Kashmir has always been counted among the top dream tourist destinations in India. Though foreigners too have come to the Valley in large numbers, domestic tourists continue to remain the mainstay of the sector. Kashmir has the potential of being counted among the top dream tourist destinations of the world if attention is paid towards the development of heritage tourism infrastructure.
If heritage tourism gets a boost, it has the potential of attracting high-end tourists from all over the world. If we look at Srinagar city, it has a lot to offer vis-à-vis heritage tourism. Within a radius of seven to eight kilometers, we have old religious, commercial, and residential structures and spots that are accessible through land, lake, and river. From the historic Maharaj Gunj market to old residential houses and historical structures, Srinagar has a lot to offer. Several mosques and shrines are all wooden and need to be promoted as pilgrim and heritage tourism destinations.
The ‘Khanqah-e-Moala’ itself is the oldest of its kind in the Valley that was first built in 1395 AD and is known for its intricate wooden and paper machie works. Old Srinagar is a treasure trove that has not yet been discovered by the high-end tourists that visit places purely for the sake of heritage. While a lot needs to be done to improve the infrastructure at the heritage tourist spots, there are a few basic stumbling blocks. Even at present, there are people who can bring high-end foreign tourists to old Srinagar city.
However, lack of basic facilities in old Srinagar city like the absence of public washrooms and good cafes and restaurants remain a big deterrent. While developing the overall heritage tourism sector infrastructure is bound to take time, the authorities can at least start with setting up civic amenities near the heritage tourism spots.
Though the successive governments in the past had taken initiatives to boost heritage tourism infrastructure, the same were not taken to the logical conclusion. When the Jhelum cruise was started, it offered different glimpses of the old city through the river and stakeholders then said Srinagar had the potential of being the ‘Venice of Asia’. Interestingly, a ferry ride on the 15-kilometer river stretch between Panthachowk on the outskirts of the city and Chattabal offered breathtaking views of downtown Srinagar.
The boats would pass through the interiors of the old city and since the early civilizations of Srinagar lived on the banks of Jhelum, the commuters caught sights of ancient structures. In places like Venice, water transport is a major tourist attraction. However, the Jhelum cruise did not take off the way it was imagined.
The Hari Parbat Fort and the adjoining ‘kalai’ area too have a huge heritage tourism potential. The authorities need to develop more ‘heritage walk’ sites. A ‘guided walk’ at Hyderabad’s famous Golconda Fort draws tourists from all over and we can have something similar at Hari Parbat. Besides, the authorities of late have vied for UNESCO World Heritage Site status to the Mughal gardens of Kashmir valley. Even as six Mughal gardens and Neolithic settlements of Burzahom in the Valley besides the cold desert cultural landscape of Ladakh are already in the tentative UNESCO list, previous attempts to get heritage status for these sites have failed.
If the government gets success in this regard, it will give a big boost to heritage tourism.
The authorities in the past too have announced elaborate plans for boosting heritage tourism but the same was never implemented properly. The draft Master Plan for Srinagar city too had batted for conservation of heritage assets and promoting the same as tourist destinations. The plan had called for large-scale conservation of heritage sites under its ‘Heritage Policy in the Revised Master Plan-2035’ as part of a mission to ‘contribute to the quality of life and uniqueness they bring to the current and future generations.
The conservation plan included ancient sites having a religious significance so that their pilgrim tourism potential was exploited. The sites are Burzhama Archaeological Site, Ancient Buddhist Monastery Harwan, and Parihaspora Archaeological Site (Kan-i-Shaher), Burzhama, Buddhist Monastery and Parihaspora. The plan had categorically stated that their location were favorable in terms of tourism activities. Parihaspora is located on the tableland surrounded by the vast green fields on one side and orchards on the other. Burzhama and Buddhist Monastery are favorably located in the lap of Zabarwan hills overlooking Dal Lake.
The Master Plan had also proposed Tourist Village-cum-Urban Hatt at Shadad Bagh, Habbak for the promotion of ethnic and culture tourism while Kalai Hariparbat is also proposed to be developed as a tourist product. The Kalai of Nagar Nagar, Kathi Darwaza, Sangeen Darwaza with Hariparbat Fort, Mullah Akhun Shah Mosque, Badamwari, remains of Mughal palaces, Nigeen front, Makhdoom Sahib, Gurwara Chatti Padshahi. Unfortunately, the plan was not actualized the way it should have been. Several places outside the Srinagar city too have immense scope vis-à-vis heritage tourism sector infrastructure development. Lots of plans to boost heritage tourism outside Srinagar city too were announced in the past but the same never took off. For example, once there was a plan to develop River Jheulm’s ‘birthplace’ at Verinag in South Kashmir as a heritage town. The then government had decided to develop Verinag as a heritage town.
It stated that the town will get a ‘heritage town status with international standard facilities. Unfortunately, like other plans, this proposal also failed. There are so many other places in the Valley that have huge heritage tourism potential. Already, several plans to boost heritage tourism are already there. But, the plans need implementation on the ground.
(The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Kashmir Monitor neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. Feedback at [email protected])