Kashmir fast emerging as favourite destination for Southeast Asian tourists
22 August 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Daily Excelsior Correspondent
Jammu: Kashmir is fast becoming a preferred destination for Southeast Asians particularly tourists from Malaysia who are eager to visit here and see the charms of the Himalayan valley including snow and glaciers. 'The 5 million Malay speaking people of our country want to visit Kashmir and enjoy the beauty of the place’, said A. Baharuddin, a tour operator of Malaysia who has been bringing his compatriots here since 1968. Baharuddin today called on the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed here this morning along with his latest group comprising 34 tourists. The group is a mix of different communities including Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists. They interacted with the Chief Minister and shared their experiences about the visit. Baharuddin said that another group of 34 Malaysians would be arriving here next month while 200 more have bookings up to the year end. These are mainly retired Government officials, he said adding that this year 13 groups would come to Kashmir. He has prepared and distributed in Malaysia 20,000 CDs on Kashmir tourism last year and is making another 5000 this year. The arrivals from Malaysia have shown an increase of 148 percent over the last year. 'This year, we have already received 600 Malaysian tourists in comparison to 200 last year', said Director General Tourism, Mohammad Salim Baig. The increased interest of Malaysians in Kashmir tourism is linked with the serious efforts of the Jammu and Kashmir Government in selling Kashmir internationally as a major destination. A high level team of senior officials of the State tourism sector visited Malaysia last year to interact with tour and travel operators. The interaction had a positive impact. Alongside this, Southeast Asia has developed greater connectivity with India and Singapore Airlines has started operating direct flights to Amritsar this year. The J&K Government is persuading the Centre to operate flights from Amritsar to Kashmir to attract larger number of Southeast Asian tourists. The Chief Minister has also highlighted the need to connect north Indian States with South Asia. The individual efforts of Baharuddin too have yielded good results. His Kuala Lumpur based G. S. Travel and Tours is selling Kashmir as a favourite destination and attracting tourists to the valley. Apart from placing Kashmir specific advertisements in local newspapers, he also sponsors weekly radio programmes in Malay and Tamil languages promoting Kashmir tourism. Baharuddin said that Malaysia has a 1.8 million Tamil speaking population. He said that Air Sahara has offered him discount of 44 percent on their flights between Delhi and Srinagar. He appreciated the support of the Jammu and Kashmir Government and said his association with Kashmir was very old. He described the people here as lovely, reliable and who could be depended upon. Giving his impressions about his visit to Kashmir, middle aged Ganpati said that the valley was very beautiful where tourists from the whole world should come. He said he found the situation here quite different than what he had heard in Malaysia. He hoped that the efforts of the Chief Minister and his Government would further improve tourism in Kashmir. Another tourist, who had come here for the first time, said she was mesmerised by the beauty of the valley particularly the Mughal Gardens Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg. He said the Government was up grading tourist infrastructure in the State with the aim to make it an international tourist destination.