Beyond Gulmarg and Pahalgam: Exploring rural tourism potential of Kashmir
Bungus valley (courtesy: nativeplanet.com)
Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Srinagar must be some of the names, which pop up while planning a trip to Kashmir. No doubt these places define Kashmir tourism for their natural aura and history. But it is not all that Kashmir has to offer for the hashtag wanderlust people.
Let’s rewind. Baring few years, Kashmir witnessed huge tourist footfall post-2009. Particularly 2011 was the game changer when Kashmir received more than a million tourists for the first time after the eruption of armed conflict.
The increasing arrivals have no doubt swelled our tourism budget, which mostly focuses on promotions and developing infrastructure. But Kashmir tourism has not moved beyond these prime places though religious, medical and village tourism have great potential.
Fewer tourists explore offbeat places like Gurez or Tosamaidan. While much has been done to promote Gulmarg and Pahalgam, the tourism players have failed to encourage village tourism, which is a new trend in most states and countries.
Rural tourism is not altogether a new phenomenon. Interest in the countryside recreation started to grow towards the end of the eighteenth century as a reaction to the stress of the increasing urbanization and industrialization.
Take Goa, which is famous for its beaches, food, and wine is now getting famous for its villages. So many tourism players are investing in building hotels and cafes in the villages to cater to the tourists who love to stay in calm places. Meghalaya, which has one of the cleanest villages in Asia, too is known for its villages.
Kashmir has a lot to offer, but the tourism department and private players have ignored it. Post-2011, Jammu and Kashmir made tall claims to promote rural tourism. It, however, remained confined to papers and as a result, some of the villages didn’t get the required attention. From north to south, there are hundreds of villages that have the potential to become tourism hubs given their scenery and landscape.
Bandipora is one of the districts that has been off the radar of tourists and promoters. Despite having a lush green valley like Gurez and Athwatoo, not many tourists visit these places.
Situated on the Sopore-Bandipora road, about 56 km from Srinagar, Watlab has a scope to enthrall tourists from the country and abroad.
This place offers a beautiful view of Wular Lake, stretching out as far as the eye can see. The picturesque villages edging around the lake further enhance the scenery. Adding a touch of color are the vast paddy fields.
It can also prove heaven for anglers since Wular fish is known for its taste. There is a forest rest house situated amongst beautiful apple orchards, but tourists rarely visit the place. It is a popular hangout among locals than tourists.
Chatpal is touted as mini-Pahalgam. Tucked away in a quaint corner of south Kashmir, at about 90 km from Srinagar, Chatpal is a town that is so beautiful that words fall short to describe it.
Breathtaking stretches of lush greenery dotted with yellow and white wildflowers, the aroma of pine trees, a clear blue sky, and a fantastic, panoramic view of the majestic mountains, make it a true paradise on earth. The village has a huge scope for sightseeing and horse riding.
A village called Thimran in Chatpal is located on a hillock which is a treat to watch given its greenery, apple, and walnut orchards. Stunning wooden houses and a gushing stream embellish its beauty.
A calm and beautiful valley in the Kupwara district, Lolab is known for colorful farms. Surrounded by beautiful hills, it is home to dense fir and pine forests. Adding to the charm is the Lahwal River which snakes through the valley.
A favorite with mountain and nature lovers, this destination has an ambiance that allows tourists to take a digital detox and hear the sound of silence.
Located in the Kupwara district of north Kashmir, Bangus is full of greenery that can encourage tourists from across the world. Situated at an altitude of 10,000 feet, it is locally known as Nowgam and is about 150 Kilometers away from Srinagar.
Bangus Valley is surrounded by Chowkibal Mountains on the northern side, and Qazinag and Shamasabari Mountains on the western side.
Bangus has been previously restricted due to the armed conflict and the lack of infrastructure. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to bring the valley on the tourist map. Having been isolated all these years, boarding and lodging facilities remain a concern.
Located at the foothills of the Shamasabari and Karanu mountains, Karnah is an attractive scenic track in the western corner of the Kashmir valley. It is known for its forts, palaces, statues, weapons, and utensils which were found during excavation.
This area is full of natural splendor. It has high mountains, snowy peaks, forests, scattered houses and habitations on the slopes, Dhoks and Margs, which create a great ambiance.
Teethwal, Gundi Gujran, Tadd, and Saidpora are some of the villages, which have a beautiful landscape and deserve attention by the government.
As Karnah is located at the furthest corner of Kashmir, a person will require documents to explore the virgin destination.
Named ‘KaniShahr’ or ‘City of Stones’ by the locals, Parhaspora was the ancient capital of Kashmir in the reign of Lalitaditya Muktapida.
Located nearly 22 kilometers away from the summer capital Srinagar, Parishpora can boost Kashmir’s heritage tourism if promoted and maintained by the government. Rarely any tourist visits this place though it has become a hangout for locals.