also known as heaven on earth is renowned for its charismatic beauty. It seems nature has bestowed it with best of her gifts. Its beauty and cheerful climate have given it the acronym of being ‘HEAVEN ON EARTH’. With its gushing rivers and peaks, its magnificent chinars and huge round poplars, mouth-watering fruits, its shining rivers and murmuring streams teeming with Himalayan trout, and a host of endless natural attractions, Kashmir, as Amir Khusro said, Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, hameen ast-o, hamin ast-o, hamin ast. In the last few years, development in all spheres have given a renewed confidence and a ray of hope to the local people who have always lived off the tourism economy. An increase in tourism, substantial progress in vital sectors and vast improvement of basic infrastructure to include rural roads, mobile communication, electricity and highways of Jammu and Kashmir are evident of a new beginning to the populace of valley.
Empowering Youth especially women and educating them have removed obstacles at basic strata of society i.e., family which has brought a new dawn in valley in terms of participation in sarpanch/ DDC elections, more children especially girls attending schools at primary level and people setting up businesses and start-ups utilizing government grants/ schemes. Visit of over 22 lakh tourists to Kashmir valley in 2022 is a testimony to the positive changes being witnessed by the valley. Boating in dal lake to climbing the peaks, watching beautiful birds to skiing, enchanting view of Shankaracharya temple to traditional markets of Lal Chowk, Srinagar has it all. This place is called as the “Venice of the East”. It’s the largest city of Kashmir. This place is surrounded by lush green and snowclad peaks and the main attraction the Dal Lake is known as the gem of the city. Srinagar also gives a peek into Kashmiri cuisine and culture with some authentic eating joints and traditional shops.
Gulmarg is a town, hill station and a popular tourist destination situated in the Pir Panjal Range. Its commonly known as ‘meadow of flowers’ and known for gondola rides and skiing. This place is best suited to be visited in peak winters for avid adventurists with snow clad slopes offering best of winter sports facilities like skiing, snowboarding, heli-skiing and tobogganing. In springs with snow clad peaks and green meadows with variety of flowers blooming, Gulmarg is indeed heavenly. Sonamarg is a popular hill station situated in Ganderbal district. As the name suggests it known as meadow of gold, it is known for its endless stream of flowers and undulating treks with breath taking views. It’s also known for lush green pastures and scenic beauty locations for tent housing/ camping sites and star gazing at night. Sonamarg provides trekking routes to various lakes in the Himalayas, which are stocked with snow trout and brown trout. The annual yatra to Amarnath ji Temple begins from Sonamarg.
After three decades, Kashmir valley attracted lakhs of tourists which locals termed as return of golden era of Kashmir tourism. Over 1.62 crore tourists visited J&K in 2022 which is highest in past 75 years. A record breaking 20.5 lakh tourists, including 3.65 lakh Shri Amarnath ji yatris, visited Kashmir till Oct 22. The tourist sites like Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Srinagar were buzzing with people from all across the country. All Hotels, resorts and guest houses witnessed 100 percent occupancy for the entire season with rates for stay peaking to record high. With the increase in number of direct flights and also international flights from Srinagar & Jammu, the tourism sector has got a tremendous boost. Introduction of night flights from both Srinagar and Jammu has also contributed to the increase in tourism. The tremendous growth in air connectivity has made Kashmir accessible to travellers for almost the whole year except during spells of snowfall. Direct flights from all major metros and large cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Kolkata and Bengaluru have resulted in high influx of tourists.
Kashmir has been the hub of both Bollywood and regional cinema industry showcasing the scenic beauty, vast green meadows, springs, flowers laden valleys and deodar/ chinar lined roads through movies always. A comprehensive film policy was launched in 2021 with an initial allotment of Rs 500 crore for development of a vibrant film eco system in J&K and to attract film makers for shooting. Within a year of notification, as many as 140 shooting permissions for films and web-series have been issued. With advent of better connectivity through road/ air and better facilities being created by government departments, filming of movies has again commenced in Kashmir valley with various shooting locations available. Opening of INOX Multiplex cinemas at Sonwar, Srinagar in September 22 after 3 decades is a testimony to the new dawn of hope, dreams, confidence and aspirations of people of the valley.
A major block which hindered the way of tourism and nurturing economy was unemployed youth who were unskilled and were easily misguided by the extremists to become anti nationals, terrorists and stone pelters but with abrogation of article 370 and various reforms by Govt, this problem has been duly curtailed and today youth in the valley is the strong backbone of the economy and is participating in the development of state. With introduction of training in sophisticated skills such as Trade Manship, entrepreneurship and also encouraging the local youth for higher education, the state is witnessing high employment rates thus reducing illiteracy, unemployment and militancy. Government has a very crucial role in ensuring this and centre government has left no stone unturned to ensure this.
With Introduction of travel and tourism graduate courses, various universities of J&K are teaching subjects such as travel & tourism management, general administration & catering, international hospitality, business management and human relations. The locals are being trained and gaining knowledge about operations of tourism industry, learning about tour operators, airlines & hotel industry and tourist boards. The local youth is being made proficient and capable for managing tourists, thereby creating various job opportunities in tourism sector. Kashmir the heaven on earth was once plagued with terrorism and separatism. A land which was hot bed of Terrorism, stone pelting and public disturbances has decided to take a new path of optimism and development which has resulted in beginning of a new era which is turning back Kashmir valley into a paradise as it was known for. Despite setbacks faced due to Covid pandemic, the UT administration is taking sufficient steps and policy interventions for revival of tourism in J&K. The onus of carrying forward the momentum lies on all stakeholders, especially local administration, and most importantly the youth of Kashmir.