In recent times, the cable car has become a prestigious project for every spot in Kashmir regardless of its actual requirement at a particular place. Basically, ropeways especially cable cars are a means of aerial transportation meant for places normally not accessible by any other means. In the tourism sector these have been very much utilised in winter resorts for reaching higher slopes to enable the slopes being utilised for skiing. In many countries, such as in Canada aerial transportation is used in forests to fetch timber from inaccessible places. The main use in mountain areas is mostly related to tourism. In some cases, ropeways are set up in urban areas to take people to higher spots for panaromic views of the places around.
In Kashmir, the most successful ropeway has been the Gulmarg Gondola taking skiers in winter to Afarwat and tourists in summer for panoramic views. In fact, the Gondola has earned more revenue from tourists in summer than from the skiers in winter. One may think of putting up such facilities in other potential tourist areas like Pahalgam and Sonamarg where skiing and sightseeing can be combined. However, there is no point in putting up cable cars in every nook and corner such as Verinag.
One must also understand the impact of these transportation systems on the environment. In mountain areas having forest cover a lot of trees have to be cut for erecting towers and then more trees have to be felled for a ski slope internationally supposed to be 40 metres wide. Moreover, the stations on top and the trails become garbage dumps unless continuous cleaning is undertaken. In urban areas, the cable cars do not gel with the environment at all.
People had been talking of putting up cable cars for going to religious shrines. This robs the faith of all its sanctity. Traditionally in the Himalaya and many other places, the holy men have been going up to higher altitudes to meditate and commune with the creator. Most of the shrines of Muslim saints and religious preachers in Kashmir are located on hill tops or on higher mountain sides. People built shrines at these places where the revered persons passed away.
As a matter of faith and tradition people have been going to these spots to pay homage and pray. Most of these spots are approached by foot trails or even over stone steps. One of the most popular shrines where people have been traditionally going is the Maqdoom Sahab. The number of steps for climbing up to the shrine is traditionally known to all the people who have been climbing these over the years. One remembers from childhood people climbing these steps with pitchers of water and emptying these in the pond on top in times of a drought. Maqdoom Sahab has now been connected with a cable car thereby robing the people of the tradition of climbing the historical steps. No wonder the initiators of the cable car may soon think of installing a water pump to fill up the tank on top! An improvement in faith!
The same story has been repeated in setting up of Tourism Development Authorities and Golf Courses all over the state. We have, not only destroyed the existing resorts by haphazard and unplanned development but have initiated measures for destroying the environment, which in the first place is the main attraction for people to visit Kashmir. Hundreds of crores have been spent on setting up of Golf Courses without any survey about the possible markets for these. These are mainly used by the elite businessmen and bureaucrats who have taken a fancy to Golf especially after retirement. Government must undertake a survey about the number of Golfers both domestic and international who have been utilising these courses on which huge amounts of money have been spent.
About two dozen Tourism Development Authorities have been set up in what could have been lay back areas for tourism development after peace; the very basic requirement for up market tourism prevails in the state. The Authorities mostly headed by engineers or administrators instead of tourism specialists or experts have become channels to siphon off funds in collusion with the local legislators by constructing tourist centres and other infrastructure which in reality is the domain of the private players. Recently the government has been contemplating the regularisation of temporary employees of these authorities thereby created more liabilities for the already overburdened state exchequer.
If one thinks of the real top most priority for the present day Kashmir, it is the electric power of which we have a virtual famine. It should have been the foremost task of all the rulers to ensure availability of this basic facility. Instead of wasting the scarce precious resources on unproductive and luxury items, the maximum funds should have been diverted to the development of this sector. Not only was money needed for power generation but for modernisation of its transmission and distribution. Instead of doing this, we have mortgaged our precious resources to outsiders from whom we have to buy back power generated from our resources at exorbitant commercial tariff.
The misplaced priorities are not accidental but deliberate. During recent times our rulers have found newer ways of making money by hook or by crook. Be it the education sector like the recent expose of BOPEE or any other field, the only consideration is how to pocket the maximum funds by any means without any qualms of virtually non-existent conscience! One really feels disgusted and suffocated. It is too sickening. Sometimes one feels that the people who have a chance of living abroad for some time in an honest and free environment are the lucky ones! Will we be ever able to set right all these misplaced priorities? Yes, provided we get just and strong rulers for whom honesty and truth are above all else! To get honest, just and strong rulers we have to be first honest and truthful to our own selves and then to others. A utopia, some may call it!