By Sohail Ahmed
Srinagar, May 1 : The tourism potential in the picturesque Kashmir valley is all set to get a further boost with the Jammu and Kashmir Government carrying out a major project for beautifying the area along the bank of River Jhelum.
The three-year project that was started in August, 2005 is about developing the 3.6 kilometers riverbank from Sonawar to Tankipora with an investment of rupees 255 million in three years.
Construction work for exquisite parquets, recreational resort spots and other recreational facilities on both sides of the river is being carried out at a fast pace to meet the deadline August, 2008.
"The project has been carried out in two phases. One part comes under Centre Water Resource Ministry, which we call anti-erosion works and the internal side of the river comes under that project. Another part is of beautification, which includes development of the site. The total cost of the project is around rupees 25 crores (over 6.17 million dollars). It's just a start," said Najibullah Khan, the Chief Engineer with Irrigation Department in Jammu and Kashmir.
Apart from beautification of the riverbanks, parks and walkways, a highlight of this project is the preservation of heritage structures along the stretch between Sonawar and Tankipora.
Besides providing enchanting scenic sights while boating along the river, this project also envisages regular and lucrative earning for hundreds of locals living within the vicinity of the riverbank.
Once the beautification project is completed, many unemployed youngsters stand to gain from well-paid employment opportunities.
"Government has taken a good decision. It is a really beautiful river and has been flowing here since ages. We wish it should be developed the way it is going on currently," said Farooq Ahmed, a local.
"It's really a good work that has been going on here. We all used to come here in Shikaras for the ride. It will definitely benefit even our future if the beautification work continues here and unemployment would surely decrease since the local youths would get a lot of things to do. Moreover, if travelling would be done by the Shikaras, it would also decrease the pollution level of the place," said Mohammad Jabbar, another local.
The river traverses a distance of 250 kilometres across the valley in its course from Khannabal to Wullar Lake.
The State's tourism industry has witnessed a healthy boom in the past couple of years as the total number of arrivals, including foreigners, crossed the figure of 600,000 in 2005-06 from 191,000 recorded in 2003-04.