By Vishakha Talreja
Tourists might still be reluctant to visit Kashmir in the wake of recent attacks, however Ladakh that is popular among adventure tourists is looking at a busy summer season. While tourism department, hotels and travel agents are happy that Ladakh has become a popular destination among travellers, they are now focussing on responsible and sustainable tourism. In 2018 Ladakh had 3,27,000 visitors registering a 30 per cent growth over previous year. The surge in tourist numbers for Ladakh has been recent. Aamir Khan starred Bollywood movie 3 Idiots that had its climax shot in Ladakh brought immense popularity for this once untouched destination. Now the focus is not just to attract more tourists but to have an environment friendly and sustainable growth.
“By sustainable growth we don’t mean that we should stop tourists from coming but to open newer routes and destinations. Also to become a year round destination and not just have a surge of tourists during May-June,” says Rigzen Samphel, Secretary, Tourism Department, Jammu & Kashmir.
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The opening of new trek routes this season will also help the cause. In February when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Leh, he inaugurated five new trekking routes, besides unveiling developments projects worth Rs 12,000 crore in Ladakh
Recently at a travel meet in the capital The All Ladakh Tour Operators Association, Hotel and Guesthouse Association along with representatives from various tourism bodies discussed how they can ensure sustainable tourism in Ladakh, keeping up with the growth in numbers.
There are 15,000 hotel beds in Leh. “Every year we are getting lot of applications for new hotels as tourism becomes a lucrative business in Ladakh. We have increased the number of approvals for hotels. In last six months we have also developed new guidelines to ensure that hotels follow best eco-friendly practices and do not hamper the environment,” added Samphel.
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Hotels too are now doing their bit. “We are proactively taking steps to be an eco-friendly hotel. It is important have more tourists but focus on sustainable tourism only,” said Tashi Motup Kau, owner, Lha Ri Sa Resort. While it’s adventure tourists who mainly throng Ladakh, luxury hotels such as The Grand Dragon are attracting niche luxury travelers too including inbound travelers from South Asian countries.
“Good hotels also mean that people can now visit Ladakh during winter months and stay in centrally heated hotels with warm water. Unlike earlier when most accommodation was available at small guesthouses and homestays. Our idea is to make Ladakh an year-round destination,” said a travel agent from Ladakh. Samphel also said how they are looking at promoting Kargil as a tourism destination. It has some unique attractions that are sure to woo travelers.
As tourists too we should be mindful when we travel ecologically sensitive destinations. In recent times responsible tourism has become part of the discussion at most travel meets.
(The author is is a travel writer and founder of hotel discovery platform The Hotel Explorer. Views expressed are her personal.)