Jammu & Kashmir Tourism has declared 2011 as the year of the Adventure Tourism. Generally Kashmir is taken as an enchanting and captivating luxury tourist destination where one can enjoy a leisurely holiday in the most wonderful climate surrounded by some of the world’s best scenery. Not many know that Kashmir is also probably the world’s most challenging destination for what is known as the “Adventure Tourism”. One can safely say that Kashmir is the “Ultimate Adventure”!
For quite some time there has been an appreciable change in the pattern and type of holidays which people generally take and in particular the younger generation. It is the “Active or Adventure Tourism” which involves holidays with physical exercise. Some of the activities which are quite popular are mountaineering, rock climbing, trekking, hill walking, mountain biking, white water rafting and kayaking, Para-sailing, and hang gliding, hot air ballooning, and a number of other sports. In winter apart from the normal on prepared piste skiing, people in large numbers go for cross-country skiing, ski-mountaineering, tobogganing, and winter climbing.
Our state has some of the most challenging locations for undertaking all these activities. In fact, for a number of these adventure sports it can be the last frontier or the ultimate challenge. Even though due to the turmoil of last two decades, the valley had virtually been closed down for Adventure Tourism by the security establishment, yet Ladakh continued to have large groups of adventurers both in summer and winter. One of the most frequented areas prior to the outbreak of militancy had been the Kishtwar mountain areas which continue to be still off the limits for foreigners.
In spite of numerous difficulties, some adventure activities continued in the valley also. Thanks to some courageous house boat owners, they continued to take trekkers to Gangabal via Sonamarg and Naranag. Similarly, the Swiss born French skier Sylvain Saudan carried on heli-skiing in the toughest conditions. However, in the overall context, the adventure tourism not only got stalled but all new areas remained unexploited.
During last few years, the State Tourism Department has initiated a number of steps to revive the adventure activities for tourists. White water rafting on Sindh and Lidder Rivers was introduced on commercial scale. Some white water rafting championships have also been held. Car Rallies were conducted on Leh-Srinagar sector as part of the Raid de Himalaya. A rally was conducted on the Mughal Road. There were other adventure activities. However, the full potential is yet to be tapped.
The declaration of the year 2011 as the Adventure Tourism Year is a very welcome and timely declaration by the Jammu & Kashmir Department of Tourism. One advantage with the adventure tourists is that they are very well versed with the geography of the different tourist areas and are not easily put off by wide media coverage of any incidents of violence or otherwise. In contrast, the normal tourists get easily scared and cancel their holidays. The State Tourism Department needs to highlight the potential by inviting some top adventure sports persons like world famous mountaineers, skiers, para-sailors, hang gliding experts, white water rafters, and canoeists to personally see and publicise the potential we have for these activities.
In the past a number of international level events have been held in this field. The best publicity for exposing this potential is to hold some events with participation of well known persons in the field. In fact, Kashmir has the capacity to absorb thousands of adventure tourists in different spots dispersed all over state. Another advantage with adventure tourism is that this activity does not require setting up of any elaborate infrastructure. Most of the participants bring their own equipment and only requirement is a dependable rescue service to take care of any eventualities.
Most of the Adventure Tourism activities are part of Eco-Tourism in the larger context but one has to regulate these very strictly to avoid damage to fragile mountain environment. This is especially so in our case where the environment has already been vandalised by greedy people.
One has to aim for sustainable tourism. We must determine the carrying capacity of our areas for these activities and then ensure that we do not exceed the optimum level as is being done in a number of countries. A typical example is Bhutan. The ideal way is to enforce a strict regulatory control over the entry of various expeditions and groups. These can be charged some environment levy to pay for keeping the mountains clean. Such a levy is already being charged by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) from foreign mountaineering expeditions, which gives a share of all these royalties to Himalayan states for undertaking cleaning expeditions. However, trekking groups and some other adventure activity participants are not obliged to go through IMF. These have to be controlled by the local authorities.
All these regulatory activities concerning environment and management of different areas can generate appreciable employment. In addition one would need guides, high altitude porters, and trained instructors. These can be recruited from among the local youth in these remote mountain areas and trained in some of the mountaineering institutes already existing in the state such as the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering in Pahalgam. Developing Adventure Tourism on a larger scale can also give boost to import and sale of some of the specialised equipments required for these activities.
In view of these possibilities it is very commendable for the Jammu &Kashmir State Tourism Authorities to make Adventure Tourism as an important thrust area for future development of tourism in the State. Kashmir, hopefully, would one day become the “Ultimate Destination” for all adventure lovers of the world!
This article has been contributed by Mohammad Ashraf IAS, of kashmirfirst.com who spent over 30 years in Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Department and retired as Director General Tourism, Governemt of Jammu & Kashmir. Mohammad Ashraf has been associated with the Adventure Sports at National level and is a past Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. He was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss at Les Diablerets in 1993, to commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the Patron of the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.