Srinagar, April 8: Kashmir is witnessing a surge in tourists despite the unrest and militant violence that followed Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru’s execution in February.
Tourism officials said tourist inflow had unexpectedly picked up over the past few weeks, prompting chief minister Omar Abdullah to remark today that he was “thrilled” by the development.
Omar is usually controlled in such expressions and prefers not to project tourist arrivals as a sign of normality for fear that it will provoke militants to cause trouble.
However, today was different when the chief minister tweeted: “After everything we’ve been through since 9th of Feb, if tourists are returning to valley I have every reason to be pleasedů. A friend called to complain that flights to Srinagar and hotels in Srinagar were too expensive. While I sympathised with him, I’m thrilled :-).”
Deputy director of tourism department Azmat Ali said a record number of tourists are coming to Kashmir these days, while refusing to share the numbers. However, a government official said close to 2 lakh tourists had visited Kashmir since January 1, compared to 1.5 lakh during the same period last year.
“The year had started with a bang with around 75,000 tourists coming in January. Normally you receive a mere 5,000 tourists or more during this month. But there were hardly any visitors for weeks following Afzal Guru’s hanging,” the official added.
“Thankfully, it has again changed in the past one month or so, during which around a lakh tourists came. I believe, if Afzal Guru was not hanged we would have already had more than four lakh tourists.”
The Valley received a record 13.5 lakh tourists, including 37,000 foreigners, last year, excluding over six lakh pilgrims who visited the Amarnath shrine.
The government official said they hoped to break the record this year if the situation remained peaceful.
Tourism department deputy director Ali said tourists from south India and Bengal are helping revive tourism in the Valley this year.
R.C. Basak, a retired central government employee from Barasat, said he and his family were hesitating to come to Kashmir because of the recent disturbances. “We had planned a visit in November but had almost given up ... ” he said.
“Some of our acquaintances recently came to Kashmir and told us that everything is normal here. That gave us confidence and we came. We are really enjoying our trip.”