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Promote lesser-known tourist destinations in Kashmir

Sustainable development of off-beat places will help reduce pressure, save eco-system in popular tourist destinations
05:55 AM Jun 25, 2024 IST | ARIF SHAFI WANI
promote lesser known tourist destinations in kashmir

Given the massive rush of tourists, it seems all roads are leading to Kashmir! The valley is bustling with visitors. Records are set to be broken as more than 1.25 million tourists have visited Kashmir in the last six month alone. It is a welcome development on the economical front but worrisome environmentally!


Officials of the local tourism department have said that over 12.5 lakh tourists have so far visited Kashmir and going by the present trend, the year 2024 is likely to break all previous records. Last year, 21.1 million tourists visited the region. The record tourist arrivals have undoubtedly given a boost to Kashmir’s economy as tourism is one of its major sectors.


However, the problem is that most of the tourists prefer to visit beaten tourist destinations especially Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg.


Huge footfall of tourists to Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg surpassing their respective carrying capacities puts massive pressure on the environment. We have to understand that these three tourist resorts are situated in eco-fragile areas housing major glaciers of Kashmir. Any adverse impact to eco-system at these tourist destinations will have detrimental effects on overall environment of Kashmir.


We have seen how famous ski-resort Gulmarg in north Kashmir is witnessing drastic environmental changes due to manifold increase in visitors above its carrying capacity. Increasing number of visitors and vehicles to Gulmarg triggers rise in temperature causing rapid snow melt off and avalanches in winter.


Once pristine Gulmarg is fast losing its sheen and unique eco-system due to unregulated tourist flow. As per a study, there is rise in Black Carbon levels in Gulmarg in winter due to massive footfall of visitors, vehicles, snowmobiles, All Terrain Vehicles and wood and biomass burning for heating purposes.


Similarly, huge footfall of visitors to famous tourist resorts Sonamarg and Pahalgam are spelling doom to glaciers. We have witnessed frequent portions of Thajiwas glacier in Sonamarg melting and collapsing in the last several years. Unregulated flow of visitors to Thajiwas glacier which overlooks Sonamarg valley is resulting in its deterioration and rapid melting.


Thajiwas Glacier is one of the major feeders of Sindh river in Ganderbal district. Sindh river is a major drinking water source for Ganderbal and Srinagar districts. Studies stated that there has been a 34 percent recession of Thajiwas Glacier since 1992. Similarly Kolahoi, the largest glacier of Kashmir’s Jhelum Basin, in the upper reaches of Pahalgam resort in south Kashmir is  retreating rapidly due to a spurt in temperature and extreme pollution.

Black carbon emissions have been traced in Kolahoi glacier which has lost almost 23 percent of its area since 1962 and fragmented into smaller parts.
Kolhai glacier feeds Lidder river which is one of the main sources of river Jhelum considered to be the lifeline of Kashmir. In the last over a decade, the average mass balance of the glacier has increased recently. Kolahai is losing mass at the rate of about 1.0 m water equivalent annually, which is significantly higher than the glaciers in the rest of the Himalayas.

Experts fear that mass loss of glaciers is expected to exacerbate in future as a result of projected climate changes. Subsequently this will further diminish the stream flow of trans-boundary rivers emanating from the region.  Some decades ago, only a limited number of vehicles were allowed to ply in tourist resorts in Kashmir. Now all vehicles including buses and tempos are permitted to drive in the eco-fragile areas increasing pollution load in tourist resorts.

It is disheartening to see our tourist resorts are littered with polythene and plastic bottles due to unregulated tourist flow coupled with absence of proper garbage disposal facilities!  In such a scenario there is a need to strike a balance between tourism and the environment. The question arises how? Kashmir is blessed with breathtaking natural beauty. The valley is dotted with scenic places which can attract tourists.

It is high time to promote offbeat tourist destinations.  There are offbeat destinations like Gurez,  Bangus, Karnah, Daksum, Watlab, Lolab, Sinthan top, Doodhpathri, Kangan which can be developed into eco-tourism spots.

J&K Government has started the process to bring 75 offbeat tourism destinations on the tourism map.  Authorities must ensure basic facilities at these offbeat destinations especially road, mobile connectivity and scientific garbage disposal. Care has to be taken to preserve the environment while developing tourist infrastructure at offbeat destinations.

We must remember that till decades ago, there were only wooden huts in Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg in sync with the environment. We have to make sure not to make concrete jungles in lesser known tourist resorts. People world over are preferring to spend time close to nature. Kashmir is blessed with glaciers, mountains, lakes, rivers and landscapes.

It is a perfect eco-tourism destination. We must note that eco-tourism is emerging as one of the important sectors globally. We need to promote eco-tourism in our offbeat tourist resorts to allow people from around the world and diverse cultures to know about our rich traditions and natural beauty.

By promoting eco-tourism we can join global efforts to conserve diverse landscapes, wildlife and cultures. Importantly, we can save our eco-fragile environment and simultaneously help in the economic growth of people in offbeat destinations.

Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir.