Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Amarnath yatra caters to economy of Kashmir

At a time when Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has reduced this year's duration of annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave, the tourist traders of Kashmir are demanding more stakes in yatra opining that they can provide better facilities to the yatris.

Talking to Jk News, President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCC&I), Abdul Hamid Punjabi said that government should regulate the system of providing the logistical facilities to the yatris. Punjabi said that absence of the policy has eaten into the benefits of the tourist traders' vis-à-vis the regulation of the yatris.

"Majority of the yatris avail the facility of package tours and the tour operators arrange everything for them. In this scenario there is no benefit for the tourist traders of Kashmir and they are left high and dry. The government should come out with a proper policy so that interests get accrued to the tourist traders of the valley," said Punjabi.

Punjabi said that the yatris directly board the buses from different places of the country and then disembark at Pahalgam or Sonamarg. He said since langar facility is available along the route there is no need for the yatris to stop and eat at restaurants located on way to the cave.

"If the yatris would have stayed at the hotels then it would have led to benefits to the hoteliers of the different ranges. In the same way the tourist transporters would have earned benefits if their cabs would have been utilized by the yatris. As of now there are no benefits for the people associated with various sectors of tourism trade in Kashmir," said Punjabi.

Punjabi said that high end yatris come in less number adding that these people stay at hotels and book cabs for the Amarnath Yatra. He said they also visit the various picnic spots and enjoy their stay in Kashmir.

"The government should impose a ban on the entry of vehicles beyond Athwajan. Once the tourist transporters start earning benefits they can add to their fleet of vehicles. There is a need to check the inflow of yatris since the lingam gets melted due to more influx of yatris. In Himachal Pradesh there is a bar on the number of people visiting the various religious sites, same needs to be applied here," said Punjabi.

Chairman, Kashmir Tourism Alliance (KTA), G M Dug said that State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) should introduce Volvo type bus service from Katra to Srinagar. He said this would give a chance for the people visiting Vaishno Devi shrine to pay obeisance at the Amarnath cave during the days of yatra.

"The Amarnath Yatra caters to the economy of Kashmir but the benefits are not upto the desired level. Over the past two years it has been observed that a good number of yatris come of their own. These people stay in different hotels and enjoy the various forms of hospitality being offered here. The yatra gives a chance to the tourist traders to earn benefits during the lean months of the tourist season," said Dug.

Dug said that evening flights should be introduced between Jammu to Srinagar so that the people visiting Vaishno Devi shrine can come to Srinagar in the same evening. He added these people can then go to the Amarnath cave and take part in the Amarnath yatra as well.

President, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), Rauf Tramboo said that tour operators, hoteliers, houseboat owners, transporters, pony wallas and dandi wallas get benefited due to the Amarnath yatra. He said that Amarnath yatra is closely associated with the tradition of Kashmir adding that Kashmiris feel proud of this association.

"Amarnath yatra is a part of the pilgrimage tourism and it is not good to count the material benefits alone in this regard. People get benefited since a good number of yatris stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, do shopping and make use of ponnies and dandies during their journey to the holy cave," said Rauf.

Rauf said that the facilities are not in tune with the arrival of yatris since they come in bulk during the Amarnath yatra. He said government's decision to start helicopter service for the yatris has also led to benefits for locals. He added that TAAK and Travel Agents Society of Kashmir (TASK) were given 45 seats each per day ever since the start of helicopter service.

President, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHARA), Siraj Ahmad said that hardly 10 percent of yatris stay at hotels adding that there is less occupancy of the hotels at Srinagar, Pahalgam and Sonamarg during the yatra period. He said that since eating arrangements are available to the yatris at Langars there is no need for them to visit restaurants in this regard.

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