Describing Kashmir valley as ideally suited for high-end holiday travel, Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Sunday said he was confident that tourist footfall of winters will match summers if the existing facilities are upgraded to the level of international standards. He also ordered launching a week-long mass awareness campaign beginning October 7 for sensitizing all stakeholders connected with tourism about the significance of maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in all the exotic locations falling within the jurisdictions of Tourism Development Authorities, particularly Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Patnitop. “The campaign should involve all concerned MLAs, District and Divisional Administrations right across the state,” he added. The Chief Minister said this, while he was chairing a high-level meeting here at the famous ski resort of Gulmarg, which registers a huge flow of tourists in winters as well. He also visited Kangdoori, Strawberry Valley and the historic Maharaja Palace and took stock of the ongoing projects. MLA Tangmarg, Abass Wani, Chief Secretary, B. R. Sharma and Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, B. B. Vyas, were also present in the meeting. Describing high-end resorts as a catalyst for driving niche tourists to valley’s best known winter destinations, the Chief Minister asked the Chief Secretary to speed up finalization of the Gulmarg’s Master Plan so that the resort is developed with an international flavour. “Once the Master Plan is finalized, it will enable us to conceive plans for starting wide ranging activities to make Gulmarg high-end,” he added. The Chief Minister was informed by Secretary Tourism that all modalities and procedural requirements have been finalized and the revised Master Plan is expected to be approved in the next Cabinet meeting. Mufti Sayeed, during his earlier visit here, had ordered establishment of Gulmarg Club that offers multifarious facilities for high-spending travellers, on the pattern of Pahalgam Club and Convention Centre, which he inaugurated at south Kashmir resort a couple of days ago. Gulmarg is a winter sports centre for skiing and heli-skiing for fans from all over the country and abroad. With the-state-of-the art cable car, Gulmarg is easily country’s most sought-after winter destination. Asserting that travel industry cannot flourish unless power, water and roads in resorts match benchmark standards, Mufti Sayeed obtained progress report from the concerned Chief Engineers on the present status of the basic amenities. He directed Chief Engineer R&B to macadamise road from Gulmarg to Strawberry Valley, Dobi Ghat, which has been shortlisted as a site for eco-friendly tented accommodation and setting up of high-end resorts. Appreciating the work done by R&B Department in improving the condition of roads, the Chief Minister also ordered construction of half-a-km concrete road on pilot basis within the bowl for verifying the feasibility of this technology as replacement of existing internal roads. He also stressed on developing cycling tracks for paddlers, which is a very popular activity in European tourist destinations. The Chief Minister also issued directions for ensuring uninterrupted water and power supply availability in the resort, asking them to avoid any glitches, especially in winters. The Chief Engineer assured the Chief Minister on charging the AVR transformer without any delay to prevent voltage fluctuation in the resort. An amount of Rs.55 lakh have already been released to Power Department by Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) for the same. A DPR for underground power cabling in Gulmarg has also been prepared on the instructions of the Chief Minister to ensure 24×7 electricity supply. On the issue of littering and garbage disposal, the Chief Minister was informed that a mechanism has been put in place at Patnitop, Pahalgam and Gulmarg, which receive a large number of tourists, so that these resorts are kept clean and professionally maintained. CEO GDA informed the Chief Minister that although most of the hotels have already installed their own STPs, there is a requirement of setting up of a common STP for effective solid waste management, for which a DPR has been prepared at an estimated cost of Rs.17 crore. Stressing upon upgrading healthcare facilities to meet any medical emergency, the Chief Minister desired setting up of model hospitals with adequate manpower and equipment at all major tourist destinations, particularly at Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Patnitop, to cater to the needs of the travellers. Describing golf tourism as critical to position J&K as a high-end holiday destination, Mufti Sayeed emphasized upon setting up of more golf courses at Sonamarg, Yusmarg, Dudapathri and Jai-Bhaderwah, where natural contours most suited for developing fairways and greens are available. The Chief Minister stressed upon revival of Gulmarg Golf course, one of the oldest courses established in the 18th century. “We have to see why golfing as a sport has failed to take off at such a lovely place as Gulmarg,” he said. Earlier, the Chief Minister after his arrival, travelled to Kangdoori in cable car, where he took stock of the ongoing work to replace the existing gondolas from Kangdoori to Affarwat by new ones. He also interacted with various tourist groups, which have arrived here from Karnataka, Gujarat and West Bengal, and enquired about the facilities and handholding being extended to them. J&K Cable Car Corporation is in the process of replacing 34 gandolas on 2.5 km Phase II of Gulmarg cable car from Kangdoori to Affarwat, for which a team of trained engineers from French company Pomalgaski, is scheduled to arrive Sunday next. Later, Mufti Sayeed visited the picturesque Strawberry Valley, where he directed Secretary Tourism to develop the site for tented accommodation and villas for high-spending visitors, after the Gulmarg Master Plan is approved. While inspecting the ongoing restoration work on the historic Maharaja Palace, the Chief Minister set a deadline ofNovember 25 for GDA to complete the project. He also ordered immediate landscaping of the lawns of the Palace by expert architect so that heritage lovers are regaled by the astounding beauty of one of Gulmarg’s oldest heritage assets. Being revived with expert consultancy from Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the Palace will have 4 master suites, a convention hall and breathtaking scenic decks alongside the sprawling lawns, which any visitor will find a riveting experience. To make horse riding an enjoyable experience for youngsters and children, Mufti Sayeed stressed upon creating a facility for imparting training in horse riding. “A Riding Club with good quality horse breeds should be set up at Gulmarg by the Tourism a Department,” he added. Asking PCCF to conserve the ecology of Gulmarg resort, the Chief Minister stressed upon aforestation of denuded areas and patches along the roads leading to various tourist destinations which include Daksum, Warwan, Aharbal and Kongwattan belts so as to make the journeys to these places memorable. Also present were PCCF, A. K. Singh, Director General, Information & PR, Zaffar Ahmad, Secretary Tourism, Farooq A. Shah, Deputy Commissioner, Baramulla, Yasha Mudgal, Chief Engineer R&B, Satish Razdan, Chief Engineer, Power, Bashir Khan, Chief Engineer, PHE, G. M. Bhat and CEO GDA, Nazir Ahmad.
2015 Kashmir Despatch