Ladakh breaks 30-year-old record in tourist inflow
4 August 2003
The Hindustan Times
August 4: Ladakh has received a record number of tourists this year, the highest since the mountainous area was opened to visitors nearly 30 years ago, officials said on Monday. 'From January 1 to July 22, the Ladakh region has recorded the arrival of 26,457 tourists,' Jammu and Kashmir's Director General of Tourism Mohammed Ashraf said.Ladakh - consisting of the two districts of Leh and Kargil - was opened up to tourists in 1974.The previous high was 24,864 in 1988, a year before a militant separatist movement began in the state.'We are expecting more than 35,000 tourists this year,' Ashraf said, adding that on average some 200 foreigners were arriving in Leh, the Ladakh capital, from New Delhi on the two flights that operate each day.From January until July 22, 10,433 foreigners arrived in Ladakh, with 7,092 of them coming in July.August and September are the peak tourist months in Ladakh, which borders Pakistan-administered Kashmir and is bitterly cold in winter.In 1999 Indian troops and Pakistan-backed intruders fought pitched battles for two months in the Kargil, Mushko, Drass and Batalik areas of Ladakh which left more than 1,000 people dead on both sides.Tourist arrivals in Ladakh dropped after the conflict.From 22,030 arrivals in 1998, which included 15,238 foreigners, the number dropped to 8,079 last year, when India and Pakistan came to the brink of war.The tense relations between the nuclear rivals have, however, eased in recent weeks.'The dramatic increase in tourist inflow to Ladakh is clearly because of recent thaw in relations between India and Pakistan,' Ashraf said.There has also been an increase in tourists to the insurgency-hit Kashmir Valley.Some 120,318 tourists visited the Muslim-majority valley between January 1 and July 29 this year, compared to 11,750 in the whole of last year.