Besides enjoying the meadows of Gulmarg, gushing streams of Pahalgam and houseboats lining boulevard, tourists visiting Kashmir this year will get an opportunity to revitalise their souls.
Jammu and Kashmir tourism department along with Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH) has identified around 50 sites across Valley to be preserved for promotion of heritage tourism. The work on conservation of some heritage sites and shrines has been already completed and the same would be thrown open for visitors this coming season.
“The conservation work of around 20 sites is almost complete and the visitors this year have an opportunity to visit some of the sites,” said Saleem Beigh, head of INTACH in Jammu and Kashmir.
The places include a mosque Aali Masjid which was constructed in 1471 A.D. by Sultan Hassan Shah of the Shahmiri dynasty, within the premises of the main Eidgah in the heart of old city in Srinagar. The mosque had served as a major platform for mobilising masses against the autocratic Dogra rule in early 20th century.
The other heritage site is a Mughal structure built by Shah Jahan's eldest son and a Sufi, Dara Shikoh, credited with the distinction of translating Upanishads into Persian. Shikoh had built the structure for his spiritual teacher and Sufi saint Mullah Akhoon Shah(also called Mullah Shah Badakshi) , consisted of a mosque, an Islamic seminary and a Hammam.
“Besides these there are many more sites across valley, which are untapped and unexplored. The heritage conservation project has just started in Kashmir, it will take time, money and expertise to make it a success,” Beigh said.
A thriving tourist destination before the eruption of militancy in 1989, Kashmir witnessed a total collapse of government, economy and administration in the two decades of conflict.
The old Srinagar, which was the throne of Emperor Akbar in the valley, has been a melting pot of different cultures and faiths; centuries old Sufi shrines coexist with Hindu temples in many localities. But as the two decades of conflict turned official attention to security, these structures of grandeur started to decay.
As the militant violence declined considerably in the past five years, Kashmir has opened its arms for the visitors again and officials have woken up to the preservation of Kashmir’s past. A relatively peaceful year of 2011 resulted in a record arrival of 13 lakh tourists. The figure excludes 6.34 lakh pilgrims who visited the holy Amarnath shrine in the mighty Himalayas in south Kashmir.
“Every patch of land in Kashmir is a piece of heritage and God willing it will flourish again. And we will leave no stone unturned to make it happen,” said a tourism official not wishing to be named.