromises with the environment. The density of forest cover in and around Gulmarg is down considerably because of monstrous constructions and unpleasant tampering with the existing landscape. British while establishing Gulmarg as a resort had given due consideration to least interference with the ecosystem. The construction material was restricted to easily available local stone and wood and this construction regimen was strictly adhered to by authorities till the early eighties. And now it is free for all! Earlier under meticulously formulated rules waste management in a professional way through civic and health authorities was mandatory at Gulmarg. But at present even after making required amendments these rules are flouted blatantly with impunity by one and all.

Lack of solid waste management and sewerage treatment has polluted not only the ground water and soil profile in Gulmarg, but a huge part of the waste of every category gets washed down to catchment area and ultimately to waterways and water bodies down in the plains. Mushrooming concrete jungles in Gulmarg since mid-eighties have changed the whole landscape of Gulmarg. A place where earlier planners had recommended only single-storey hutments in harmony with the existing landscape, concrete constructions have completely pockmarked the whole picturesque scenery of Gulmarg. Huge traffic flow into Gulmarg bowl has highly polluted the serene and fresh environs of Gulmarg. It all shows that we may be marching ahead in tourist trade numbers but we are fast losing our distinctiveness of quietude and natural beauty.

Kashmir with the specific landscape and diverse climatic pattern requires an exclusive tourism regimen. Beyond earlier European concept of adventure and holiday tourism, Kashmir could be exclusively developed and marketed as high-end eco-tourism destination by merging leisure with conferencing in the nicely preserved tranquil environment. Huge golfing potential, winter sports possibilities, and other focused adventure activities can contribute substantially in maintaining the exclusiveness of tourist trade in Kashmir by discouraging traditional recreational fly by night tourism. Our present efforts to encourage all sort of tourism activities without giving due consideration to the environment and the adverse impact of heavy footfall has proved detrimental in promoting quality eco-friendly high-end tourism. Showcasing our history, heritage, unique architecture and culture while marketing quality tourism along with the huge potential of soothing pilgrim tourism will make us different in national and international tourist circuits. Establishment of tourism development authorities in recent past was a well-thought strategy, but this innovative area and segment specific tourism policy lost its exclusiveness because of political intervention and over populism. Our tourism planner has to come out of a quantitative hangover and give emphasis on quality sustainable high-class tourism.