Aim to host 5 million tourists in J&K in the coming 5 years: Secretary (Tourism)

Farooq Shah has donned many hats in his illustrious career. Having served as the Director, tourism for seven years and CEO of JKSCCC; he is a widely travelled man. Recently appointed as the Secretary, he envisages the state as a golfer’s paradise in the years to come. Also, high on his agenda is to widen the tourism offerings of the state by developing Jammu as an independent destination by harnessing the potential of its untapped products.   

Farooq Shah2Calling the state’s tourism potential and offerings unmatched, Tourism Secretary mentions that J&K happens to be a unique state which had a mix of high-end luxury and budget destinations and products, allowing them to cater to wide variety of tourists. “Name any product – be it in the high-end or the budget segment – we have them all. If we talk about high-end tourism, we are the best golfing destination in the country,” says the senior bureaucrat.  He describes the state as a golfer’s paradise, saying that the state had the capacity to have around forty golf courses. “We have world-class golf courses in Srinagar, Pehalgam, Gulmarg and Leh. We are mooting a golf course in Jammu as well. So, we are making J&K a golfer’s paradise,” he says.

Divulging that five more golf courses were to be added in the next five years, we were told that the Kashmir Golf Course – which is the second oldest in the country – was in the process of getting a makeover. “We are developing one in Leh; it will be one of the highest top-greens in the world. Basically, we want to have a golf course in every area of the state” he adds.

He shares that adventure tourism was another area which remained important to them. “We have huge scope in Skiing – Gulmarg is already recognized as the best Skiing destination in the world; it has the world’s highest Skiing point at over 13,400 ft and plethora of high-quality hotels to accommodate guests,” explains the Secretary.  “If we talk about trekking and mountaineering, we are the best in the business. Ladakh is already at the cusp of becoming a Numero Uno in the realm of adventure sports,” he shares.

Water-based sport is another area which has been earmarked to be developed in the years ahead. “We have concentrated on water-sports by having rafting, kayaking and canoeing facilities in Sonemarg area. Baglihar in Doda and Ranjeet Sagar Dam in Basoli are also on our radar for developing them as major water-sports destinations,” he informed.  “Just like Bir-Billing in Himachal, we want to cultivate Sanasar in Jammu and Dara in the valley as premier Para-gliding destination,” we were told.

Thanks to an age-old Sufi culture ingrained in the valley, there is no dearth of places with spiritual significance in the state as well.  Hoping to tap this huge segment, he told us that, “We receive over ten million tourists to Vaishno Devi temple; it is very famous. We have ample offerings for almost everyone. Apart from Vaishno Devi, we have Raghunath temple in Jammu and Kheer Bhawani in Kahsmir. Shankrachrya temple and Amarnath ji shrine are other extremely important components of our religious tourism pegs.”

Adding that they also had a good number of Muslim shrines, he contends that if Ajmer Sharif was attracting over five million pilgrims, why could not their shrines achieve the same feat? “We have Dargah Hazrat Bal, Baba Reshi and Ashmuqam that are quite famous and revered in the region; so there is huge potential also in that area,” details Secretary Shah.  “We want to give it some publicity, so that people know we have these important places on offer,” he adds.

Pointing towards the presence of ample shopping options at hand, he asserts that, “it will not be wrong to say that it is a shopper’s paradise.” “Our handicrafts are world-famous. Shawls, carpets and intricate wood-carvings are some example of our excellence in that area,” he explains.

He further notes that in the arena of culinary offerings too, the state remained miles ahead of others. “Our food is the king of cuisines. Wazwan – a traditional multi-course meal – can comprise of, sometimes, fifteen dishes of lamb only,” details the bureaucrat. “So, as far as offerings go, we are a complete destination and do not have any competitor,” he confidently adds.

Stressing that the government remained serious about utilizing the full potential of the state’s tourism assets, he mentions that, “Our Hon’ble CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is also taking care of the tourism ministry, and under his dynamic and visionary leadership we are hopeful that we will improve a lot.”

He shares that the state was aiming to cater to five million tourists, in the next five years, in the valley alone. He further asserts that the government was aiming at developing Jammu as an independent tourist destination. “Our Hon’ble CM is also committed to developing Jammu as an independent tourist destination by improving destinations like Patnitop and Sanasar,” we were informed.

Single-window clearance, creating cinema shoot related infra will help us become a favoured destination again

Whether it was the Shammi Kapoor starrer ‘Kashmir ki Kali’ or Shashi Kapoor’s ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’, Kashmir has long been central to Bollywood’s story telling.  It is this age-old relations that the state government wishes to re-establish, said the Secretary.  “Bollywood and J&K have had a very old relation. Once upon a time, there was no movie without the mention of our state,” he says.  “During the turmoil period, of course, there was little traffic. But, recently we have had some major movies shot in the valley. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Jab tak hai Jaan and Haider to name a few. So, we are hopeful that now they will return in huge numbers,” he reasons.

Mentioning that the state had recently put forth a Single-window clearance in place, he mentions that it will enable procurement of all shooting related permission in 48 hours. “We are also exploring the possibility of having basic shooting related infrastructure in place to ensure that whatever can be made available locally is taken care of. It will ensure that they need not carry all the bulky equipment to Sri Nagar for a shoot,” he reveals.

Terming affordability as another important aspect of shooting in the valley, he shares that, “Whether it is shooting in the gardens or elsewhere, our charges are very reasonable.”

He further details that the state had been participating in road shows and cinema tourism events making its presence felt. “Recently our Hon’ble CM was in Mumbai and met a number of producers and film stars urging them to come back to the valley. Why should our industry go to Switzerland and other European destinations?,” contends the Secretary.  He asserts that the state had received encouraging response from the film fraternity and it was a matter of time before it reclaimed the status of being a favored cinema shoot destination again.

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