India: ‘Kashmir ideally suited for Saudi tourists’


DAMMAM: A high-level delegation of tourism and culture ministers, government officials, bureaucrats, airline operators and tourism experts from different states of India is currently visiting the Kingdom to familiarize Saudis with all that “Incredible India” has to offer.

Among the biggest contingents is from Jammu and Kashmir, a state that is rated as one of the best tourism destinations in India. The state delegation is being headed by Tourism and Culture Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, and it includes Minister of State for Home, Tourism and Housing Nasir Aslam Wani, Tourism Commissioner Atal Dulloo, J&K Tourism Development Corp. Managing Director Satish Nehru and Kashmir Tourism Director Farooq Shah.

“This is the first time we are leading such a high-level delegation to Saudi Arabia to promote our state as the No. 1 tourist destination,” Farooq Shah told Arab News on the sidelines of the road show at Sheraton Dammam on Saturday.

The composition of the Kashmiri delegation, he pointed out, underlined the Omar Abdullah-led state government’s seriousness in attracting tourists from Saudi Arabia.

“Kashmir is without a doubt a paradise on earth and we believe that it is the natural crown of Incredible India,” said Shah. “Like a multifaceted diamond, Kashmir changes its hues with the seasons, and its honey-dewed orchards, rippling lakes and blue skies have a magical impact on tourists.”

For the average Saudi tourist, Kashmir has a lot to offer. “One, it is gorgeous; two, it is affordable and inexpensive; three, we have halal food; four, we have any number of mosques; five, it is very well connected by air and much closer to Saudi Arabia than European destinations,” said Shah.

“We are also known as the shopper’s paradise because of our traditional hand-made goods, beautiful shawls and wonderful hand-woven carpets,” he said. “Saudis specially like our houseboats, we call them floating apartments, they are nicely decorated, and in terms of service they are no less that any five-star hotel.”

For those young Saudis who are looking for adventure, Kashmir is again the right destination. “We are the place for wind sports, rafting, mountaineering, golfing and trekking … we have excellent facilities for all outdoor activities,” he said.

One of the reasons why Saudis and other Arabs have avoided going to Kashmir is the security situation. “Kashmir is as safe as any place in the world,” said Shah. “Our security situation is very stable, and it can be gauged from the fact that in 2011 we have had 2 million tourists; of them 70,000 were foreigners, including Saudi families.”

Responding to a question about tourist visas, he said: “Our embassies and consulates are very prompt in issuing visas; our Saudis brothers can contact the nearest mission and they will be more than welcome,” he said.

The tourism road shows are being organized by India’s Ministry of Tourism. The large delegation is headed by Tourism Ministry’s Rajen Habib Khwaja and includes Additional Director General Devesh Chaturvedi and India Tourism Regional Director Vikas Rustagi.

Dammam was the first stop for the road show. It travels to Riyadh on Jan. 9 and Jeddah on Jan. 12.