Around 700,000 tourists visited the Indian administered state of
Kashmir in the first eight months of 2011, as per a report that was released by
the State Government Tourism department. This has been the best year in the last
two decades for the tourism industry, the official who brought out the report added.
Unrest That Stalled Tourism
Kashmir, known as the “Switzerland of the East”, is famous for its
wealth of breathtaking scenic beauty. Its snow-capped mountains, rivers and
fresh water lakes offer adventure tourists ample opportunities for trekking,
white water rafting, skiing and mountaineering.
Kashmir has been the subject of
rival claims by Pakistan and India, both of which are nuclear powers, and this
problem has made the state a hot bed of hostility for the past six decades.This state attracted over a million tourists in the year 1988. With
resurgence of violence in the state, the numbers of tourists has dwindled
considerably over the last two decades. The insurgency in Indian-administrated
Kashmir since 1988 has taken a toll of 47,000 lives as per the official count; although
human rights groups peg the figure at 70000.
A peace process was started in 2004 in an attempt to settle the
question of ownership over Kashmir, which has been hotly contested ever since
the 1940s. This peace process was a slow moving one but gave some hope to the
tourism sector as the number of tourists visiting the state started picked up
since its initiation.
The numbers moved up to 500,000 in the year 2008 and declined
steeply as violent anti India protests flared in 2009 and 2010. Nearly 110
people died in 2010 and most of the fatalities occurred during an attempt to
quell violent mobs of protestors by the security forces.
The travel advisories of most foreign countries later advised their
citizens to avoid travel to Indian administered Kashmir, in light of the
instability and insurgency in the state.
Developments in Tourism
However, according to a speech given by Mr N Vohra, Governor of
Indian Administered Kashmir, the tourism sector has started showing remarkable
resurgence with the return of peace and normalcy in the Kashmir Valley. This
year’s tally of 700000 visitors also included 21000 foreign nationals.
Germany was the first country to change the caution notice to its
citizens against travelling to Kashmir early this July. They also went on to
state that “foreigners were not a target for militants in Indian-held Kashmir”.
The Chief Minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, urged other countries to change
their travel advisories. He stated, “The number of visitors to the valley this
summer should serve as a loud message for change of travel advisories issued by
various countries regarding Jammu and Kashmir.”
Omar Abdullah urged travel operators to market Kashmir as an
adventure tourism destination. The change has been a very stark one, as a
travel agency owner, Mr. Tanveer Ahmed, expressed his opinion that the year had
been fantastic in terms of business. The situation is expected to grow
positively in the coming months, thanks to improvements in the political scene