Kashmir’s off-limits areas see an upsurge in tourist attractions

Srinagar, Aug 4 (IANS): The signing of a ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan in February 2020 has again led to an increase in tourist interest in the scenic and serene spots of Kashmir located in the border villages that were previously subject to arbitrary bombardments.

A group of 40 people, including women and children, became the first foreigners to visit the border village of Machil in Kupwara district in north Kashmir on July 16-17.

Machil was previously known to be prone to shelling and therefore, despite its beautiful meadows and ethereal pastures, tourists were hesitant.

Farah Zaidi Ali, co-founder of Kashmir off Road (KoR), organized the trip to Machil according to a report by a leading media.

This is a very positive and welcome development. For locals, tourists visiting the offbeat places of Kashmir closer to the Indo-Pakistan border is like a dream come true.

People want peace and resume their business and economic activities without any fear or insecurity. These areas, despite having great tourist potential, did not attract tourists due to frequent and arbitrary shelling.

These areas, which were previously off-limits to tourists and only home to armed infiltrators or soldiers, now await the restoration of normal tourist activities that would boost business opportunities for locals.

The Indo-Pakistani border villages have immense potential for ecotourism. With the return of peace, sustainable tourism can not only open Kashmir’s natural beauty to tourists, but also provide better livelihood opportunities for locals.

People in these areas are just beginning to mentally prepare themselves to make the most of this new opportunity. For example, residents of Teetwal, another such place, believe that the Sharda temple built by Kashmiri pundits and gurdwara in the area could attract tourists given the assurance of safe travel and security during the stay.

Buoyed by growing tourist numbers in Kashmir, the government of Jammu and Kashmir has identified 35 new destinations in the valley, including the villages of Gurez and Tulali in Bandipora in addition to Teetwal and Keran.

The Jammu and Kashmir Department of Tourism is also aiming to add 50,000 new rooms in Kashmir through the homestay initiative in 75 new locations across the Union Territory.

According to Sarmad Hafeez, Secretary of J&K Tourism, J&K’s tourism department facilitated the registration process for homestay families.

This was done in light of the shortage of host families with an expected increase in tourist visitation as peace is restored to UT through the government’s proactive efforts.

As part of building additional accommodation capacity for tourists, the J&K government is promoting both homestays and tent accommodation in the valley.

As revealed by officials, the J&K government would make tent colonies functional in 30 new locations. Additionally, 75 offbeat destinations are being developed with appropriate infrastructure and necessary facilities.

Major offbeat tourist spots include Chatpal, Bangus, Reshwari, Daksum, Karnah, Warwan Valley, Watlab, Gurez and Lolab Valley.

Kashmir, “heaven on earth”, as the Indians like to call it, is a homeland of lovely glades and forests.

Its off-kilter locations in particular offer views of vast mists rising from rivers winding in fine spirals around opposing mountains; beautiful clearings and forests; chinar, pineapple, cedar and dark trees; and mild air ruffling the water causing pleasant movement among the trees. In offbeat locations, the visuals of tiny hamlets are enchanting.

Jammu and Kashmir is looking forward to resuscitating its tourism industry as peace and normality are restored to the state. The current government is sparing no effort.

In December 2020, the government announced a package of Rs 1,350 crore ($182.83 million) to boost tourism and other sectors.

There are many things in the pipeline to boost tourism in the state and the people of Kashmir are now filled with hope.

Keith P. Plain