J&K fast emerging as popular tourist destination: Azad

1 April 2008
The Daily Excelsior
Gopal Sharma

JAMMU: Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has said that despite receiving a major set back in the past nearly 20 years of turmoil, the Jammu and Kashmir is fast emerging as a most popular tourist destination not only for domestic but the foreign tourists. Declaring open the 15-day Jammu Festival at historic Bagh-e-Bahu, just adjacent to the Fort of Maharaja Bahulochan (Bahu Qila), amidst display of impressive colourful Lazer bands and bursting of fire crackers here this evening, Mr Azad said the militancy caused much damage to the tourism sector in the State. Its economy which is mostly connected with this vital sector suffered a major set back. Though not much tourist infrastructure was raised by the previous Governments yet a large number of tourists used to visit this State due to its natural scenic beauty, good climate, beautiful streams, lakes and lush green fields. 'Lekin Kashmir Ko Na Jane Kis Ki Nazar Lag Gai'. (Bad omen cast its shadows on Kashmir in the form of militancy), he added. With the rise of militancy and bloodshed, infrastructure was damaged and the tourists stopped coming to the State. All those connected with this industry whether Shikara Wallas, hoteliers, taxi operators, transporters, traders, guides and poneywalls all lost their jobs and earnings. The State too, suffered a loss and other States went ahead of J&K in tourism sector in past two decades, Mr Azad said. Referring to the improving situation in the State, the Chief Minister said the coalition Government realised the importance of this vital sector and took some major initiatives to create infrastructure, develop various tourist destinations by framing Tourism Development Authorities in all parts of the State besides creating Tulip gardens at Srinagar and near Chatha in Jammu. 'Since lakhs of pilgrims are coming to Mata Vaishnodevi and Amarnathji shrines, the efforts are being made to prolong their stay to the surrounding destinations so that State could be benefited', he further said. 'With the change in situation, the tourists not only domestic but foreigners have also started looking towards J&K again and it is a matter of pleasure for all of us that J&K has been fast emerging as most popular destination for the foreign tourists. This has also been learnt from the Tourist operators from various parts of the country,' the Chief Minister asserted. Commenting on the scope of tourism potential, Mr Azad said being former Union Minister for Tourism he happened to visit many tourist destinations in the world. He claimed that J&K has massive potential but there is urgent need to use vision and promote these destinations. This sector has massive potential to provide employment to the local youth, he maintained. Not satisfied with the response to the inaugural function of the Festival from the public, the Chief Minister said 'at such an occasion massive public response is expected but it seems to be one sided official affair'. He said there should have been overwhelming response and involvement of public to ensure success of the fair. He said various cultural activities during the festival should not remain in and around Jammu but be extended in all the districts of the region. It is pertinent to mention here that a large gathering of the public was witnessed outside the gates of the Bagh-e- Bahu who could not manage entry due to high security measures at the venue. There was a selective gathering attending the function organised jointly by the Department of Tourism, Divisional and the District Administration. Earlier, in his welcome address, Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Sudhanshu Pandey said that for the first time this festival has been extended from three to 15 days with the guidance and support of the Chief Minister. Nearly 200 events will take place during the festivity and artists from the State and also from outside would be participating. He also referred to the conduct of Himalayan Car rally which would touch all the tourism destinations in the State. Director Tourism, Ajay Khajuria presented vote of thanks. Several Ministers including Mangat Ram Sharma, Jugal Kishore Sharma, Gulchain Singh Charak, Mula Ram, Babu Singh, G M Saroori, Gharu Ram, MLA Raman Bhalla, Dy Chairman Legislative Council Arvinder Singh and Chief Secretary B R Kundal were also present on the occasion besides prominent citizens and Corporators. Neither Deputy Chief Minister and Minister incharge Tourism, Muzaffar Hussain Baig nor his other party colleagues were seen in this important function of Jammu region. As the festival was thrown open by Mr Azad, the entire city reverberated with the sound and colours of fireworks and lazer beams creating breath-taking and unbelievable sight. The great show of light of sound at the bank of river Tawi and historic Bagh-e-Bahu enthralled the gathering which perhaps was witnessing first ever event of this kind in the City of Temples at social gathering. This scene was witnessed by many in the temple city from their roof-top when the fireworks started bursting and creating colourful bands and lights. As a part of this programme, a Dogri folk cultural programme was organised at Kala Kendra here this evening. The public witnessed the performance of great Dogri artists- Ghulam Mohd and Bishan Dass and party.