Return of Tourism in Kashmir: Some general, and specific, observations

Return of Tourism in Kashmir: Some general, and specific, observations
Saman Rais Siddiqui

Known as “Heaven on Earth”, Kashmir is blessed with undeniably hypnotic landscapes and ancient monuments. But for the past 20 years, Heaven on Earth was left with declining number of tourists due to the unrest in the Valley.
With God’s grace, the lively state of Kashmir has been restored to such an extent that people from all parts of the country are no more hesitant of visiting the place. The year 2021 saw a boost in the tourism sector as 6.6 lakh tourists, a 10-year high, from across the country visited Kashmir, a considerable increase from 41,000 tourists in 2020.
It is safe to say that much of the tourism has happened due to the tourists feeling secure and welcomed. Leading Bollywood production houses and filmmakers have been at the forefront in reviving the connection with Jammu and Kashmir. Last September, the authorities also launched a film policy to provide various incentives for producers. A generous provision was a special grant of half the cost of production for any film based on J&K, or Rs 5 crore, whichever is less.
Similarly, a comprehensive provision of subsidies for TV shows, web series, original shows on the OTT platforms, and documentary films to be shot in J&K was spelled out in the policy.
The use of social media platforms has acted as a major power boost for the population. Seeing influencers and known celebrities vacation in the Valley has certainly given a showbiz spark to the Valley.
The major tourist destinations of Kashmir are Srinagar, Gulmarg, and Pahalgam. With the boom in tourism, they certainly have upped their games to attract and entertain crowds coming from all over the country.
In the case of Srinagar, the amenities at Dal Lake have increased. From clothes to kebabs to groceries, everything seems to be available in the floating waters. Even the Tata Hitachi EX 200 Hydraulic Excavator, which is used to clean the mighty Dal, is being used prominently, as compared to prior reports when it was only used once every 3-4 months. If we move from the lakes to the gardens, the beautiful Mughal gardens at Nishat, Shalimar, Chashma Shahi, and Harwan are among the main attractions for tourists in Srinagar. And when it comes to the basic foodstuff, Kashmir has willingly opened its arms to different cuisines, to incorporate the needs of the eager tourists.
In the case of Gulmarg, “Gondola” rides are truly the winner of all hearts. Being Asia’s highest and longest cable car, it is a crowd pleaser for many. It not only offers a unique experience but also opens up many adventurous activities once you reach the first peak, Kongdori Station. There is no doubt in saying that Gulmarg is a sight for sore eyes. There was a turnout of almost 80 thousand tourists in Gulmarg for the year 2021, making it among the top 10 places visited in the whole of India.
When the tourists get sick and tired of all the crowding, they move to the scenic Pahalgam, which is the third-most visited place in the Valley. Pahalgam, as described by many tourists, is the pictorial representation of Heaven. Blooming with stunning views, it is also a place for trekking, skiing, and camping for many travellers.
The tourist rush and interest have led to many new destinations being opened to diversify the choices for tourists. The claim is backed by figures as thousands of tourists are rushing to Bungus, Lolab, Doodhpathri and Gurez valley. Gurez in north Kashmir is famous for pyramid-shaped peak of Habba Khatoon, named after a famous Kashmiri poetess. Even young girls in groups can be seen camping in Bungus and Gurez, reflecting the improving security situation in the region.
With booming tourists, there is a downside as well. There is environmental degradation due to crowds and civil administration personnel are neither sufficient nor prepared to handle such an influx of tourists. The sold-out hotels and the chaos at the airport have been a big inconvenience not only for travellers but also for travel agencies.
Nevertheless, the return of tourism in Kashmir has brought many positives, cancelling out the negatives mentioned above. Many people who lost employment due to the lockdown are now happy to go to work every day and earn bread for their families. Now, with the announcement of more private investment in the Valley, people are hopeful that this would open new opportunities for employment and a better economy for all people.

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