Bad roads hit tourism in Mansar
Ashutosh Sharma
Tribune News Service

Mansar Lake/Jammu, January 9
If you are planning a visit to Mansar Lake during the winter vacation, think again as the “thorny road to the dream destination” can spoil the travel charm.

Broken roads, which pose the biggest hindrance to the entire tourism potential in the region, characteristically mark the negative aspect of the tourist destination.

The lake is situated around 40 km in the south of Udhampur town on the Udhampur-Samba road, while it is also linked with Jammu city by a 62- km road.

The road stretch from Samba to Mansar up to Battal Morh is in bad shape having potholes and streams of boulders and dirt. The road is dug up at several places. It has not been black topped for the past several years.

The place holds great religious importance. On the eastern banks, a shrine of Sheshnag is situated. Apart from it, the ancient temples of Umapati Mahadev, Narsimha and Durga are also situated nearby.

Like Surinsar in the vicinity, it is the habitation of seasonal birds, tortoise and fish of different species. It has a wildlife sanctuary housing spotted deer, neelgai, etc., besides other waterbirds such as cranes and ducks.

“The area has relatively poor road network and both tourist spots of Surinsar and Mansar are not well connected with the rest of the state,” said a tourist, Unni Shankar, from Bangalore.

“Poor road network is hindering free influx of tourists,” said an employee of the tourism department, adding that only urgent repair and metalling can put an end to the travelling woes.

“Due to the deplorable condition of roads, the transporters are also facing a lot of loss as their vehicles develop unwanted problems,” he added.

Chief engineer, Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA), Vinod Sharma, said, “We are reconstructing the entire road from Surinsar to Mansar. Since the road stretch from Battal Morh to Mansar falls under the wildlife area, we have sought no objection from the department. As soon as they give us a go ahead, we will resume work.”



Community information centre
Linking Gurez with Kashmir valley
Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, January 9
Like the frontier cold desert region of Ladakh, Gurez valley remains cut off from the rest of the Kashmir valley for over six months during winter, leading to a life in wilderness for over 30,000 residents. All essential commodities are transported by mid October to suffice for the winter months through the only 85 km-long road from Bandipore district headquarters in north Kashmir.

As the surface link remains blocked for the winter months, the people remain in touch with the outside world occasionally by weekly helicopter services and not so satisfactory telephone system and the lone community information centre (CIC).

In order to meet the demand of general public and students, a CIC was established by the information technology department under rural development scheme in June 2006. “Many people are coming to avail the internet facility”, said Nazir Ahmad Khan, NC MLA from Gurez.

The residents as well as outsiders surf the internet for news and examination results. The internet services are available not through broadband or wireless system, but with the help of satellite. “As newspapers are circulated in Gurez, the internet comes in handy for the local people to keep in touch with the rest of the world”, said a resident.

“This has been a very useful centre”, said Muzaffar Ahmad Sheikh, an operator at the CIC. The facility is usually provided in the evening when Dawar township of the valley gets five-hour power supply from diesel-run generators. Power is also provided for one hour early in the morning. The CIC with four computer systems is also run with the help of a generator set run on kerosene during daytime, but these days the movement and activities being less, there are only a few customers.

During the recent Assembly elections, Gurez received heavy snowfall and all links to the outside world were snapped. The CIC proved helpful for locals, visitors and tourists to keep in touch with the outside world.

As the surface link is blocked since November end, the weekly helicopter service is available from Bandipore to three destinations in the Gurez valley, Dawar, Tulel and Kanzalwan. “About 100 persons are ferried every week,” a resident said. The journey through the snowbound track to Bandipore is almost impossible for elders, ailing people, women and children,” comments NC MLA Nazir Ahmad Khan Gurezi.

Earlier, Gurez was a part of Bandipore tehsil and constituency, but later it was turned into a separate tehsil headquarters and is one of the three tehsils and constituencies of Bandipore district.



Begging on rise in Jammu
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 9
Much to the chagrin of the people, the city of temples has now become a city of beggars where the menace has been constantly on rise.

Beggars are found everywhere-be it shopping malls, markets, shrines like Bawe Wali Mata, Raghunath Temple, Ranbireshwar Temple, mosques, bus stand and the railway station. These beggars largely come from outside the state.

With infants and toddlers in their arms, these beggars do not let a person go unless he or she gives them alms, said Meenakshi Gupta, a resident of Gandhi Nagar.

“With shabby looks, they push you hard and embarrass you”, she said, adding that it appeared that the entire city had become their playfield.

However, she felt that the government in consonance with some NGOs must find a way out to tackle this social problem.

Beggars also leave a negative impact on the psyche of our children, she said, adding that oblivious of the realities they hurled disturbing queries at you.

Anil Sharma, a social activist, said despite being a menace, it went on without any serious exercise on the part of the government to check the malpractice. He said not only the government had turned a blind eye towards this issue, but also the NGOs, too, had been doing cosmetic exercises to mint money.

A woman beggar with a child in her lap in Gandhi Nagar locality said sheer poverty and no source of income forced her to beg.

A native of Durgapur in West Bengal, she said after she failed to bear a child her husband deserted her and she had to beg for survival.

When probed further, she admitted that women like her hired little children from other families living in slums for anything between Rs 50 and Rs 100 a day.

“We have to remit the rent to the family of the child in the evening”, she said, while refusing to disclose her daily earnings. She said people in the city were hospitable and kind-hearted and hence they found it easy to sustain themselves.

“We all know that a major chunk of these beggars come from states like Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and undoubtedly the menace of begging has been increasing but we can’t do much to solve this problem,” said a police officer.



Restoration work begins at Harappan site
Ashutosh Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 9
In view of the historic significance of the site, the tourism department is raising concrete structures near the historic Akhnoor Fort at the Harappan site on the right banks of the Chenab.

Although the fort is a shambles, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has recently taken up the restoration work .

However, the department has started constructing a “sarai” (lodging facility) at the foot of the fort.

As per historians, the fort, which was constructed by Raja Teg Singh in 1762, holds significance as the place is the northernmost site of the Indus valley civilisation on the Indian subcontinent.

ASI sources disclosed that the department had excavated the area inside the fort in 1977 in which remains belonging to pre-Harappan and Harappan or the Indus valley civilisation were recovered.

The ASI is already struggling to restore the pristine glory of the historical building and has mooted several proposals for the removal of encroachments from there. As of now, the fort houses the office of the SDM, government staff quarters, a police post, a mobile transmission tower, a school, an overhead water storage tank and a reservoir of the PHE department.

At the site of the restoration work, a foreman (works), pleading anonymity, said the seepage from the reservoir was causing damage to the fort.

Such is the negligence of the government towards the historic building that a toilet complex is adjacent to the fort wall while all drainwater seeps into the wall causing great damage to it.

Although the Ancient Monument Act, 1958, prohibits any concrete construction within an area of 100 meter from the historic site, the department is executing construction along the fort.

“Our department raised objections with the chief secretary, the subdivisional magistrate, Akhnoor, and the tourism department, but did not get any response,” said sources in the ASI.

The sources said the department had not sought any technical expertise from the ASI or the department of history, Jammu University, and the work was being carried out by a local contractor.

During the construction of concrete staircase along the right banks of the Chenab, an ancient well was earthed while the brickwork also undermines the historic value of the fort as the latter is in contrast with the previous construction.

The department has also erected concrete pillars on the right banks at the foot of the fort for constructing the lodging facility. “We had asked the tourism department to construct the complex away from the ancient dockyard, Jia Pota, but to no avail.”

The sources alleged that the department of tourism by sidelining the ASI was befooling people in the name of beautification of the site for reasons best known to them. They said the restoration work using cement instead of mortar was causing harm to the building.

On the other hand, director, tourism, Sarita Chouhan, said, “The construction is going on the banks only. It is being done for the beautification and protection of the fort.” She refuted the allegations and maintained that the work was going on in consultation with the ASI.



Srinagar’s Sunday market gains popularity
Afsana Rashid

Srinagar, January 9
Catchy phrases, rhythmic slogans and discount offers. Welcome to Srinagar’s Sunday market!

Roads leading to Poloview (the venue of the Sunday market) from Radio Kashmir, Regal Chowk, Lal Chowk, Amira Kadal Bridge, Goni Khan, Hari Singh High Street and Batmaloo witness people make a beeline for the market.

Also known as the poor man’s bazaar, many believe the market, once a taboo in Kashmir, has come a long way. “Prices of products in showrooms are soaring and the Sunday market offers a viable option to bridge the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots," says Shafeeqa, a Srinagar resident.

From utensils to furnishings, the market offers almost everything one requires for daily needs.

Even the rarest of the rare books are available here that too at throwaway prices. “I have collected more than 500 books on history, politics, and philosophy from this market,” says Ghulam Rasool.

The Sunday market, according to Rasool, is Kashmir's answer to old Delhi’s Daryagunj where until recently a book market - the biggest in Asia stretching over over 3 km - was held every Sunday.

“We sell nearly 1,000 books on different topics every week here,” says Aijaz Ahmed, who claims that he is the biggest dealer of second-hand books in the valley.

It has been observed that even those who can afford to buy merchandise from showrooms too visit this market. People believe vendors here earn huge profits. According to them, the vendors sell goods at cheap rates, convincing the customers that they are of fine quality, if not the best.

Owing to the heavy rush, traffic near Radio Kashmir is diverted through other roads. Shopping buffs wait anxiously for Sunday to make purchases. “You can find a good variety of articles here, especially things of daily use. This makes it a point to visit the market,” a young couple said. “We get here whatever we want and that too at cheap rates”.

But many disagree. “The products in the Sunday market are mostly substandard,” says Irfan Ahmad. Whatever the case, the Sunday market has certainly created a niche for itself in the valley.



Patnitop’s ropeway project hangs fire
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Patnitop, January 9
The picturesque hill resort of Patnitop is witnessing huge influx of tourists after the season’s first snowfall, but they are not interested to stay here for more than a day or two due to the non-availability of adequate infrastructure.

Notwithstanding the claims of the government to provide every possible facility to attract the tourists, projects, which were started with much fanfare in this beautiful meadow, remain incomplete reflecting non-serious approach of the authorities towards the areas having vast tourism potential.

Patnitop draws a large number of tourists every year. The authorities had formulated a comprehensive plan to create adequate infrastructure in the adjoining areas. With much publicity, the foundation stone was laid for constructing an aerial passenger ropeway in this picturesque picnic spot on August 9, 2007, with a promise to complete the work within two months. The work has not even started leave alone its completion.

“We are waiting for clearance from the forest department,” CEO of the Patnitop Development Authority SM Sawhney said while giving reasons for the inordinate delay.

Earlier, the state government had entered into an agreement with Nagarjuna Construction for the ropeway project. The first ever project of its kind in the state would be constructed with the 100 per cent financial support from a private player. Interestingly, officers of the forest department were also present when the agreement was being signed.

On May 2008, officers of the PDA while participating in a meeting to review the development plans, had reiterated to start the construction work within a month. The then CEO in the presence of the divisional commissioner, Jammu, had said all sorts of clearance for the project had been obtained.

Meanwhile, resentment is brewing among local residents due to the delay as they are expecting that the completion of this project would help attract tourists towards the adjoining areas as well. This project holds importance as according to the agreement, the private company would also construct resorts, fountains and parks, besides ropeways in the adjoining areas.



Tonga still a vital transportation mode
Tribune News Service

RS Pura (Jammu), January 9
Having a ride on a tonga may be a novel experience for many in the urban areas in modern times, but tongas still serve as an important mode of transportation for inhabitants in the border areas of RS Pura and Suchetgarh.

The significance of tongas in the border belt can be gauged from the fact that there are stands in villages like Purana Pind and Chohala. Though in the past few years, three-wheelers have also started plying in the rural areas here, tongas are still in business. Talking to The Tribune, Ajmer Singh, a tongawalla, said, "I have been plying tonga for the last around two decades and this is my only source of livelihood. I earn anywhere between Rs 150-300 daily depending upon the number of commuters I get in a day."

He said though the three-wheelers had made a dent in their earnings, still they found plying a tonga as a better source for eking out their livelihood.

Balram, another tongawalla, said he was a farmer before taking up this work. "My father had one acre land cultivating which I did not find economically viable in view of the high input cost and low returns. Therefore, I opted for tonga plying. Now, I am supporting a family of five with this tonga," he adds. Regarding three-wheelers' impact on their business, he said after plying tonga for so many years they had built a personal rapport in many villages which helped them earn a decent living even today.

Rajinder Singh, a commuter from Suchetgarh, said, "We have been commuting on tongas since long. It is a reliable mode of transportation with reasonable fares. It is useful in villages also because the roads in the rural areas are not motorable. The roads leading to most of the border areas are dotted with deep ditches."

Manorama Devi, another commuter, said the road leading to her native village was so bad that only a tonga could ply on it. "Though three-wheelers are also plying these days, they drop us around 2 km from there as no vehicle could ply on the dusty track leading to our village."




Time for women empowerment

Political parties may have been making tall claims regarding their sincerity to give due representation to women in civic bodies, the legislative Assemblies and Parliament, but the ground reality suggests otherwise. In the recently concluded Assembly elections, only three women have made it to the state Assembly. Though there were record women contestants in the fray this time, most of them were independents. The parties, which have been making promises to give 33 per cent reservation to women in elected bodies, don’t even bother to make a start at their own level by allotting tickets to sizable number of women. It is high time that the political parties realise the importance of women empowerment instead of making it just a rhetoric.

Preeti Singh

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