On Saturday when the Prime Minister of India Narender Modi was on the extensive tour of Jammu and Kashmir to lay the foundational stone for many developmental projects, he asked the people of Jammu and Kashmir to follow the Leh as its model as how it dramatically craved its space in the socio economic prosperity despite being the cut –off region from the rest of the country for over six months and having limited resources.
Modi was speaking about the region I have visited two years back when the Kashmir was seething under anger against the killing of top militant Commander Burhan Muzaffer Wani by security forces. As I set on the tour to take break from the continuous shutdown, curfews and ongoing violence which had severely hit my mind I crossed the Srinagar and Ganderbal districts in the middle of night to evade the wrath of protesters who had literally hijacked the roads and lanes of Kashmir and pushed the law enforcing agencies on back foot.
Upon crossing Zojila the treacherous mountainous range I heaved a sigh of relief after being confined for over two months back home. The marvellous lush green patches dotted with fur and Kail amid the gentle breeze alongside the Srinagar-Leh Highway greeted me. The journey turned more fascinating after crossing the Drass and Kargil and the green patches gradually faded into nude swaths of land.
The silence of the mighty mountainous range on way to Leh had a marvellous impact on your mind. On a 432 kilometre long stretch-a fully macdimized two lane road, the fascinating eyesight never ends until you reach to the heart of city-Leh.
Leh is a classic example in the urban infrastructural build up. A well planned city has well organized its facilities. The roads are wide open, sans encroachment and filth. The people receive you with gentle smile on their face. The city which had the horse only source of transportation until recent past had all the luxurious cars plying on the roads.
“The city has progressed a lot. It is no more the city of Pony’s previously known among outsiders. Today we have more than 15 flights landing daily on our airport and is expected to grow,” a senior officer in tourism department told me.
He apprised me further about the changing scenario in the cold dessert and said that the people taking environmental concerns have planted thousands of trees.
“The plantation in the Leh has been stopped since last few years. Since this is a cold desert the rains shall not be more here which brings cloud burst and damage life and property. We have made long patches of vegetation,’ he says while pointing towards one of the long vegetation part the people of Leh had built.
The officer tried to make it more lucid to understand: “Two decades back when any Buddhist would die they would chop the body into pieces due to scarcity of wood. However, the body is now burnt fully as there is no dearth of wood to us.”
Leh has the highest number of elite tourist visitors annually. According to data more than two lakh tourists visit every year to the city to enjoy the adventurous tourism in the region. With a population of just 1.25 lakh every person of the district has two tourists to attend, therefore, making the tourism as its primary economy.
The authorities are struggling to ensure the carrying capacity with limited space and infrastructure available. The interesting part, however about the tourism is that it is all in the hands of private players with government just acting as a monitoring agency.
“The idea is to empower the local people especially youth. We train them in different areas and award the licences to run private ventures to offer facilities to tourists. It boosts the local economy and engages the local youth also,” says one of the senior officers.
In the city which is free from corruption and crime, the women emancipation is visible on the ground. There is hardly any field where the women are participating. From the local shops to the jobs as tour guides women has set her feet everywhere.
“Women is playing the key role in the socio-economic progress here. They are everywhere dealing with social and economic issues,” said Tswering a shopkeeper.
Tswering gently grins when I asked him about the corruption in system
“Corruption, I don’t think it is here. Our all developmental and social works are monitored by the Leh Budh Association (LBA). Wherever there is any allegation LBA intervenes so we can say it is corruption and crime free city.”
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