Locals upbeat as tourists return to J&K
5 June 2003
The Hindustan Times
Srinagar: The ambitious tourism revival efforts of the Jammu and Kashmir government and the sweltering heat are seeing tourists flock to the state once again this summer. Nazir Ahmed, 41, a boatman in the famous Dal Lake, vigorously painted his luxury 'shikara' over four days and hopes his labour will be rewarded. 'Tourists have started coming to the Valley this year. I am painting my boat for the first time after so many years. Crowds have started flocking to the lake during the evenings and many people like riding on shikaras,' Ahmed said. Tourism department estimates are encouraging. A group of nearly 2,000 domestic tourists, mostly from Mumbai, Ahmedabad and other places in Gujarat, arrived here in the last three days. 'There are nearly 4,000 domestic tourists in the Valley at present and business has already started picking up for hoteliers, taxi drivers and boatmen,' said a tourism department official here. 'If all goes well, by the middle of next month we expect the number of tourists to go up to around 10,000. This estimate is based on information forwarded to us by various tour and travel operators from different parts of the country.' 'We had come to visit the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu. From there we planned to go to Dalhousie, but people told us that Kashmir was safe for tourists. We decided to come here and we couldn't have taken a better decision,' said Anil Tambi from Indore who is here with a group of two dozen other tourists. 'We are staying at a houseboat on the Dal Lake. We plan to go to Gulmarg and other places,' said Tambi. Interestingly, some Kashmiri Pandit families who migrated out of the Valley when the violence erupted 13 years ago are coming here now as tourists with their children who were born after the families left Kashmir. 'I have brought my children to enable them see their place of origin. They don't know what Kashmir is like. This land is akin to a pilgrim destination for us. I want every Kashmiri Pandit family to come here, at least for a visit to have a feel of their homeland. A visit does great things for your mind,' Vinod Koul, 48, who has come here with his wife Anita and four children, said. Suresh Khandelwal, 47, belongs to Indore and is here with his family. 'I couldn't believe without seeing it personally how peaceful Kashmir is at the moment. It is the most beautiful part of our country and I am seeing it for the first time,' Suresh said. Master Pralab, 14, who came here from Mumbai with his family, said he had read about the 'paradise on earth' in his course books. 'This is more beautiful than what my textbook said. I am in paradise and feel bad when my parents say our holiday would soon be coming to an end.' Almost all visitors to the famous Mughal Gardens on the banks of the Dal Lake make it a point to have themselves photographed in traditional local dresses. 'These pictures are going to be the most precious memoirs of our family album. They will also show for friends and relatives that Kashmir is no longer out of bounds for tourists,' said Sanjay, 28, from Surat. The state government headed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been pursuing a proactive tourist promotion policy and encouraging Bollywood directors to shoot here so that the livelihood of thousands of locals connected with tourism are secured. If the arrival of nearly 4,000 domestic tourists is any indication, the government's efforts could already be bearing fruit and Jammu and Kashmir, where over 40,000 have died in the insurgency, could be seeing better days again.