Post-Script: Kashmir Lost its ‘Tourism Man’

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                                     Mohammad Ashraf Batku

As a meritorious son of a middle-class Srinagar family, Mohammad Ashraf Batku rose to become celebrated director general of tourism in Jammu and Kashmir. In his post-retirement life, his prolific writings became his new and distinct identity. His demise opened floodgates of tributes in the valley.

SUDDEN demise of Mohammad Ashraf Batku on Tuesday night evoked massive condolences across the valley, with many calling it a passing of a man who made the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir’s tourism an ‘adventurous’ sector.

Known as ‘tourism man of Kashmir’, Batku breathed his last at SKIMS, Srinagar on October 13. He had been unwell for a brief time.

The deceased was a prolific columnist and had four published books on his name. Two of them “Remembering Jammu” and “Travels in Ladakh” were published in 2015.

Batku was a trained engineer before becoming an administrator.

In 1973, he tried to promote adventure tourism in J&K when he gave a project to the State Tourism Department. His accepted pitch promoted him as the in-charge of the wing.

He worked tirelessly to promote mountaineering in Kashmir. He was also a patron and current president of the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club which is currently the oldest and also the largest hiking club in J&K.

Batku retired in 2003, after serving tourism department for 30 years. A man of grit, the former director-general is still being remembered for introducing tourism in the arid region of Ladakh.

In 1974, when Ladakh was opened for foreign tourism, Batku was extensively involved in developing tourism in this mysterious and enchanting land beyond the Himalayas.

Mohammad Ashraf with civil society members

He was born on August 25, 1943, in a middle-class family of Srinagar’s Amira Kadal locality. Batku received his schooling in many schools, from Islamia Middle School to Tyndale Biscoe School, before passing his matriculation exam from the SP Higher Secondary School. Later, he secured second position in the entire combined University of Jammu & Kashmir in Intermediate Science from SP College.

Being among the top ten, he was nominated by the State Government to the prestigious Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. However, he preferred to remain in the valley. He started pursuing civil engineering at Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Srinagar which he completed in 1965.

As director-general tourism, Mohammad Ashraf greatly improved the tourism footfall in Ladakh

His demise flooded K-Social media with evocative tributes.

“We have lost a great patron of tourism in general and the adventure sector in particular,” the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) said. “M Ashraf was instrumental in setting up an Adventure Tourism Wing in the tourism department for the promotion of adventure tourism in J&K.”

A social media user described Batku as “a deeply indigenous person,” adding that his contribution to natural resources, landscape and tourism in itself is history.

Seasoned journalist Mohammad Sayeed Malik remembered Batku as a “self-made achiever” and devoted son of his mother.

One of the social media users described him as an “asset of Kashmir.”

Editor Zafar Choudhary described Batku as a man who lived a glorious life and contributed massively to tourism and culture in the first phase of his life.

Qayoom Wani, Chairman of J&K Civil Society Forum, described Batku as a “prominent writer and a torchbearer”.

The deceased, said JK Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari, had a vast experience in tourism and “his contribution to the field in general and adventure tourism in particular across J&K and in Ladakh would be remembered by one and all”.

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Swati Joshi

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