Ongoing conflict hitting Kashmir tourism

  • Mudasir Ali
  • Publish Date: Sep 24 2018 3:18AM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 24 2018 3:34AM
Ongoing conflict hitting Kashmir tourismFile Photo

Austrian commercial counsellor to India, Oskar Andesner, who was on a visit to Kashmir recently, believes that the region has lot to offer in tourism sector to foreigners. In an interview with the  Kashmir Ink, Andesner shared his experience about staying in Kashmir and what more can be done in the sector. Excerpts:  

 

Q: This is your second visit to Kashmir in less than a year. How did you find the Valley?

A: I was here last winter when entire Valley was draped in blanket of snow. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I wanted to come to the valley in summer again to see how beautiful it looks. The mountains, the greenery, the gushing stream makes it so attractive. I felt like I am in my home province of Tyrol. Kashmir has so many things in common with Austria and I had always this passion to visit Kashmir. I like skiing and Kashmir offers you lot in this sports. I stayed in Gulmarg for four days last winter and I found it has lot to offer as far as winter tourism is concerned. But the most important thing which I noticed is that people of Kashmir are so friendly here unlike other places and the culture is so beautiful.

 

Q: But despite being a tourist place the Valley hasn’t been able to attract many foreign tourists.

A: It is because of bad press the Valley gets at national and international level. That is the problem. This bad image comes from media. When I landed in Kashmir last year I found situation altogether different that what is projected in media. I visited Ladakh also and I found lot of foreign tourists there including some from Austria. But in Kashmir I came across just a few foreign tourists, not more than 10. It is the situation in Kashmir that is hitting tourism here. This conflict should be resolved and then you can have tourist boom here. Before 90s lot of people from my country would visit the Valley but not now. Even my family was concerned when I decided to come here. This is all because of the bad press Kashmir is getting.

 

Q: So, you think ongoing conflict is hitting Kashmir tourism?

A: It is a big hurdle. It hits every vital of the society. It is the situation in Kashmir that is hitting region’s tourists which has a potential to be a main contributor to Kashmir economy. Last year in winter I was told they had so little tourists for skiing, may be because there were many incidents on border during that year. I went to Pahalgam this time and after every 500 meters I saw a soldier standing on road or an army vehicle parked on roadside. For people of Kashmir it may have now become a normal thing but for tourists it is scary. But I found people in this part of world very peaceful. Besides, Kashmir has lot to offer to tourists, both in winter as well as summer. Lot of structures have come up in tourist places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam. But there is a need to maintain balance to protect environment at the places. They are so beautiful, a gift from nature. These places need to be protected. I visited Dal Lake. It needs lot of cleaning. It is very dirty. The Nigeen Lake is comparatively clean. Besides, people should involve themselves in preserving environment, and that is so important.

 

Q: Kashmir and Austria have many things in common in terms of climate, topography and more importantly being the tourist destinations. What can be done in Kashmir to attract more tourists, particularly those from outside countries?

A: This ongoing conflict in Kashmir has to end to let tourism thrive in real sense. Then you can have so many tourists and it can be your main revenue generation sector. Austrian economy depends much on tourism. It brings us around 8 percent of total GDP, but we ensured to maintain a balance between tourism and protecting environment. We have lakhs of tourists visiting my province Tyrol every year which is one of the nine provinces of Austria and major tourist attraction. We have tourism relations with many countries -Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka and there are often exchange programs going on. In the past many people from Kashmir would visit Austria to study tourism there and gain experience. That time many people from my country would visit Kashmir but after 90s not many people are now coming to the Valley.

 

Q: What can be done to resolve Kashmir problem?

A: This is a long pending political problem. I think new Prime Minister in Pakistan is open to moving forward. He presents himself differently. But I don’t think anything can happen on Kashmir front before general elections in India. The focus of the government led by Modi is re-election. So even if Imran Khan keeps on talking about Kashmir, I don’t expect much happening till elections are over and new government is in place in Delhi. Many conflicts around the world have been resolved over the decades. Recently North and South Korea decided to move forward and give up animosity. It is a pity and shame that Kashmir can’t be resolved. It is now more than 70 years. It is time for Kashmir to normalize the situation and offer people a peaceful and better life.