People’s participation must for eco-tourism in Kashmir: Manzoor Wangnoo​

A successful businessman and philanthropist, Manzoor A Wangnoo believes eco-tourism can give a fillip to Kashmir’s economy provided​ ​there is a model of people’s participation ​in conservation, protection ​and commercial scale-up. 

​Having been instrumental in a major clean-up and conservation project of the Nigeen Lake in Srinagar through a unique model of state-led activities and active community participation, Mr Wangnoo has plenty of ideas in making things work in environment-sensitive tourism. ​

In an interview with Ziraat Times, Mr ​Wangnoo who leads a leading handicraft export company, hotel and group of houseboats, speaks his heart out about ways and means to protect ​Jammu & ​Kashmir’s eco-fragile environment. Excerpts:

​ZT: ​Tell us something about yourself personal life and business career?

​Manzoor Wangnoo: ​When I came out of the college, ​I was fortunate to be offered a ​government ​job. I refused it. Reason for ​that ​was that  in my school and college days I was kept at one place in ​Srinagar’s ​Sonwar​,​ which was sort of ​a ​boarding ​school.​ I wanted to be close to my family and not take up a job that could take my away from my family.​

​My venture into business started when a businessman neighbor​ offered ​me ​paper machie ​products to ​be sold to ​tourists. I accepted his offer and went to sell paper machie ​products ​in Shikara​s​. ​On my first day of work my sale was US 50 dollar​s​​. At that time it was a big amount. I came back and g​a​ve the money to him​.​ ​H​e was ​very ​happy.  He asked me to continue and gave me one full basket of handicraft articles. At that time, group of American tourists used to visit Kashmir. They used to go to city centre to buy handicraft items. At that point of time, Suffering Moses was the king of handicraft​ business​. ​Luckily I got the same supplier wh​o helped me in selling stuff to visitors.

When I started my business, I concentrated only on quality.​ ​​I had no shop or showroom​, so​ I used to sell ​handicraft ​items on Shikara to tourists. From 1975 I started my ​formal ​business. Then I got shops and showrooms at many places.

​ZT: ​How do you see potential of tourism in Kashmir?

​Manzoor Wangnoo: ​To me, tourism has a vast potential in Kashmir. ​It is one of the most promising tourism places that I have seen in the world. But​,​ unfortunately​,​ ​the ​political situation ​here ​and what ​all happened in ​the ​last three decades has affected it badly.​ There is still a long way to go.​

ZT: Considering your environment conservation activities, your concern for environment, how do you see the prospects of eco-tourism​ in Kashmir​?

​Manzoor Wangnoo:​ ​I don’t think we ​are yet to realise the scope and meaning of eco-tourism in Kashmir. ​Considering our fragile ecology, we need to concentrate on eco-tourism ​as a key component of our tourism promotion strategy. Eco-tourism could provide jobs horizontally which is a big need in Kashmir right now. It is not only ​the ​government​,​ it is ​a ​duty of people to build that atmosphere.

​ZT: What do you think could be a starting point in that?

​Manzoor Wangnoo:​ ​I would say, ​people’s participation​…​ it is your job and my job. Take my organization Nigeen Lake ​Conservation ​Organization​ (NLCO)​, you can’t find a single polythene bag in Nigeen Lake​ today​. The reason is ​communities’ horizontal participation has ensured a sustainable community-led eco-conservation initiative. We also tell vendors and tourists if you find a polythene bag please pick it up. We coordinated ​our actions ​with government ​institutions ​like ​LAWDA and SMC​ as well​. That’s what we call people participation and by people’s participation we can ​introduce eco-tourism​ and make it successful​.

​ZT: ​Since you travel across globe, what are the key areas you think we need to improve in terms of improving quality of ecology and environment and natural products we have to offer to tourists?

​Manzoor Wangnoo:​ ​Unfortunately​,​ when ​we​ see Kashmir in tourism perspective, we are concentrating only on few areas. ​When I was heading ​Kashmir Houseboast Association, we worked very hard​, the situation was conducive as well.​ ​As a result​,​ tourist inflow increased to an extent that some tourist​s had to​ sle​ep​ on road​side​ due to non-availability of hotel rooms. But ​that boom​ was not sustainable because​ the focus was only ​on​ Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Srinagar.

​If you see Kashmir​ broadly​, there are lot of places which are unexplored. I travel to various places across Kashmir​ and find enchanting beauty. W​e need to develop these places so that tourists have more places to visit. Wallah​ (By God),​ I travel places, but If there is paradise on earth it is Kashmir.

Compare this with Dubai, everything is artificial there, yet they get great number of tourists​. We have to take lesson from it as they maintain their place well to attract tourists despite being bereft of natural beauty which we possess.

​Lately, there ha​ve​ been ​some innovative ideas in Kashmir, like ​the development of the Tulip ​Garden​. We can develop it further​.

​ZT: ​Do you think our existing polic​y​ framework is robust enough to ensure ​that ​benefits of tourism percolate to grassroot​s​ level?

​Manzoor Wangnoo:​ ​Kashmir tourism can play a major role in ​reducing​ unemployment. Our unemployment ratio is alarming. T​here are many places in the world that have no resources except for tourism. If ​tourism ​is kept apolitical​ the state policy framework​ could be framed accordingly. And when it is apolitical there are immense opportunities in ensuring its benefits percolate to grassroots levels.

​ZT: ​How do can we can preserve environment in Kashmir?

​Manzoor Wangnoo:​ ​We need ​our ​intellectual​s and thinkers to deliberate on how to preserve our environment​ and take concrete actions.​ We need to make Kashmir Polythene free. ​Environmental ​protection and conservation has to be embedded in our educational ​curriculum. We have to leave something for our future generation and educate them about ways to preserve it.

​ZT: ​Any advice for young entrepreneurs​ who ​wish to make it big like you did?

​Manzoor Wangnoo:​ ​Young entrepreneurs need to educate themselves​, persevere and be professional​. Our economic condition​s​ ​are bad. ​If they start a venture they ​would ​face lot of challenges but they ​have ​to be brave and determin​ed, persevere.

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