The Other Side of the Paradise on Earth

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A trip to my birthplace, Jammu and Kashmir proved to be a blend of beautiful as well as a few irksome experiences. Visiting my homeland after quite some time allowed to understand the solace this piece of heaven provided the visiting tourists. It allowed me to view our beautiful valley through the eyes of a tourist and I realised that our valley’s beauty is mesmerising and unparalleled. The majestic mountains and forests, the mighty rivers and waterfalls- everything here is so natural, so lovely and so commanding. 

A pure and fresh environment can inspire you, calm you, and challenge you to explore its beauties and enjoy its tranquility. Forming the backdrop of Kashmir, the snow-capped ranges make Kashmir seem a scene straight out of a fairytale. Kashmir’s beauty doesn’t only provide peace and tranquility, it also contributes to our income. Jammu and Kashmir’s economy is mostly dependent on activities like tourism and agriculture. Kashmiri saffron is famous all over the world and brings the state a handsome amount of foreign exchange. Agricultural exports from our state include high quality apples, cherries, corn, oranges, rice, peaches, pears, saffron, sorghum, many vegetables, and wheat while manufactured exports include handicrafts, hand-woven carpets and shawls. The breathtaking beauty and assets of our Kashmir has earned it the name “Jannat-e-Kashmir”. This lovely piece of land is gifted with nature’s beauty and resources which offer rich potential and promise prosperity to its dwellers. 

But Kashmir hasn’t aged so well. While the people in the state were known for their culture, traditions, honesty and of course their hospitality, the modern western and self-centric approach has started a downfall of this mesmerising vale and its people. As I already said that I wanted to experience the valley through the eyes of a tourist, I decided to actually book tickets and hotels so that I could actually get the touristy feel of the place. My trip, like any other tourist’s started with online bookings. I choose a super deluxe hotel room in Jammu. The pictures on the internet made the hotel room a perfect fit but little did I know that a rude shock awaited me. As soon as I landed in my room, I realised that the pictures had been completely fake. In actuality, the room didn’t even match up to the standards of a simple dorm room. After an hour of arguing and bickering, I was allotted a new room but the rude behavior of the hotel staff proved to be the cherry on top. So, I left the hotel as early as possible to travel to Srinagar. As soon as I got to the bus stand to hire a taxi, I realised that my troubles were far from over.  The rates were varying and confusing. Somehow, after negotiating fiercely for over half an hour, I managed to hire a cab but a few minutes into the journey, the cab was stopped by our road guardians, the traffic cops. While the passengers were busy commenting over how these traffic cops can’t even digest food without a bribe, the driver of the cab got out, filled out some forms and quietly handed them some crisp notes. He later revealed that even if all their documents were in order and they followed all the traffic rules and regulations, they still have to pay bribes because the traffic cops stop and harass them for no reason at all. The same stopping and handing out of bribes continued throughout the journey. As we reached Kashmir, my heart heaved a sigh of relief because I was at last in my paradise and nothing could go wrong here. But Alas! It didn’t turn out to be so. The hotel I had booked for four days was running short of rooms due to the heavy rush of tourists. The first night I was made to stay in a nearby hotel and in the morning I was again asked to pack my bags so that I could be allotted the room I had booked in the first place. Though the hotel was quite fancy and luxurious, the service was quite exasperating. 

The beauty of Dal Lake and the serene Mughal gardens more or less made up for my troubles but the exorbitant rates charged by the shikarawalas didn’t allow me to enjoy the famous shikara ride that every tourist looks forward to. Booking a cab to take me to various tourist destinations also proved to be quite a task as firstly the seat I was allotted was already occupied by another passenger and then after I was allotted a new seat, the driver went on a rant, cursing parents who send their kids outside to study. He didn’t even bother to spare a thought towards the tourists sitting in his cab before he started abusing their country and calling them names, even if in his own language which they probably couldn’t understand. I was highly disturbed by the callous attitude with which we treat our tourists. What had started as a journey of experiencing the beauty and warmth of my motherland as others did, proved to be an eye opener. It showed me the other side of the coin, the other side that none of us like to talk about or even acknowledge.

Tourism is the back bone of Kashmir. Tourism is considered one of the main avenues of employment, economic development and cultural exchange. Countries all over the world spend so much to attract tourists and our valley which has been given the best of the nature simply disregards this precious gift. Where is our conscience? It seems every one of us has lost our character and what made us who we were.  The selfishness and lack of regard that has crept into our hearts is destroying us as well as our beautiful vale. It is causing more damage to our state than decades of conflict has caused. 

Recently, the entire editorial in the Global Times heaped insults on Indians who according to the Chinese paper don’t understand nationalism, have no knowledge of morals, cravenly follow the west and are spoilt. This remark raises a big question on the entire country’s population and Kashmiris are no exception. It demands keen introspection on our emerging values and system. 

Peace is the key to growth and development for any state or country. But peace doesn’t only mean solving various political issues. It means peace of mind and peace of soul. It means peace from unfair, unsafe and unprofessional practices. It is because of peaceful atmosphere that our state can prosper. The stakeholders towards the peaceful atmosphere are police, civil administration, political leadership, traders and above all the local people of Kashmir. Good governance requires accountability by public officials along with transparency. People’s selfless participation is necessary to make the system more effective and accountable. Everyone concerned with hotels, houseboats, handicrafts, transport including tourists should develop utmost professionalism and be sincere in their practices before it is too late. The prevailing system will only act as a slow poison and lead to a state which will be only remembered for its glorious past and not for its present and future. It is well said that the world is a dangerous thing not because of those who do evil but because of those who look the other way and do nothing about it. Let us pledge to save our beautiful valley. Let us make it into a real paradise.

 

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