This Year, Kashmir May Just Overflow
26 March 2005
The Times of India
Srinagar: If there's one thing that the government and some militant groups agree on, it's encouraging tourism. While Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been busy sweeping out security forces from hotels in Srinagar, a separatist group thinks this isn't a bad idea. 'We welcome all Indian and foreign tourists to the Valley,' said Abu Atif Hijazee, spokesman for the Al-Badr group. But he threw in a caveat. Tourists must behave respectfully, be sensitive to Islam and Kashmiri culture and also find time to visit martyrs' graveyards. 'As the tourist season is coming up we appeal to all tourism-related people to abide by Islamic values, as we have seen for the last many years that wine and women are freely available in hotels and house boats,' he said. Having shaken off its 'dangerous' tag, the Kashmir Valley is expecting a tourist windfall this summer. In anticipation of, Mufti Sayeed two months ago ordered security forces to vacate hostels so that more tourists can be accommodated in the state. He drove around some of the hotels himself to see if the khaki squads had checked out. A CRPF spokesman said the force has already moved out its men from Hotel York situated on the bank of Dal Lake. The rosy optimism is based on the winter crowd and officials say tens of thousands of tourists are expected to cram Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg this year. This is apart from the hundreds who'll arrive from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir once the bus service begins next month. According to Munieb Malik, a tourism department official, 26,789 tourists arrived here between January and March 21 this year compared to a meagre 2,602 during the same period in 2003. To meet the rush, the government has organised bank loans for people to convert their houses into tourist lodges. Several houses along the Boulevard Road on the bank of Dal Lake have been identified as tourist lodges under the new scheme.