Tourists, Indian and foreigners, rediscover paradise on earth

Tourist arrivals in J&K reach 7-year high

Tourism

December 6, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Tourists, Indian and foreigners, rediscover paradise on earth

Skiing in Gulmarg is a key attraction in Jammu and Kashmir during the winter (Photo By MIG)

A record number of tourists, highest in seven years, visited the union territory so far in the year, says the tourism department of Jammu and Kashmir. To keep the flow going, the department is organising several events to mark Christmas, New Year and the Winter in the state famed for its snow-capped mountains and lush green valleys.

After a break of over two years, Jammu and Kashmir sees a strong revival of tourism, says the tourism department of the union territory. As per the official data of the Department of Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir; 513,000 tourists, including 1,317 foreigners, visited the territory between January 1 and November 30, 2021. According to G N Itoo, director of Tourism Kashmir, the union territory saw a peak in the number of tourists in November, both for domestic and foreign tourists as 127,000 tourists visited the region, up from a mere 6327 in November last year.

In order to attract tourists, the tourism department organised several traditional and iconic festivals such as the houseboat festival, the Sufi Festival and the Kashmir Literature Festival during the year. In the Sufi and Kashmir Literature Festival, national-level celebrities participated which helped in creating a buzz. In order to bring the tourists back, the department also conducted several roadshows all over the country.

According to Itoo such a high number of visitors could have been an outcome of the rigorous campaigns and roadshows conducted all over the country to promote tourism in the state. Itoo says that so far, a total of 21 roadshows has been conducted in the country.

Taking into account the safety of the tourists and the tourism industry stakeholders, the department also ensured that everyone involved in tourism in Jammu and Kashmir has been fully vaccinated.

For the future, the department also has announced that after attracting such an enormous number of tourists for the autumn season, they will be organising an event for December 11, International Mountain Day, as mountain tourism is also a big attraction in Kashmir.

Expecting more visitors during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, snow carnivals throughout the winter season have also been planned by the department.

Tourism trade comes back to life

Tourism has been one of the biggest employers in the region for a long while and hundreds of thousands of locals as well as migrants earn their livelihood from tourism and related activities. For the past two years, tourism had been close to dead as the bifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir after the abrupt abrogation of the Article 370 the Indian Constitution in August 2019 led to heightened tensions, forcing the government to pull out all tourists, under police protection.

The year 2020 was also a total washout due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So, the tourism professionals are brimming with joy at the current flow of tourists. Sanjay Sharma owns a tour and travels agency, Saraswati Travels, in Gandhi Nagar, Jammu. “There has been an increase in tourism with the onset of decline in Covid-19 cases over the country. People from different states come to Jammu and Kashmir depending on the season. During the summer people from all over the country visit J&K to escape from heat. However, this year the number were a little less due to the second wave of Covid-19. In October, people especially from the state of West Bengal visit Katra for pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu. People from Gujarat also came this year with the onset of snow,” Sharma tells Media India Group.

Sharma is thrilled by the response of tourists this year. “This season with such a heavy footfall of travellers, people were finding it difficult to get hotels. However, less foreigners were visible this year probably due to travel restrictions imposed worldwide. I expect more foreign visitors to arrive once this pandemic is over. But, with new variant of Corona coming into light I feel there might be a dip in the number of tourists in the upcoming months,” he cautions.

In terms of preferred tourist destinations in Jammu & Kashmir, Sharma says, “Vaishno Devi and Srinagar are the most preferred destinations among the tourists. Over the years, like Wagah Border in Amritsar, people have also begun to visit the Suchetgarh Border in Sialkot.”

However, Sharma is highly disappointed by the total absence of any support by the government to help the tourism industry. “Despite so much tourist attraction we are not getting any aid from the government as of now. But since, the abrogation of Article 370, a lot of development is taking place to attract tourists by ensuring proper connectivity between different tourist attractions.”

Sharma’s enthusiasm about tourism revival is shared by others in Jammu and Kashmir. “Due to a decline in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country more people are visiting both Jammu and Kashmir. I have seen the local shops which were closed last year have opened up and are flourishing with tourists coming and buying local art such as sculpture, pendants and especially pashmina shawls,” Ahmad Ali, a student living in  Bhatindi,  Jammu told Media India Group.

“Near my house, the Raghunath temple is the main tourist attraction. I have witnessed a growth in the number of tourists and people visiting the temple. I, however, feel that there has been no development on part of the government for attracting tourists in Jammu despite many opportunities and tourist attractions in the vicinity,” adds Ali.

While revival of a regular flow of tourists is a very positive development for a region that has been rocked by unprecedented instability since the Article 370 abrogation, the tourism professionals as well as government must hope that the relative peace and calm in the region stays long enough for the industry to get back on its feet.

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