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From Hell to Heaven: Kashmir tourism gets LoC push, 4.30 lakh tourists keep date with border villages this year

 From Hell to Heaven: Kashmir tourism gets LoC push, 4.30 lakh tourists keep date with border villages this year

Kupwara’s remote villages’ record arrival of 3 lakh tourists, Uri sees 70,000 visitors, Gurez 60,000, residents jubilant, say peace leads to success

Sajid Raina

Baramulla, Dec 25 (KNO): The border areas along the line control (LoC) in Kashmir including Keran, Lolab, Machil, Teetwal, Tangdhar, Gurez, Tulail, and Uri in north Kashmir, are swiftly gaining recognition as the premier border tourist destination in Kashmir as 4.30 lakh tourists, both local and foreigners have visited these destinations this year, reveals official data.

Official data from the respective administrative officials in Bandipora, Kupwara, and Uri, accessed by the news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), suggests that a total of 4.30 lakh tourists, both domestic and foreigners, have visited these destinations this year. Specifically, the border areas of Kupwara district have recorded approximately 3 lakh visitors while as the Uri region has witnessed 70,000, tourist footfall with Gurez hosting 60,000 tourists.

Formerly recognized for its history of death and destruction due to cross-LoC shelling and frequent clashes between militants and soldiers, the people residing along the LoC who once evacuated their homes during border shelling incidents are now proudly open and adorn the same homes to welcome tourists throughout the year.

Notably, Bangus Valley, often hailed as nature's secret sanctuary; Keran, a picturesque riverside paradise; Lolab, a realm of love and beauty; Machil, the gateway to boundless beauty; Teetwal and Tangdhar, twin charms of the borderlands; Gurez Valley, an expedition to paradise; Tulail Valley, nature's untouched wonderland.

Border tourism, which garnered attention following the cessation of hostilities along the Line of Control (LoC) in February 2021 due to the reaffirmation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan, is gaining popularity among tourists. In efforts to enhance tourist engagement, the Indian Army, along with respective district administrations and the J&K tourism department, has organized numerous events aimed at highlighting these areas on Kashmir's tourism map.

Speaking to KNO, the residents of border villages express joy at the transformation of these once-neglected areas and anticipate an influx of more tourists. Arif Samoon a local resident from Gurez Valley notes an increased engagement in the tourism sector in border areas throughout the year, attributing it to concerted efforts by the army, local populace and the government.

While acknowledging the progress, he suggests the establishment of a separate development authority for Gurez to enhance the region's infrastructure further. Abdul Hameed Lone, another Gurez resident, remarks on an unprecedented surge in tourist activity over the past few years, noting that despite previous reservations due to border tensions, the situation has improved a lot.

Suhail Ahmad, a home stay owner from Keran said that there is much need for intensified government efforts to transform border areas into fully tourism hubs. He expresses a warm welcome to tourists, indicating the community's openness to initiatives that bring benefits to the economically disadvantaged in these areas. “It's cultural richness, simplicity, and traditional elements, which bring happiness to visitors who may not experience such aspects elsewhere,” he added.

“Over the past three years, we've been fortunate to escape the distress caused by cross-border shelling in the border areas. The ceasefire's implementation has spurred substantial development in our regions,” said Sajad Ahmad, a Gurez resident.

Likewise, a group of residents from Karnah expressed their hope for a peaceful situation along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. They said that the border areas have seen remarkable progress over the last three years, a feat made possible only through a peaceful environment.

Likewise, a group of residents from Uri expressed their hope for a peaceful situation along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. They emphasized that the border areas have seen remarkable progress over the last three years, a feat made possible only through a peaceful environment.

After India's Independence, earlier this month, the Gurez Valley for the first time has been connected with the electricity grid bringing cheer among the residents. The government of Jammu and Kashmir called it a historic moment. "We express our sincere gratitude to the Union Territory government, including the Lieutenant Governor, local administration, and the PDD department. Providing electricity from the grid has been a longstanding demand of the people of Gurez, and we genuinely appreciate that it has finally been fulfilled," said Mohammad Ramzan, another local.

Shinon Meeras, a centre to highlight the Dard-Shina tribes that were once recorded in the chronicles of ancient Greeks and Romans for expanding their rule into Afghanistan and Tibet, was also opened at the Gurez Valley this year. The inaugural cultural center exclusively dedicated to the 38,000-strong Dard community, which speaks the Shina language that is rapidly diminishing, has been meticulously curated and established through collaborative efforts between the Indian Army and the administration.

The Lolab valley recently bagged the best offbeat destination award 2023 at a function organised by Outlook Traveler Magazine in Delhi. In a post on X, Outlook Traveller Magazine said that the Valley is an ideal offbeat destination, enveloped by pristine landscapes, apple orchards, and meandering rivers.

The Kaman Bridge, also known as the Peace Bridge (Aman Setu), linking the Valley with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, is undergoing development to transform it into a promising tourist destination on the Line of Control (LoC). The officer in charge of the 12th Infantry Brigade overseeing the Line of Control in Uri announced this year that travel restrictions, previously in place to promote tourism at Kaman (approximately 130 kilometers from Srinagar), have been lifted. The accessibility of Kaman Post to civilians has opened up opportunities for border tourism, allowing every citizen of the country to experience this historic site.

“Since the ceasefire pact in February 2021, our region has undergone a remarkable transformation. Life, previously marred by daily shelling, has seen a positive shift,” they conveyed. "The shelling has led to the loss of many lives and the destruction of numerous houses. We fervently pray never to witness such devastation again," a group of Uri residents told KNO.

The absence of gunfire has also rekindled memories of weddings for border residents, enabling them to host ceremonies in their own homes rather than relocating to safer venues.

“There was a time when we had to spend days inside underground bunkers to save ourselves from relentless shelling from across the LoC. It was difficult to even survive, and holding a marriage event was next to impossible in those days,” shared Saleem Ahmad, a resident of Tangdhar—(KNO)

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