After connectivity, the most important input is infrastructure. Ladakhis have been very positive and innovative in this regard. The paying guest accommodation also called “Home Stays” has been a pioneering activity in Ladakh. In fact, the UNDP has shown documentaries about the “Home Stays” of Ladakh in many countries. With the incentives from Tourism Department, this activity caught up all over Ladakh and is still very popular with tourists. After that many a hotels came up through local entrepreneurship. We have now even internationally starred accommodation with central heating. The tourist transport infrastructure has also improved a lot. Most wonderful thing about Ladakh Tourism is that the major entrepreneurs are the local people. Tourism has also helped in reducing unemployment. In fact, quite a few people have been giving up agricultural activities to join the Tourism sector.
Keeping in view the area, the traditions, and the vastness of the place even couple of hundred thousand tourists coming in an organised manner at different times will not have any adverse impact. However, one needs to remember that it is the quality of tourism and not the quantity which is important for the economy. One of the handicaps in attracting upper class international tourist is the lack of connectivity to international air routes. Leh can easily have foreign charters if the airport is upgraded and declared as an international airport. When many other tourist destinations can get hundreds of charters from abroad, why can’t Leh have the same especially from European countries and even from nearer locations in Central Asia.
In earlier times, Ladakh was an important landmark on the Silk Route. There is no difficulty in starting an Aerial Silk Route from here. Across the border foreign tourists have been flying straight from various foreign capitals to Samarqand and driving in luxury coaches on Karakoram Highway to Islamabad to fly back home. We could have a similar arrangement of flying into Leh from neighbouring Central Asian destinations and then driving to Srinagar or Manali to fly out. At the moment a number of groups are operating in reverse and flying out from Leh. Given the establishment of peace in the region, one could think of people driving in from Gilgit, Skardu and even Lahasa to Leh and then flying out. It may seem a utopian dream but it could materialise sometime in future! Let us hope that the Ladakh Tourism with the active co-operation of the local people progresses on right and responsible lines and remains sustainable with the preservation of its environment, ecology and culture.