Boosting heritage, pilgrim tourism
Kashmir has re-emerged on the tourism map with full force as the Union Territory has seen tremendous footfall during past few months. Government has taken and is taking several steps to make tourism sector more vibrant to give boost to the economy of the UT. While Jammu and Kashmir has tremendous tourism potential vis-à-vis its scenic natural locations and is a paradise for adventure tourism, it has huge potential for heritage and pilgrim tourism too. It is in this backdrop that sometime back, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha asked the concerned agencies to work for conservation of such sites but cautioning that conservation efforts of sacred places and heritage sites must retain the aesthetic, historic and social values of the UT’s great civilisational and cultural legacy. In this regard the UT administration has launched a scheme for ‘Revival, Restoration, Preservation and Maintenance of Ancient Cultural Heritage’ in Jammu and Kashmir. The scheme has been envisaged in order to identify the sacred places and heritage sites requiring intervention, carrying out their revival, restoration or renovation work, ensuring protection and longevity of these places, besides promoting restoration wherever damages have occurred to these places.
As rightly pointed out by the Lt Governor, the conservation and restoration efforts should in no way fiddle with the aesthetic, historic and social values of these sites and therefore the concerned government agencies need to seek the cooperation of experts who know the basics of heritage preservation. The government has already identified 35 projects (18 in Jammu and 17 in Kashmir) including Temples, Shrines, Gurudwaras, Forts, Church, Sculptures and Bowli, need is to start the conservation work without further delay.
Jammu and Kashmir has rich cultural heritage and if exploited properly, this can revolutionize Kashmir’s tourism sector. As for as pilgrim tourism goes, Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Shree Amarnath Cave in Kashmir already attract millions of devotees from all over. The shrines of Reshis and Sufi saints, both in Kashmir and Jammu, if introduced properly to the people outside the UT, can attract equal number of devotees thus boosting the tourism industry. Locally, these shrines, be it shrine of Makhdoom Sahib or Dastageer Sahib, Baba Payamudin Reshi, Aisha Muqam, Baba Shukur Din, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah and other shrines, are already attracting lakhs of local devotees. If these shrines, as part of cultural heritage, are brought up in the tourism map of UT, devotees from all over country would throng these destinations. Same is true about historic heritage sites be those in Kashmir or Jammu division. The government needs to have a focused attention on the preservation of these sites and make the concerned authorities to finish their targets within fixed timelines.
Tourism sector has every potential to change the economic landscape of the UT and exploiting heritage and pilgrim tourism would undoubtedly be a game changer. However, the UT is lacking behind as for as requisite infrastructure and other facilities of high quality of international standard for the tourists is concerned. Steps need to be taken to develop world class facilities so that tourists don’t face any kind of problems. It goes without saying that if heritage and pilgrim tourism is exploited to its potential, tourism could emerge as a round the year activity in Jammu and Kashmir.