Regular commercial tourist traffic Valley via Basohli-Bhaderwah-Kishtwar is still a question?
It was in January 2009 that the then Chief Minister of Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir Omar Abdullah while addressing a function (150th Anniversary of the First War of Independence ) organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages had said that he had traveled far and wide but nowhere witnessed a composite cultural richness and diversity as is evident in Jammu and Kashmir. No one can deny what Omar Abdullah had said but the question is has any one like ‘him’ cared that truthfully to exploit the values contained in the composite cultural richness of J&K for the betterment of the people there in ? Among other things the cultural diversity of quality and ancient historical ‘prints’ that exist in J&K have enough scope for creating infrastructure worth salable commercial tourism with the support of pilgrim tourism to benefit so particularly the Jammu and Ladakh regions that have not been otherwise blessed with that favorably climate wise as has been Kashmir Valley. Still enough of scope for commercial ( even summer tourism) exits in Jammu region but there have been only promises but no serious plans for delivery of infrastructure on ground.
Jammu Region does have a little rough climate during summers enroute to spots worth development as tourist resorts but instead this region is blessed with more of pilgrimage places near to potential tourist destinations . This way there is multi dimensional scope for carrying the visitors / likely tourists/ pilgrims in and around areas of Jammu region where a good number of adventure sports as well as cable car projects too could be promoted. So still a high order pilgrim as well as commercial tourism could be promoted particularly in areas outside Kashmir valley like that in Jammu Province but that has not been done even after the Kashmir Valley tourism was so badly affected in 1990s. One would ask why?
Even after PDP-BJP alliance had taken over the governance since March 2015 and some draft references were made in the Agenda for Alliance March 2015 for development of Jammu region as an independent tourism circuit with specific plans for: Suchetgarh – Samba – Hiranagar border tourism, Katra – Patnitop – Bhaderwah sector, Parmandal – Utterbeni -Surinsar – Mansar sector* Katra – Majalta – Billawar- Basohli sector* Bani – Sarthal- Jai circuit and Rajouri – Poonch ( seven lakes) sector and * Enhancing connectivity by building Basoli-Bani-Bhaderwah road, ‘appreciable’ commercial tourism infrastructure is nowhere in sight worth attracting the tourist for leisure , stay and relax for a week or 10 days even in the so often talked about “Bhaderwah- the Mini Kashmir” zone/ zone what to talk of other areas.
To quote in a way the work on Bhaderwah-Bani Basohli -road ( J&K) was started in 1964 by the J&K Public Works Department (PWD) ,it was handed over to BRO in 1986 and though BRO claimed that the 165Km road was completed as single lane traffic movement in 1993 surely it was of no use from tourism point of view. It was also reported by media quoting Border Roads Organisation India (BRO) / GREF sources in November 2012 that in J&K Bhaderwah-Bani Basoli double lane road (165 Km) will be completed for commercial tourism flow by 2017 connecting Lakhanpur with Bhaderwah and with Himachal Pradesh via Bhaderwah – Chamba Road. The status worth tourist friendly easy& safe all through atleast two lane highway through to Bhaderwah is still not there in 2022.
It was expected that after BJP has come in power both in Center and in State the neglect suffered by areas outside Kashmir valley would be undone by pumping in extra financial and human resources to make good the loss but nearly 7 years have passed and so disappointingly even the Katra – Patnitop – Bhaderwah sector has not been suitably exploited what to talk of Bani/ Basoli/ Bhaderwah/ Chamba track / or to Valley via Kishtwar. Even the so called Kud Mall project of Patnitop Development Authority is an ‘infant’ 3 decades old .It is the summer tourism ( to some extent adventure tourism too), that brings in the tourist who spends money to buy leisure , comfort, entertainment and services worth improving the economy of the locals.
Himachal Pradesh has been able to attract lakhs of tourist even in small places like Dollhouse , Macleodganj and Khijiar but J&K could not even carry a couple of thousands of tourist to Bhaderwah sector for holidaying what to talk of other areas.
It is no use blaming the Kashmiri leadership, Kashmiri bureaucracy and civil society for the neglect meted to Jammu Region since the Jammu region leadership, bureaucrats (whatever small may be the number) as well as civil society too has not rendered the needed attention and services for suggesting, promoting and following development projects.
Writer has at occasions submitted a brief on potential spots in Jammu Region indicating holy places of pilgrimage as well potential exploitable tourist destination nearby to the erstwhile directors of tourism as well but even clues have not been taken from that. The local civil society and political leadership must come forward and build pressures on the Government to pump in extra resources in Jammu region for development of tourism to compensate for the neglect meted so far.
(The author is a Sr Journalist
and Social Activist [email protected]).