In a first-of-its-kind event in Kashmir, 13 foreign teams are participating in a 10-day international adventure race that kicked off with an aim to clear misconceptions about the valley being unsafe and to attract more tourists to the state. The adventure race ‘Expedition India 2017’ is being organised by Johannesburg-based adventure company Kinetic Events in collaboration with the state’s tourism department and Jammu and Kashmir Bank. The first leg of the downhill race was flagged off jointly by secretary tourism M H Malik and chairman J&K Bank Parvez Ahmad at Shankaracharya hill temple. A total of 14 teams – 13 from different countries and one local team – are participating in the event.
“It was very encouraging that foreigners from different countries visited this place for an international event despite travel advisories. This shows that the state of Jammu and Kashmir is safe for travelling and the tourists here are feeling safe. They enjoy the beauty and culture without any fear,” said J&K Tourism Minister Priya Sethi.
The secretary tourism also complimented the foreign teams on choosing Kashmir and Ladakh for this mega event. Director of tourism, Kashmir, Mehmood Shah said the influx of foreign tourists had gone down due to turmoil in Kashmir. “However, due to such events, we want to remove the negative perception among the travellers around the world. The biggest handicap to Kashmir tourism is the negative publicity. Such expeditions which have maximum participation from the foreign countries will help us increase foreign influx of tourists,” he said, adding that the department is working on getting negative advisories removed on Kashmir by inviting more foreign teams.
“We have best treks of Himalayas in Kashmir and Ladakh. Adventure activities like para-gliding, skiing, trekking, whitewater rafting, cycling, rock climbing are held here and we are conducting them on regular basis with good participation from adventure lovers from here and other countries,” Shah said.
Owners of Kinetic Events and organisers Stephan Muller and Heidi Muller said though many countries issued advisories against travelling to Kashmir, they found nothing bad here. “We have come here in the past and did all the preparations for this event. We did not find anything wrong here. Everything is good and we are enjoying the stay here besides the people are also good,” Heidi said.
The race will culminate at Nubra valley in Leh on September 22. Each team has been equipped with GPS system which is tracking their race. The GPS attached to the athletes is also fed live on social media giving considerable publicity to the event across the globe. Around 50,000 people are watching the event live on the inaugural day, a spokesman said.