Indian Kashmir sees record influx of tourists
Northern state surpasses tourist arrival records despite unrest and spurt in militancy in the valley.
India's only Muslim majority state Jammu and Kashmir this year surpassed the 10-year tourist arrival record, signaling that the tourism industry was finally on the way to recover.
There is no space in hotels, houseboats and lodges. People are seen queuing for rides on houseboats on the famous Dal Lake in Srinagar.
“All 60,000 rooms of the hotels in Kashmir are booked. The favourite tourist destinations are Srinagar, Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Sonmarg. Most of the hotels in the valley are fully booked. There will be a rush of tourists till October,” said Farooq Quthoo, president of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), told Salaam Gateway.
Many other stakeholders believe the inflow of tourists will continue and events like snow carnivals, Christmas and New Year will draw more visitors to the valley.
“The J&K administration is paying special attention to the tourism sector, and the region is witnessing significant growth in terms of increasing number of tourists and creation of tourism-related infrastructure”, said Anwar Hasan, who runs a restaurant in Kashmir.
Dr. Ahsan Chisti, Deputy Director of Tourism Kashmir, told Salaam Gateway that they took some measures which helped the tourism industry to bounce back in the state.
“First of all we did capacity building and tried to find what should be the post COVID-19 response. Along with this, those working in this field were vaccinated against COVID so that the people could be sure that where they were going was safe.”
"Along with this, we conducted aggressive marketing campaigns all over the country after COVID restrictions were relaxed and we studied some patterns about the tourist preferences. Then we came to know that tourists like adventure tourism. Tourism authorities in the state also identified some 75 additional destinations which were over and above the present destinations," said Chisti.
These were some of the measures which helped the tourists to flock to this state, he added.
Data from the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Tourism Department and the Union Ministry of Tourism revealed that the number of tourists between January and 15 May this year soared to 700,000, a fivefold increase compared to 125,000 people visiting the valley during the corresponding period in 2021.
According to the Union Ministry of Tourism, around 142,000 tourists visited Kashmir during February 2022 alone, bringing the hotel industry back to life after it remained shut in the wake of abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The tourism industry of Kashmir suffered a lot due to the pandemic.
The withdrawal of Article 370 that granted special status to the J&K led to unrest in the valley and curfew-like restrictions remained in place for months. But Kashmir's tourism industry has recovered and the picturesque valley has been teeming with tourists.
According to the state tourism department, the tourist footfall for 2020 was a meager 41,000, but the number of visitors increased to 660,000 in 2021. There has been a record increase in the number of tourists this year.
Notably, on 4 April this year, the Srinagar International Airport recorded its busiest day in its history, with 15,014 people traveling in and out of Kashmir via 90 flights.
Tourist Village Network Scheme
To promote adventure tourism in the valley, J&K Governor Manoj Sinha launched the Jammu and Kashmir Tourist Village Network Scheme under Mission Youth. The initiative aims to convert 75 villages of the valley, known for their historical and cultural significance and picturesque charm, into tourist villages. The tourism department has taken new initiatives to draw more and more tourists.
Highlighting the objectives behind the initiative, Sinha in a statement had said that the government of J&K appreciates the distinctiveness of each village and wants to showcase their natural beauty, indigenous knowledge system, cultural diversity and heritage, local values and traditions. He said the administration would also provide financial incentives and ensure a digital platform to the villages.
The government and the administration say that the credit for the record number of tourist arrivals goes to the collective efforts of all the stakeholders related to tourism. The government is trying to restore the old glory of the valley's famous Dal Lake.
Sinha has recently said that the beauty of the 60,000 square metre area in the western region of the lake will initially be restored. Thousands of shikaras (a type of wooden houseboats) on Dal Lake are ready to take tourists on a dreamy ride. The government is ensuring that the cleaning of the lake takes place on a fast-track basis. The Dal Lake is central to the landscape of Srinagar and many places of touristic interest are situated close to it.
Foreign tourists have also started arriving in the valley. According to the J&K tourism department, the state government is also focusing on bringing unexplored religious places of Jammu on the religious tourist map to lure more visitors.
For the first time, India's Ministry of Civil Aviation approved five flights per week between Srinagar and Sharjah, UAE.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated the Go First Airline's flight between Srinagar and Sharjah last October, connecting Jammu and Kashmir with the UAE.
Many tourists who visited Kashmir last month said that they were charmed by the beauty of the valley and overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people.
Rashmi Saxena, who belongs to the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, was in Kashmir last month along with her husband and two teenage daughters.
“I had heard a lot about the terrorism in the valley but I and my family did not feel insecure upon reaching here. The people of the valley are very honest, helpful and straightforward. My husband and daughters were delighted upon reaching here and they are enjoying it a lot,” she told Salaam Gateway.
Tourists from different parts of the country expressed similar views. A record 375,000 tourists visited Kashmir in May this year despite a spurt in terrorist activities and the target killing of seven civilians by terrorists in May.
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