Homestays introduced near IB to boost border tourism in J-K's Samba

Former Sarpanch Mohan Singh Bhatti is ready to receive tourists at his homestay near the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir's Samba district, a visible change in the ground situation.
Homestay, Jammu and Kashmir
Homestay, Jammu and Kashmir

Samba (J-K) | Former Sarpanch Mohan Singh Bhatti is ready to receive tourists at his homestay near the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir's Samba district, a visible change in the ground situation after the renewed ceasefire between India and Pakistan came into effect in this month three years ago.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration has recently given its nod for the construction of homestays in the close vicinity of the famous Baba Chamliyal shrine in Ramgarh sector to boost border tourism amid prevailing peace on the borders.

Considered a symbol of Indo-Pakistan bonhomie in the past, the famous shrine of Baba Chamliyal on the zero line attracts thousands of devotees from across the country, especially on the occasion of the annual fair in the middle of the year.

Delegations from Pakistan used to come to pay obeisance at the shrine during the annual fair but the practice was stopped after cross-border firing left four BSF personnel including an Assistant Commandant dead on June 13, 2018.

Last year, a BSF jawan was killed in Pakistan Rangers firing in Ramgarh sector during the intervening night of November 8-9, the first loss of life on this side after the renewed ceasefire was agreed upon by the two countries on February 25, 2021.

Bhatti, who has come up with a double-storey homestay at his Dagh Channi village of Fatwal, has also constructed a well-furnished underground bunker with a twin objective to make the visitors feel living on the borders and as a safety measure to prevent any damage in case of shelling from across the border.

“On your visit to the border, you will see everything but not the bunker, which we are using during cross-border shelling. The one who had not seen this bunker (during the border visit) has seen nothing,” Bhatti told PTI.

He said they have constructed the underground bunker also to ensure the safety of the visitors in case there is firing or shelling from the other side. “As former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee had said, we cannot change our neighbour but we have to remain prepared to avoid getting caught in unwanted situations.”

Samba Deputy Commissioner Abhishek Sharma said there are many locations along the 55-km International Border in the district which have the potential to attract tourists in large numbers like Chamliyal shrine, 300-year-old temple Bamu chak, Baba Bali Karan and Baba Sidh Goria shrines.

“Both the centre and J-K administration are focusing on the promotion of border tourism. Last year, visitors to Chamliyal shrine faced accommodation problems and to bridge this gap, we are promoting homestays,” Sharma said.

He said there is an encouraging response from the border residents, especially young entrepreneurs who are ready to convert their homes into homestays.

“The district administration, Municipal Committee and Central University have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to provide a hand-holding to the owners of 40 identified homestay owners, both in online and offline mode, to guide them and promote their business,” the deputy commissioner said.

He said the people like to visit international borders and the government has come out with a border tourism promotion strategy to enhance the economy of the local population.

“The BSF has a strong coordination and communication with the administration. The BSF is also happy about people visiting border villages as it generates nationalistic fervour among the visitors as well,” Sharma said.

The visitors can also witness farming along the zero line, while the administration is planning to turn community bunkers at Ramgarh and Samba into model bunkers by setting up a gym or a library as part of the campaign to ensure proper usage of the structures.

“We are seeing that the bunkers constructed for the protection of the border residents are not properly used or maintained and utilised for other purposes. We have started a campaign so that the space is properly used,” the deputy commissioner said.

Om Prakash, a resident of Chamliyal, welcomed the government scheme and lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi for ensuring peace on the borders.

“Earlier, cross-border shelling was a routine but now peace is prevailing on the borders and new opportunities are opening for the villagers,” he said, adding that the border residents want everlasting peace so that the people, who are mostly farmers, can tend their land on both sides without any fear.

Chairman of Baba Chamliyal shrine, Billu Choudhary also thanked the government for the step and said, “Our village is situated just two kilometres from the IB and we want the people to come in large numbers. A person coming from Delhi or Mumbai has only heard about the borders and on reaching here, he can have a feel of the ground situation.”

“Homestays provide an opportunity to mingle and know each other's culture besides earning some bucks,” he said, adding they have never thought of such a situation developing on the borders which was always roaring with gunfire and mortar shelling.

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