Brig Anil Gupta
Jammu as an independent tourist destination was a dream of the late Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Accordingly, his government had initiated a number of projects to fulfil this dream. Dr. Nirmal Singh as Deputy CM and local BJP legislators also contributed with their ideas and suggestions. Some of the projects which had been initiated included Tawi Artificial Lake, Tawi Water Front on the lines of famous Sabarmati water front in Ahmedabad, Manda Wildlife Park, Cable car from Bahu Fort to Mubarak Mandi, restoration of Mubarak Mandi Palace and modernisation of Jammu Railway Station and Airport.
Some of these projects had been initiated by the previous governments but were moving at snail’s pace and needed funds and focussed attention. Unfortunately, with the demise of Mufti Sahib, these projects were once again put on the back burner. Jammu’s economy has been declining with the shifting of rail head to Katra. Though then CM Omar Abdullah had said that, “I will not let Jammu go the Pathankot way,” unfortunately no serious effort was made.
If urgent measures are not taken to provide much needed oxygen, Jammu’s economy may collapse any day. With the new government in place, the people of Jammu are hopeful that it will carry forward the agenda of Mufti sahib. Most of the projects which have been initiated require a lot of gestation period. Need is for certain quick-fix solutions for the interim to launch Jammu as an independent tourist attraction for mid-budget tourist segment.
First and the foremost requirement is to improve/upgrade the existing infrastructure. To begin with the roads within the city and peripheral roads connecting to towns like Ramgarh, RS Pura , Suchetgarh, Mansar Lake, Surinsar Lake and Akhnoor need to be repaired and black topped on war footing. Hotel accommodation in Jammu needs augmentation and up-gradation. State of the art tourist centres need to be created at Akhnoor, Mansar, Surinsar and Suchetgarh.
These tourist centres should provide facilities like Information Centre, Audio Visual Rooms, Ticketing Counters, Gift Shops, Cafeteria, Toilet Facilities, ATMs, Wi-Fi hot spots, Parking Areas and Conveyance Parks. There is also a need to provide better mobile and internet connectivity. AC tourist buses should be made available for the movement of tourists.
In the first phase the existing tourist spots in Jammu should be popularised by organising guided city tours in AC Buses on the lines of hop-on hop-off buses run in major tourist cities across the world. The recommended tours are Raghunath temple, Ranbireshwar temple, Civil Secretariat, Mubarak Mandi Palace, Amar Mahal Museum, Raj Bhawan. The other tour could be Jammu Haat, Bagh-i-Bahu, Aquarium, Bahu Fort, Balidan Stambh, and Kala Kendra. To make these as tourist attractions certain immediate steps need to be taken by the Tourism and other concerned departments under DC Jammu who should be made the nodal officer.
Jammu Haat should be developed as a one stop location to showcase local handicraft, culture and cuisine. The tourists must be tempted to visit this place. The place should be bubbling with energy and vibrating with dances and music on the pattern of Chokhi Dhani of Jaipur. The adjoining area of exhibition ground may also be clubbed with the existing area of Jammu Haat. Bagh-i-Bahu should be made more attractive with laser shows. A light and sound show should be started at Bahu Fort.
Army has created a beautiful monumental asset in Jammu in form of Balidan Stambh. It is the gift of Gen NC Vij, a son of the soil and former COAS to the people of the state. The writer was associated in selecting the site for the Balidan Stambh. Gen Vij desired that it should be visible to anybody entering Jammu town from any direction. Accordingly, the present site was selected. Mufti Sahib was also the Chief Minister then and full support was provided by the government and the administration. It was also agreed that the
Army will hand over the monument to the State administration after it was completed. Mufti Sahib wanted it to be a major tourist attraction. Unfortunately when the monument was completed the government had changed. The new government refused to take over the monument from the Army. It remained neglected for a few years before the Army rejuvenated the site and started regular light and sound shows. It can become an immediate major tourist attraction if taken over and promoted by the tourism department.
Akhnoor, Suchetgarh, Surinsar , Mansar, Chattha Ecological Park and Purmandal need to be developed as independent day-spend tourist attractions within striking distance from Jammu city. First and foremost requirement as stated earlier is to improve the roads leading to these destinations. Akhnoor can be promoted as a heritage tourism destination with Jio Pota, Gurudwara, Fort, Buddhist excavations as major attractions. Water sports on Chenab can be an added attraction. Ramgarh – Suchetgarh can be developed as border tourism destination.
The major attractions are ancient temple at Swankha, Chamial Bawa, drive along the border, visit Octoroi Post, Gharana Wetlands, Diwana Temple RS Pura, Chattha Ecological Park. Visit to paddy fields, rice mills and Ditch-cum Bund can be added attraction for this circuit. Basmati rice of RS Pura can become a USP of this circuit. To begin with beating the retreat ceremony by BSF can be started even without participation of Pak Rangers .
Mansar and Surinsar be developed as picnic spots with boating facilities in the lake. Proper precautions including deploying trained life-savers must be planned to ensure safety of the visitors. Trekking trails can also be developed around these sites. Purmandal and Uttarbehni can also be promoted as part of heritage tourism.
There is a need to create a few more tourist attractions in and around Jammu like Water Theme Park, Amusement Park and state of the art Convention Centre. Sidhra Golf Course with a modern restaurant can be promoted as a leisure tourism destination. All these projects will need funds which the government by itself may not be in a position to spend. Investment in PPP mode should be invited for these projects. The government should act only as a promoter and facilitator.
Jammu could also become the take -off point of a multi-faith religious tourism circuit. This will include the numerous temples of Jammu- Shiv Khori- Sahadra Sharif- Buddha Amarnath- Nangali Sahib Gurudwara- Ziarat Sain Miran and Geeta Mandir of Poonch. Apart from promoting religious harmony, this circuit would display the secularism as it prevails in Jammu region. One hopes that the government takes immediate measures to develop Jammu as an independent tourist destination. Some of the suggestions can be implemented immediately without much investment but with better administrative skills and publicity. It is need of the hour lest Jammu also becomes another Pathankot. All it requires is sincerity and sense of purpose.
(The writer is Jammu based and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)