Foreigners To Kargil War Outpost

21 November 2009
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Muzaffar Raina

Srinagar: Foreign feet will again stride into the Kargil war’s last outpost where armed infiltrators had once sneaked in - but this time they are welcome. Ten years after the 1999 incursion, the Union home ministry has opened the Turtuk area in Ladakh to foreign visitors by relaxing the Protected Area Permit Regime. Part of Leh district, Turtuk was the war’s last outpost on the Line of Control where the infiltrators had entered more than a kilometre inside. “It (the Union ministry’s move) will place Nubra Valley prominently on the world tourism map,” Jammu and Kashmir tourism minister Nawang Ringzin Jora said. “The decision will go a long way in bringing the virgin locales of the region into the limelight,” Jora added. Leh Police chief B.S. Tuti said Turtuk, part of Nubra Valley, situated 220km from Leh and 660km from Srinagar, lay along the Shyok river. In Buddhist-majority Leh, most of Turtuk’s 3,000 inhabitants of its seven villages are Muslims and it was part of Pakistan’s Northern Areas until the 1971 war. Some of its elderly residents were even part of the Pakistani army and had fought against Indian forces then. Twenty-eight years later during the Kargil war, the Indian Army had a tough time reaching supplies to the area. While other war theatres could be easily accessed from Kargil, supplies to Turtuk had to take a tortuous route through the Khardungla Pass, where the world’s highest motorable road is located at an altitude of 18,380ft. Tourism minister Jora said earlier, domestic tourists were allowed to travel to the area in groups of four while there was complete restriction on the movement of foreign visitors. “After the current relaxation, foreign tourists can go in twos. Permits for visiting these areas are issued by the concerned deputy commissioner,” he said. “From now on tourists will be able to travel along the banks of the Pangong Lake.” The lake falls on the India- China border. “A large number of foreign tourists are already visiting Nubra Valley for Bactrian camel safaris and the hot sulphur springs of Panamik,” he said. Ladakh is a popular destination for foreign tourists who continued to flock to the cold desert when militancy-scarred Kashmir was out of bounds for most. Foreign tourists visiting the region has touched 75,000 from the modest figure of 500 in 1974, when Ladakh was opened for tourism. The tourist season, which used to be confined to July-August, now extends from May till the end of October.