By Ananya Sengupta
Leh, Sep 4 (PTI) Tourism bodies in Ladakh have asked Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel to tell the world that the newly formed union territory is no longer a part of strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir, to send out a message to the global community that the region is peaceful and safe for them to visit.
In a memorandum from the Ladakh Tourist Trade alliance submitted to Patel, a slew of demands have been made by tourism stakeholders, but high on their mind is the fact that now with their new status, they can come out of Kashmir's shadow.
"Explain the difference between Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Even if there is a small mishap, embassies come out with travel advisories asking their citizens not to visit the area. Our tourism suffers. Please approach embassies on our behalf and tell them that our Ladakh is peaceful.
"With Ladakh being a UT, we have been freed from the civil war of Kashmir. We want you to help us create Brand Ladakh," Sonam Parvez, General Secretary of the Ladakh Hotel Association and one of the signatories of the memorandum told Patel.
The sector urged the government to announce the "new geo-political " situation so that travel advisories over Kashmir issue do not affect Ladakh "negatively".
The group which met Patel on Tuesday evening also asked him to improve connectivity to the region which is cut off from rest of India for half the year.
Open up air routes and connect Ladakh to the southern and western region of the country from where a huge chunk of domestic tourists visit should be prioritised, they said in the memorandum.
They suggested air routes like Bangalore-Leh and Ahmedabad-Leh to start with.
Patel assured them that his ministry is already in talks with the aviation sector and there is considerable interest from them. He said a decision will be made soon on the issue.
The sector also demanded a third airport in the region -- there is one in Leh and another in Kargil, which is still to open for commercial operations.
They also said that Ladakh wanted "quality" tourism and not "quantity" and measures should be taken that the region's ecology doesn't suffer.
"The government should open more peaks so that the strain on existing ones reduces. Also, serious trekkers will only come to Ladakh if they have higher and tougher peaks to climb. We want them to come here. At present 70 per cent tourists are domestic, we want to increase the number of foreigners coming here. We do not want mass tourism, but quality tourism so that it is sustainable," said Tsten Hangchuk who represented the adventure tourism sector.
He also demanded that due to safety reasons, they be allowed the use of satellite phones so that communication becomes easier at high altitudes.
The sector also demanded hotel management and mountaineering institutes come up in the region to train the local population.
In the memorandum, the sector demanded that the Centre promote adventure tourism and better connectivity to Kargil and Nubra Valley in all seasons.
The minister asked the sector to develop standard operating procedures themselves and to coordinate with the Centre on issues.
"Policies and decisions for you cannot be taken sitting in Delhi. That is why I have come here with my team. We will address all your issues, but you too have to come up with solutions.
"There are innumerable opportunities in Ladakh and UT status will provide Ladakh a great platform to prosper quickly since there will be better coordination with the Centre, various agencies as well as stakeholders of tourism industry," he said. PTI ASG AAR