Cradled in the lap of the Himalayas, Jammu & Kashmir earned itself the title of ‘heaven on earth’ decades ago.
Cradled in the lap of the Himalayas, Jammu & Kashmir earned itself the title of ‘heaven on earth’ decades ago, drawing in tourists and filmmakers alike for its scenic beauty, blooming gardens and colourful houseboats. Regrettably, though, the state has been embroiled in violent conflict for many years now, negatively affecting the tourism industry. As per the Environmental Information System (ENVIS), a Web-enabled and comprehensive portal of the Indian government that provides information on environment and related subjects, the valley saw only a few thousand tourists from the early 1990s to the 2000s.
But things seem to be getting better now. Last year, the state welcomed around 95 lakh domestic and international tourists, as per ENVIS. “These numbers reflect the commitment of various stakeholders towards the trade… and the support of domestic travellers,” says Mahmood Ahmad Shah, director of tourism, J&K.
The turnaround is happening in large part due to the J&K tourism department coming up with innovative ways to engage with modern day-travellers. One of these is horticulture tourism, which introduces visitors to the art of garden cultivation and management. So those travelling to Kashmir can expect to visit botanical gardens and plantations of saffron (which is grown only in J&K in India), almonds, apples, apricots and even walnuts.
As per Shah, this year is looking up for the state’s tourism industry as it has had a good start. “It snowed before the new year and Gulmarg (a popular skiing destination) was completely sold out throughout the holiday season,” he says.
But with many domestic travellers making their way towards the valley of flowers, it is pertinent to ensure their safety. “While the state may be in the news for the wrong reasons, not every border squirmish has an impact on the tourist corridor,” explains Shah, adding that J&K is perhaps the only other Indian state apart from Delhi to have its own tourist police, which addresses the safety concerns of those who visit the state. “It’s a contingent of 300 officers under the senior superintendent of police, J&K, in addition to the security forces in all the tourist destinations to give a sense of confidence to travellers,” he says, adding that he hopes to see the tourist numbers rise even further.