“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Mehmood raises valid concerns given that the State has hardly any infrastructure to cope with large influx of tourists

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, 39, was born in Srinagar. He graduated from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He has been active in journalism for over ten years, and currently works at the Greater Kashmir (GK), having worked in the past at the Rising Kashmir as the Features Editor. The columnist is presently the GK Magazine Editor.)

More Tourist Destinations .. but where will the mountains of dust that tourism raises in its wake go!

This week we heard Mufti Muhammed Sayeed talk about exploring new tourist destinations. His point is obvious and needs hardly any explaining. Kashmir, for its natural beauty, is bound to attract tourists all over the globe. The flow of tourists this year woke us up again to the potential of tourism as an economic avenue. Understandably this has set people, politicians, and the administration talking about it.

The idea of exploring more destinations for tourists is on the face of it very attractive, but all is not well with this idea if it is not qualified. First, does it mean that tourists should find some less utilized, but known destinations, as attractive as Pahalgam and Gulmarg. If yes, there are certain things that need to be done before expecting a similar rush to these places. One, it has been after a long gap of two decades that people from outside Kashmir are pouring in in such huge numbers. Prior to 1989, when people would come here, the numbers would never be so high. Second, we did not have this explosion in the automobile industry. The number of cars and SUVs that are these days plying on our roads is frightening. If we promote the idea of a place like Kokernag or Acchabal turning into a prime tourist destination, do we have the required infrastructure in terms of roads and parking lots! We don’t have and we know that we don’t have. The existing infrastructure would not suffice even the locals going to these places. And once we respond to this, it entails widening the roads and creating spaces where vehicles can be parked, and tourists can shop and have food. And the gardens and the water bodies, it asks for a 24 hour management. The widening of roads and creation of spaces for the movement of tourists at the destination spots means utilizing more land for this purpose. Do we ever do any calculations on how much agricultural land we lose in building infrastructure for tourism. Does it go into making calculations on how profitable the tourism industry finally is to us! And how should we accommodate the tourists who wish to stay for a night or two. Should we allow the rich people to raise concrete monsters near these destinations or do we have an environment and people friendly means of hosting the tourists. The arrangements must benefit the local populations and take into account the environment and the cultural sensitivities.

This was with the already know but not so utilized tourist destinations. If we are now asking to explore new destinations and build macdamised roads to make them accessible, the problem is even bigger. Kashmir has lost much of the agricultural land and the effects of this loss will strike us on our head very soon, if they have not hit us already. If the nascent and virgin spots are now brought in the tourism net, it will speed up the arrival of disaster. Our pastoral economy is already dwindling because we have lost pastures and grazing fields. If we compare a goat and a tourist from outside Kashmir in terms of economic benefit we will realize that our economic calculations are skewed. The areas that can be thrown open to the tourists are almost invariably those used for sheep rearing. It is like inviting disaster if we throw them open to crowds in the name of tourism. In fact political parties working in Kashmir, who think seriously about the well being of Kashmir, must give a thought to it. Then we have the water sources located in these areas. Why put them to peril.

When we pitch for tourism its adverse impact should not elude us. Just take an example of how many vehicles are pouring into Kashmir these days. The trouble they cause and the damage done to the environment have to go into the economic calculations that we make. Isn’t it possible to restrict the number of vehicles by arranging high end luxury buses that accommodate more persons and cause less pollution for the tourists once they reach Kashmir. Tourism department can also issue guidelines to the tourists so that our environment stays clean. The hotels and resorts have also to be made responsible towards environment. But do we ever think on those lines!

These are some of the questions that we need to answer before tourism is projected as the sole indicator of our economic and political well being. In its present form tourism is as much a problem as an avenue. May be more of a problem than an avenue.