District Doda though known as a hub of abundant natural endowments and scenic beauty across the length and breadth of the country still craves for development and progress even after 75 years of India’s independence. The people of this mountainous, undulating and rugged stretch could not catch up the pace of progress seen in other districts of the state partly due to its peculiar geography and partly due to utter neglect of the concerned agencies. The total area of the district has been reduced to 4500 square kms after two more districts viz. Kishtwar and Ramban were ripped open from the womb of District Doda in July 2006.More or less 90 percent of the total population of the district lives in rural area and the economy is unequivocally featured as subsistence agricultural economy. People of this hilly terrain continue to remain in a state of backwardness remarkably in mass poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and health hazard conditions. Education and health the two important indicators of development continue to be at low ebb. Literacy rate in the area hovers around 68 percent and among the literates there is, strikingly, widespread functional illiteracy as a large chunk of them are bereft of vocational skills. Consequently, despite possessing academic degrees they are not capable of earning their livelihood. The ratio of government employees to the total population of the district is not appreciable. Further, there is less scope of employment in Public Sector as over the years it stands saturated. As mentioned earlier the district has peculiar topography mainly dominated by mountains of both low and high ranges coupled with steeply sloped terrain, hence, strengthening infrastructural base in the area is tedious job as it requires planned, coordinated and determined efforts on part of the Government. Against the given infrastructural backdrop the possibility of setting up of large scale industries in the district is summarily ruled out. In absence of large scale industrial base people of this district are left with no alternative but to rely on agricultural and its allied activities for their survival but as a matter of fact that too does not suffice the ever-increasing demand of food grains against the exponentially growing population. Owing to this grave situation there is dire need for exploring employment opportunities outside the agriculture and industrial sector. One such sector which could prove boon for the local population in terms of employment opportunities is the tourism sector. District Doda has been endowed with beautiful landscape, picturesque hill tops and unending forest covers wherein there are numerous hill tops which can be developed as tourist destinations. Tourism in the district can be categorized into general tourism and pilgrimage tourism. The scope of both types of the tourism is abundant in this hilly terrain. Gupt Ganga temple Bhaderwah, Vasukinag temple Bhaderwah and Machail Chandi Mata Temple, Dedni Mata Temple etc. are important destinations of pilgrimage tourists. Dedni Mata Temple situated atop Marmat area has vast meadow around it amongst the thick forest cover. It offers splendid view to the visitors and the devotees. There, a Mela is held, every year and this year it was concluded recently. A large number of local people participate in the Mela that lasts for two days.Apart from these there are several other pilgrimage destinations which are center of faith and attraction of the local devotees but are lesser known to the people coming from outside the district. Initially, pilgrimage to these places was mainly dominated by local people and people from other parts of the state have now started visiting these spots during Yatra seasons. Pilgrimage tourism, thus, offers a good source of revenue generation for local inhabitants if it is developed further. The first step towards their development is the road connectivity. Lack of road connectivity to these places serves as a potential bottlenecks to the outside pilgrims. The general tourism potential in the district is spread over four belts called Bhellessa, Bhaderwah, Gundna and Siraj belts. Tourist attractions of Bhellessa area which are still unnoticed and need to be developed are Dagan Valley, Bhal Padri and Padri are among numerous other picnic spots. Dagan Valley is undoubtedly a picturesque valley located at a height of 6500 feet above the sea level.
Covered with thick coniferous forests on all sides and lush green patches of grassland studded with blooming flowering plants the Dagan valley has potential to attract the tourists from across the country. Padri is an undulating pass (Gali) of undulating landscape located at a distance of around 25 Kms from the main bus stand Gawari on Bhaderwah Chamba road. It experiences heavy snowfall during winter and can be developed as a skiing resort. Bhal Padri is yet another picnic spot having unique landscape where many miniature valleys join hundreds of milky streams and rivulets traverse this composite valley down the length. Dal Draman is situated in Gunda Block of district Doda. It is located towards the north east from the district headquarters at a distance of around 30 kilometers. Dal Draman is bestowed with abundant natural beauty that offers varied attractions to the visitors. Splendid meadow, lush green forest cover and snow clad mountains add to the beauty of this place. Despite its scenic glory the spot is still inaccessible by road. Other tourists’ attractions of this belt are Hanch; Udhyanpur Upper reaches of Barth etc which do offer tremendous tourism potential. Coming to the north-west direction of Doda town there is situated a picturesque and fascinating tourist spot called Lal Draman. Located at a distance of mere 15 kilometers from Dod it is one of the best tourist sites of district Doda. It is a meadow full of greenery having a sizeable expanse with uneven landscape and is surrounded by lush green deodar and pine trees from all the sides. The spot is accessible by road up to Bijarni village where from it can be accessed by trekking up half an hour’s journey on foot. But the unfortunate part is that such a beautiful and fascinating tourist spot has not been developed till date despite the fact that it is located not far from District headquarters. Though during the chief-minister-ship of Ghulam Nabi Azad it was much hyped that Lal Draman would be brought under tourist map and developed to the entire satisfaction of the locals and the visitors but it was perhaps nothing more than a rumor. However, a Grameen Mela was held in 2011 at Lal Draman but it could not be continued. Gala Dhar is yet another awe-aspiring and spellbinding tourist destination to be explored and developed. It is situated at the upper reaches of Kastigarh and can be reached by trekking up about two hour’s distance from Kastigarh. Trekking up the ascent to Gala Dhar amidst thick and green forest cover itself provides a charming experience to the trekkers. At the top the spot has uncoverable expanse of undulating landscape that adds to the beauty of this spot. If this spot is developed it will undoubtedly engage a large number of local unemployed youth in gainful economic activities besides generating revenue to the government. There are so many other tourist attractions in Dessa area like Chanderani, Saibawali Marg and Bai Dhar which require immediate Government attention for bringing them in the tourist map. The concerned departments need to take up the project of exploring these picturesque tourist spots to boost up tourism of the district which in turn will make local economy self-reliant. Coming to Marmat, area Dedni and Upper Behota are the two awe aspiring places which can be developed to the tourist destinations. Situated at two different locations at a distance of 30 to 35 kilometers from district headquarters Doda, these places offer splendid views. Upper Behota is an undulating meadow amongst the thick forest covers and fascinating greenery all around it which makes the environment cool thereby providing soothing effects to the eyes of the visitors. A holistic development of these tourist destinations will eventually lead to employment generation and hence a large number of local educated unemployed youth could be absorbed in this industry thus transforming the traditional society into a modern one. There is no denying the fact that transformation requires exploration of economic possibilities which in turn would set the wagon wheels of progress in motion in the district.
(The author is Lecturer in Economics at Govt Higher Secondary School Khellani, Doda. Views are his own)