One thing that has made a big impact on the lives of the ordinary people is that the Kashmir Valley is witnessing an exponential increase in the tourism flow due to the successful campaigns to attract maximum tourists towards the region. And ordinary Kashmiris are embracing the rise in business …. Writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
Three years ago, on 5 August 2019, the Parliament of India voted in favour of a resolution tabled by Home Minister Amit Shah to revoke the temporary special status, or autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir. In the Hindu majority Jammu region, people held widespread “massive celebratory” demonstrations over several days with the distribution of sweets, bursting of firecrackers and dancing. In Ladakh, the Buddhist organizations celebrated the removal of Article 370 provisions and making the Ladakh region a separate Union Territory. The people in Leh and Matho celebrated 15 August as a day of “independence from Kashmir” and welcomed their Union Territory status.
The impact of the Revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir encompassed a year without high-speed Internet, changes in the politics and bureaucracy of the region, priority of counter-insurgency & counter-terrorism operations, new domicile rules, talks of restoration of statehood, judicial lethargy, and decline in stone-pelting among other things. But one thing that has made a big impact on the lives of the ordinary people is that the Kashmir Valley is witnessing an exponential increase in the tourism flow due to the successful campaigns to attract maximum tourists towards the region. And ordinary Kashmiris are embracing the rise in business.
As per figures collected from Kashmir Tourism Department, the number of tourists between January and 15 May 2022 jumped to 700,000, the highest in the last 10 years. With every passing year and gradual return of normalcy the number of tourists visiting Kashmir is also rising. This is more than four times the 125,000 people seen in the same period last year. between January and 15 May 2022, it saw 700,000 visitors, the highest in the last 10 years. As per the Union tourism ministry, around 1.42 lakh tourists visited J&K during February alone. Such is the rush this time that hotels are fully booked till mid-Aug this year. On 4 April, the Srinagar Airport saw its busiest day ever in history, with 15,014 people travelling on 90 flights in and out of Kashmir. And in Srinagar, almost all 60,000 hotel rooms that can accommodate nearly a lakh visitors are booked until the first week of June.
And the most important part is that unlike the propaganda meted out by Pakistan, ordinary Kashmiris have welcomed the tourists and the business they bring wholeheartedly. Athar Yamin, the owner of Earth Explorers Travel and Tours, told Firstpost that he hasn’t seen this rush before. His family has been in the travel business since 1975. “We are simply not able to manage things. This is beyond our capacity! We have to decline hundreds of queries, because there is no accommodation,” he said.
In a first ever, the Ministry of Civil Aviation approved the five flights a week between Srinagar-Sharjah. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had inaugurated Go First’s Srinagar-Sharjah flight on October 23 last year, connecting Jammu and Kashmir with the United Arab Emirates after around 11 years.
Ohana Holidays, a Srinagar-based travel agency, is swamped with the number of bookings doubling since March. Its owner, Mehreen Ali Chat, is moving fast to expand operations. “We are burdened by work and are left with no option but to expand the hiring,” she said, adding that she is hiring around 12 more employees to handle coordination and reservations.
To boost adventure tourism in Jammu and Kashmir, the government has launched J&K Tourist Village Network under Mission Youth. “The initiative is aimed at transforming 75 villages of the Union Territory known for historical, picturesque beauty, and cultural significance into tourist villages,” a statement said. Highlighting the objective behind the initiative, the statement said that government is adopting best practices recognising the uniqueness of each village and showcasing the landscapes, indigenous knowledge systems, cultural diversity and heritage, local values and traditions, besides encouraging film shooting and offering financial incentives as well as ensuring a digital platform to all these villages. The objective of this unique youth-led sustainable tourism initiative is to strengthen rural economy and community entrepreneurship, empowering youth and women by providing direct and indirect employment opportunities.
Added to the tourists enjoying the beauty, weather and culture of Kashmir, are those who are on holy pilgrimage taking the total visitors to Kashmir through the sky! After a gap of two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government announced the Amarnath Yatra on a “much bigger” scale this year. According to an estimate over eight lakh pilgrims have yet visited the cave shrine in south Kashmir, till now. And expectations are that the numbers will continue to rise. The move will further bolster tourism in Kashmir. “We are utterly happy and our business is booming, and we are praying that the situation stays normal throughout the summer,” Gulzar Ahmed, 48, a local transport facilitator, said.
Before the abrogation of Article 370, the shadow of Islamic militancy meant that Kashmir’s beauty remained inaccessible and unexplored for security reasons. Anti-national sponsored militant forces try to present a picture of heavy handed bevarior on part of Indian security forces. But the fact is that in law and order, not a single person died in police firing after the revocation of article 370 and stone pelting incidents came down. The real fact is that in Kashmir now as a Union Territory, directly controlled by Delhi, the scope of separatists in the functioning and decision-making even in internal affairs gets marginalised. Pak’s deep penetration in the institutions of the state also comes to an end.
During her reply to a recent debate on Jammu and Kashmir Budget in the House, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “We were shown fake normalcy since 1947 under the garb of Article 370. Now, after the removal of 370, Kashmir has real normalcy.” The rise in tourism and the manner in which local Kashmiris are welcoming visitors indicates that for the vast majority, the concept of ‘normalcy’, is rising business opportunities combined with security cover.