There is more to Kashmir than popular destinations like Gulmarg and Pahalgam, said a Srinagar-based tour operator Saturday, blaming the lackadaisical approach of the state's tourism department for not developing lesser-known tourists spots like Kokernag and Verinag.
"The state tourism department is not promoting new tourist destinations. Whatever money they get from the centre, they invest in beautification of popular destinations like Gulmarg and Pahalgam. I am sick of taking tourists to these places, knowing Kashmir has many hidden gems around," Asif, a Srinagar-based tour-operator told IANS.
"New destinations require infrastructural development like building roads, hotels and toilets around highways. But all the money is going into their pockets and no one is watching," he added.
Asif was one amongst many tour operators who were in the capital to participate at the three-day OTM travel trade show in Noida, where state and international tour companies came under one roof to network.
There were around 250 exhibitors from 17 countries and 20 Indian states at the fair, which ends Sunday.
Surprisingly, the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department stayed away from the fair and this did not go down well with the private-tour operators.
"This is indicative of the trust people have in the state's tourism department. Presentation is important because on a platform like this, you meet people from different parts of the country and international countries, and also avid travellers. If the state is not representing, it is extremely demotivating," Mir Anwar, director, Mazda Travels, told IANS.
Mohammad Hanif Kawa, who runs a adventure tour company in the valley said: "Tourism is the backbone of Kashmir's economy. It has to be improved and developed. If the state tourism is unable to do that, they should give that land on lease."
"While many feel security might be an issue that the government is choosing to ignore these areas, but tell me one place in the world that is safe," he asked.
Anwar echoed similar sentiments, saying: "Kashmir is as safe as Delhi is today."
The operators stressed on the need to develop the valley for tourists to see the "Switzerland of India".
"Places like Achabal, Kokernag, Verinag and Gurez will make you forget everything. Tourists insist on going to regular places because these are what have been promoted always. One would get lost in beauty of Kashmir," said Asif.
"It is time to develop these places to see change in Kashmir, generate tourism and employment and offer better life to poor people who are suffering the most," he added.