Kashmir has abundant natural resources which can immensely benefit economic stability and communal peace in the State
The socio-cultural fabric of Kashmir was built over the Hindu-Sufi culture. In this peaceful backdrop grew a sustainable economic development model which provided Kashmiris, both life and livelihood. However, the long unrest in the valley, fomented by Pakistan, and India’s inability to nip the problem in the bud, have made its people suffer. The Himalayan State still preserves a vibrant natural economy which can generate employment and help restore peace in the region.
A majority of people in the valley want education and employment for their children. A composite culture with social harmony always creates jobs, generates surplus family income, creates economic assets and enhances the happiness level of people. April, which is the tourist season, the valley is abuzz with small economic activities. Tourism, horticulture, handicraft and agriculture are the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy.
However, the entry of mill-made shawls and carpets has posed serious threat to the rich hand-made carpets in Kashmir. Many tourists end up buying mill-made carpet or shawl which is sold in the name of Kashmiri handicraft. Many traditional carpet weavers and papier mâché artisans have switched over to other jobs as they found it difficult to sell their products in the market which is flooded with cheap factory items.
However, a transparent marketing facility can help the young generation continue with its family traditions. Kashmir has a vibrant horticulture sector, with a wide range of fruits being cultivated. Germany buys acrot to extract omega-3, which is sold at a high cost world over. The rare saffron grows in the valley. Kashmiri farmers grow a wide variety of walnut, apricot, almond, anjeer, apple, grapes, cherries, peaches, variety of spices and medicinal plants.
“Horticulture sector in Kashmir has a huge potential to generate employment”, says Mustaq Ahmed, who worked in the State agriculture department for a long time. A transparent marketing facility, dedicated agriculture research, authentic documentation of the rich biodiversity, public awareness to protect and preserve native fruits, food grains and vegetables can create employment opportunities.
Over the years, many rare native varieties of fruits and foodgrains have disappeared. Rice varieties such as muskbudit, kamath and zag have become extinct. Though their yield is less, they are a rare variety with high demand in the market. Amber apple, which was known for its exotic taste and fragrance, has become extinct. Re-weaving the natural sector is the biggest challenge for the State Government.
The State’s tourism potential still remains untapped. The Dal lake is like the soul of tourism. Unfortunately, the lake has lost much of its grace. The lake was used as a backdrop for many Hindi romantic songs in the 1960s and 1970s, but has now become a pale shadow of itself.
The lake is surrounded with aquatic plants, but it still attracts a large number of tourists. It is shrouded with interesting history, myths and mysteries. As per mythology, the sage Kashyap had scooped out the Kashmir valley from the Dal lake which once covered the entire valley. The peace of the 1960s and 1970s had let Shikara operators earn good income. Today, many of the Shikaras have grown old and need furnishing.
Come April, the snow on the mountains melts. There are multiple colours of nature in May when white snow covers the mountain tops and the slopes turn green. There are enough green pastures for the bukriwala community. Tourists roam around eating, drinking and relaxing in the valley. Tourist operators, taxi owners, horse owners, restaurants, the artisan community, handicraft traders, street vendors, tourist guides, hotels and fruit vendors earn from the tourist season.
Magnificent mosques, durgahs, Buddhist monasteries and ancient Hindu Shiva temples are strewn all over the valley. These places can attract a large number of pilgrims if peace prevails.
Shabir, a tourist guide said, “The tourism sector can generate huge revenue if it is properly organised. There is need for more trained guides.” Besides, the three ferquently visited tourist destinations — Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Pahalgam, which are the enchanting places in Kashmir are kept away from tourist itinerary.
Nature has blessed Kashmir with a vibrant natural sector which can bring peace and prosperity to the valley. Pakistan, instead of sponsoring terrorism, should learn how to engage its people back home in economic activities.