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J&K Bank Chairman & CEO Parvez Ahmed and Commissioner Secretary Tourism M H Malik today flagged off the first leg of Expedition India - Srinagar/Sonamarg/Leh Race -2017 from Shankaracharya Top here in presence of Director Tourism Mehmood Shah, organizers of the expedition Stephan Muller, Heidi Muller and other officers of the bank and tourism department.

Out of 22 teams participating in the adventure race, nine teams are from across the country while as the rest are foreign teams mainly from South Africa, Australia, United Kingdom, Sweden, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Argentina and Czech Republic. The second leg of the expedition is scheduled to be kicked off from Sonamarg on 15th September and the third and major leg of the race will be conducted in Leh from 20th to 22nd September.

The teams comprising of 4 members each shall be undertaking various adventure sports activities including racing, boating, water-rafting, cycling, zip line and mountain biking. The only Kashmiri team to participate in the expedition is J&K Mountaineering and Hiking.

A day earlier, the Expedition India Adventure Race – 2017 was inaugurated in a grand function organized at SKICC Srinagar wherein MoS for Tourism, Technical Education Priya Sethi, Chairman & CEO J&K Bank Parvez Ahmed, Commissioner Secretary Tourism M H Malik and Director Tourism Mehmood Shah besides organizers of the event, participating teams and media personnel were present.

The inaugural ceremony began with presser where organizers, sponsors and participating sportsperson addressed the media and shared their views and expectations from the expedition.

Speaking on the occasion Chairman and CEO Parvez Ahmed said, “The bank decided to partner the event as an endeavour to boost adventure tourism in Jammu & Kashmir. Sponsoring such events in coordination with the State’s Tourism Department forms part of the measures to bring the least known but most beautiful places and spots on the tourist maps of this region.”

Later on, in her address at SKICC auditorium, Minister of State (MoS) for Tourism, Technical Education Priya Sethi, who was also the Chief Guest on the occasion, welcomed the participating teams and urged them to experience both natural and human beauty of this place.

“This region has a great tradition of hospitality. I hope all of you will enjoy the expedition in this part of our world and take with you the cherishing memories of adventure, affection and spiritual fulfilment”, she said.

Addressing the participating teams and organizers of the expedition, Chairman Parvez Ahmed said, “You will find the people of this region as welcoming as the mountains and valleys of this place. Many stories are going to touch you during your wonderful journeys here. I wish you luck and urge you to take all the good stories with you to your respective societies and countries.”

“In addition to opening the doors of positive engagement for youth of the state, expeditions like these can trigger a lot of appreciation in the economic value of the allied assets. The promotion of local talent can become easy and natural”, he added.

“Based on the internal analysis of long term benefits and promise the sector holds for the state, our bank has already initiated the process of exploring possibilities of providing suitable credit linkages to the desirous entrepreneurs in the sector.  Adventure sports also has a huge potential as far as employment generation is concerned,” he said.

“On this occasion, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to both Stephan and Heidi, who are an amazing couple with wonderful spirit, for selecting J&K for this adventure race. I also appreciate the role and support from J&K Tourism Kashmir in making this event a reality and extend my best wishes for the participating teams, both national and foreign, for taking part in this event”, he added.

The main organizer of the expedition, Heidi Miller said, “With this expedition we want to showcase the beauty of Jammu and Kashmir to the entire world. We also want to explore the exotic destinations of J&K for all the adventurists-at-heart around the globe”.

Replying to a query about negative perception of Kashmir in the world, Stephen Muller who is also the Race Director, said, “Besides organizing the participating teams to compete and experience the spirit of adventure, the expedition offers a unique opportunity for them to enjoy new places, experience amazing cultural and lingual diversity of this Himalayan region. Besides that our job here is to help clear the misconceptions and negative publicity about J&K in the world at large”.

Assuring full support to the visiting sports persons, Commissioner Secretary M H Malik said, “The tourism infrastructure has substantially improved, and we promise you to provide best of logistic support from our side. We hope this expedition will encourage other adventurists to visit this place in future as well”.

Earlier in his welcome address, Director Tourism Mehmood Shah expressed concerns over the negative advisories by different embassies.

“The major hurdle that has deeply affected the flow of foreign tourists to this place is the negative advisories on Kashmir issued by various world embassies. Once you see the natural landscapes, experience the aesthetic splendor of this place along with its rich cultural and lingual tapestry, we request you to be our ambassadors and spread positive vibes about valley in your respective countries.”

“This is the only state in the region that showcases all the diverse features of Himalayas in one geographic range”, he added.

On the occasion, the organizers presented mementoes to the sponsors, participating teams besides those who volunteered their services for the expedition that began today and will conclude on September 22 in Leh, Ladakh.

Notably, a live musical performance by local artists was also organized at the auditorium in the inaugural ceremony.