|Kashmiri rock band The Sueen performs at the War of Rappers contest in a Srinagar park on Saturday. Fifteen Kashmiri boys, aged between 12 and 18, are taking part in the contest, an organiser said. (Reuters)
Srinagar, Sept. 29: The Omar Abdullah government has gone into overdrive to develop a former militancy haven as a prime tourist destination, hoping to cash in on the ongoing tourism boom in Kashmir.
Lolab Valley, which is close to the Line of Control in north Kashmir and has witnessed countless encounters between security forces and militants in the last two decades, today hosted its first tourism festival.
Mohammad Yaseen Lone, chief executive officer of the newly established development authority for Lolab Valley that also manages two adjoining potential tourist resorts of Bangus and Drangyari, said the two-day festival would feature a cultural programme, a trekking expedition, horseracing and a food carnival.
“Lolab has a huge tourism potential, which has remained untapped so far, although several tourists would come to this place before militancy (began). That doesn’t mean it is an unknown place as, for centuries, it has caught the imagination of great poets. Sir Mohammad Iqbal has praised this place in beautiful couplets,” Lone said.
Lolab is a 25km-long valley and 120km from Srinagar. “At a few places, its width is a mere hundred metres which increases to around 15km. This place is famous for changing its colours with the change in vegetation. It is lush green in summer and pure gold in autumn, taking on the colour of sprawling, flat paddy fields,” Lone said.
The lofty mountains encircling Lolab have remained unscathed from the wanton destruction of tress witnessed in many other areas of Kashmir. A centuries-old monument, some natural caves, gushing streams and villages dotted by old thatched houses are some of its other major attractions.
Bringing tourists to Lolab would be a no mean feat for the state government as the place has always remained in the news for deadly encounters. The valley is home to Dardpora, one of its 48 villages that has suffered the worst during the turmoil, widowing scores of women, earning it the sobriquet “Village of Widows”.
For years, the valley was literally a no-go area for even Kashmiris because of the huge presence of security forces and militants.
A police officer said a handful of militants operated in the upper reaches of the valley. “The tourists are safe. In fact, for the first time we had some foreigners visiting this place this year and they stayed here for a week,” he said.
Lone said they had invited tour operators to familiarise them with the place. “We have constructed some guest houses and construction of others is under way for night stay at places with breathtaking beauty like Chandigam and Khumriyal.”
The authorities are expecting to cash in on a record tourist season in Kashmir. Around two million tourists are expected to visit this year. Around 14 lakh have already visited the Valley.