June 2003 News

Tourists make a beeline for Kashmir

28 June 2003
The Hindu
Shujaat Bukhari

GULMARG: For the first time after the Kargil war gave a big jolt to tourism in Kashmir, the tourist flow into the Valley is picking up. Having a major attraction of Asia's to-be-largest ropeway project, Gulmarg continues to be the favourite destination with about 2,000 tourists visiting it every day. After the State Government handed over this tourist spot to the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA), the change is visible. Lush green meadows are clean, the traffic inside the resort is restricted, use of polythene banned and a system seems to be in place. 'Earlier there used to be many authorities, now there is one,' an official said, adding that the single control system, though only a few months old, had paid dividends and made the place more comfortable for the tourists. The credit, the officials say, goes to the GDA Chief Executive Officer, Farooq Ahmed Shah. The tourist flow had increased in the past few weeks, bringing the smile back on the faces of hoteliers, shopkeepers and 'pony wallahs'. 'It is a safe place and we enjoyed our stay here. Who says there is militancy in this place? It is a disinformation campaign,' says Sanjay, a tourist from Mumbai. Accompanied by his parents, he was all praise for the people of Kashmir and their hospitality. He wanted the media to give a positive coverage of Kashmir. This time, the officials said, tourists were directly reaching Kashmir unlike the past when they used to be lured by agents from Katra, where they come for paying obeisance. 'They would come half-heartedly with little money, now they plan their holidays in Kashmir. The hotels in Gulmarg get direct bookings in advance,' a tourist official said. Surprisingly, the hotels and tourist huts are packed even before the tourist season began. Officials expect that it would increase further from next month when the local people start moving towards Gulmarg. The major attraction is the Gulmarg Gondola, which would be Asia's longest ropeway after the completion of its second phase to Affarwat heights by December. Even up to Kangdoori, the rush is high and is likely to go up in July. The highest revenue last week was around Rs. 1.64 lakhs, said Riyaz Ahmed, an official of the Jammu and Kashmir Cable Car Corporation. The tourist flow into the Valley is fast increasing and the number has touched around 90,000 since January. The component of foreigners is marginal. When tourism was in full bloom in 1999, the Kargil war broke out, giving a severe jolt to it.


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