Yes, the Mufti, who also doubles up as the State Tourism Minister had turned on the charm offensive on a purpose. He was out to woo the people of the three States thus covered, winning friends and trying to influence them to make the valley their only tourism destination.
Come on over, Kashmir invites to spend quality time in the midst of the best that nature has to offer. Yes, Kashmir awaits you, he seemed to be suggesting, for relaxation and to help you broaden your business bases, helping you to sponsor business meetings, your corporate dos or who knows, go in for long treks, a lazy swim or adventure sports, if not skiing, golfing or simply lazing by the lakeside.
And Mufti Sayeed was out to make friends with whoever showed interest in making the best of a holiday or even hold corporate board meetings or larger meetings of bodies like the FICCI, or a chamber of commerce. In Ahmadabad he invited Gujaratis, one of the world’s most recognized wandering communities -- foot-loose, if you will, to add their Kashmir wanderings to their travelogues.
Yes, you can also share with us your Gujarat development experience, the Mufti seemed to be suggesting to the people in Ahmedabad. He met leaders of business, tour operators, members of various business chambers to open the door for them to visit his heaven on earth.
In Mumbai he met captains of industry and shared with them his hope of turning Gulmarg and other such centres into an Indian version of Davos. Why not, we have the basic infrastructure and we have only to nudge ourselves into doing a little more, he said. He met top film producers, studio owners to disabuse their minds of fears that sometimes dissuade them from coming to Kashmir, nature’s own giant studio, spanning the entire valley –Ladakh thrown for good measure as a consolation prize – as a god given studio.
‘We assure you, we will offer you as much, if not more, than what Switzerland or Mauritius or New Zealand may hold out for you.’ He didn’t buy the myth that Kashmir tended to be more expensive for film-makers. Vishal Bhardwaj did not have to buy the snowscape nor the eerie-looking Matan Temple to make Haider a stunning movie. He called on the ailing legend Dilip Kumar and was contacted by super stars like Shahrukh Khan. Yes, Kashmir was equipped to take care of the prince, poet and the ponce, with equal grace.
The Chief Minister-cum-Tourism Minister perhaps outdid the famed Kashmiri salesmen as he interacted with various interest groups in the three metros with the difference that he was offering good value for their money and time spent in the State, the valley in particular.
In Delhi, twice on his way to the two States and on his way back home, he had a virtual open house, interacting with leaders of industry, tour operators et al, selling/promoting Kashmir tourism.
In an off the cuff remark he confided how important it was for the valley to have a real bumper tourism season this year. The unprecedented floods and the persistent rains had played havoc, not to mention the damage caused in Srinagar and other population centers. A good tourist season would give a leg up to the thousands directly or indirectly impacted by the tourist inflow.
Mufti, the Chief Minister does believe that Kashmir doesn’t have to be apologetic in promoting its domestic and foreign tourism. The infrastructure needs to be further strengthened and the existing one to be updated; his government would leave no stone unturned to make the industry bloom and to be on par with overseas tourist destinations.
He is aware of the lacks but would for the present confine himself to improving the existing infrastructure. The valley aside, the other half of the State, Jammu, attracts a substantial amount of faith-oriented tourism, thanks to the Vaishnodevi shrine, which annually draws millions of Hindus.
Likewise the valley too will in the next two months attract a sizeable number of Hindu pilgrims come for the annual trek to the Amarnath. I am unaware of the government’s take on it but I do believe that its two-month duration is not really warranted. In the past it lasted between two to three weeks.
An annoying aspect of it is the mushrooming of a large number of langars (free public kitchens) on either side of road near Pahalgam. Given the security concerns of the authorities and the presence of langars for the duration of the yatra often leads to frayed tempers. But then who am I to question those in direct communication with the gods!