Years after militancy hit Kashmir and spilled over to Jammu, J&K Minister of State for Tourism Priya Sethi wants to put back incidents like Sujaanwan to hardsell her states across the country. In Shimla for “roadshow” on tourism, she spoke to The Indian Express on her plans for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Tell us about the objectives behind ‘roadshows’ in different states and what are new ideas you trying to hardsell?
Over the years, Jammu and Kashmir has been the most favoured tourism destination worldwide. The successive governments never found much need to hardsell Kashmir. Even today, Kashmir, despite militancy which now has been confined to a large extent, is the best destination. We are making some special efforts to make tourism a vibrant industry.
What is the focus area?
Our focus is on Jammu, which has remained overlooked for its best hot-spots. Barring Vaisho Devi, the popular pilgrimage shrine, and places like Patnitop etc., there is a long list of places, a few of them of great heritage value, cultural significance, historical relevance and adventure tourism. Look at Ladakh that attracts thousands of tourists. Our objective is clear, we want to re-brand Jammu and Kashmir.
Jammu is itself a historic city. Mubarak Mandi, a symbol of Dogra dynasty, is in the heart of the city. What are specific plans?
Jammu is a place for all seasons and reasons. The heritage and cultural significance and places around the town have always been centre of attraction. Very soon, Mubarak Mandi will be thrown open to the people after conservation work undertaken by a society headed by the CM is complete. People will find a huge attraction there and activities like sound and light show will be proposed. There is a ropeway project coming up to connect Peer Kho with Bahu Fort. Multi-storey parking has come up in the town and new parks have been set up in and around the city.
How about places around Jammu?
There are new plans for Rajouri, Poonch and Reasi. We propose to introduce adventure tourism in Chenab. The Chenani traffic tunnel, India’s longest road tunnel with a length of 9.28 km, is also an attraction, apart from the highest railway bridge coming up in the state. We have worked out a plan with the Army to promote Sochet Garh as part of “border tourism”.
Every time people think of Kashmir, a fear comes to mind. How your are trying to cope with such factors?
Militancy can’t hold us back. We want to market state’s tourism potential aggressively. The state has suffered a big setback in the past due to bad publicity. But now, several new initiatives have been taken by the state government and also by the Centre to focus on tourism .The militancy has been contained effectively. Wherever we went for our roadshows, in Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, we talked about peace returning to the valley and Jammu being a safe place.
In Shimla, what is the kind of collaboration you tried to work on with the government?
We held an interaction with the state government and also with other stakeholders. Himachal Pradesh is called Dev Bhumi. We want to create a religious tourism circuit by linking all the shrines and temples like Jawali ji, Chintpurni, Kangra Mata and Nainadevi with all famous temples and shrines in Jammu and Kashmir. Soon, there will be official level follow-up on discussions to cement the proposals discussed with the government and tourism officials of Himachal Pradesh. We are culturally and linguistically connected. Similar cooperation we will like to seek from Punjab, where also we have roadshows.
How is the Centre helping Jammu and Kashmir in tourism?
Prime minister Narendra Modi is our biggest ambassador. The BJP government held its state executive meeting here. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hosted a meeting in Srinagar. There is a special component of tourism under the Prime Minister’s development package. It is going to prove as a key factor in expansion of J&K’s tourism industry.