(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)
Srinagar- Over a year after India and Pakistan agreed to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and other sectors in Jammu and Kashmir, tourism in the border areas is picking-up gradually with more and more tourist arrivals.
On February 25, 2021 for the first time, the decision on ceasefire was taken at a meeting between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan.
India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003, but it has hardly been followed in letter and spirit over the past several years with more violations than observance of the pact. However, this time the pact was honoured by both the countries.
The border districts of Kashmir, especially Bandipora and Kupwara have huge tourism potential, an official from the Tourism department said.
Habibullah Hurray, a Sarpanch from North Kashmir's Machil in Kupwara told Kashmir Observer that the frontier area has witnessed a number of visitors from the last few years and locals are happy with it.
“Since the ceasefire a number of tourists have come here. The tourists stayed with the locals here and we arrange everything for them,” Hurray told Kashmir Observer.
He said the Army has been very helpful in promoting tourism -which, according to Hurray, is a step to boost the economy.
The ceasefire violation remained an all time high in the year 2020. According to reports, a total of 10,752 cases of ceasefire violations took place along India's border with Pakistan in the last three years, in which 72 security personnel and 70 civilians were killed. However, everything changed after both the countries announced a truce.
The move was welcomed by both mainstream and separatists groups in Kashmir, which brought peace to the border residents, who are presently reaping the benefits of the ceasefire.
The ceasefire has brought relief to the border residents who resumed activities like farming and schooling that were the worst-hit by cross border shelling.
The agricultural fields located near the Line of Control (LoC) witnessed a full farming season as the farmers can carry out their agriculture works in the fields without fear of firing and shelling.
To boost the economy and to promote tourism, the J&K administration is pushing for border tourism along the LoC in Kashmir.
In September 2021, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence and Tourism, Ajay Bhatt, announced that the border areas will be developed as tourist places.
In July a group of over 40 people travelled to visit the border village of Machil. The trip was facilitated by the Jammu and Kashmir forest department and Army.
Farah Zaidi Ali, co-founder of the Kashmir off Road (KoR), organised the trip to Machil and told Kashmir Observer that the place was overwhelmed with the warmth and love of the people.
“It's an amazing and untouched place. The people were very happy to see us there. They welcomed all of us to at their houses,” Farah told Kashmir Observer.
She said they also trained people and gave them the idea of home stay. She said the roads are well blacktopped and people can go easily.
The group went to a number of hamlets namely Misri Behak, Dudi, Chuntwari, Dabpal and Hardrung.
Earlier, before the ceasefire these areas were restricted for any civilian movement without prior necessary permissions. However, the administration has made it very easy for travellers now.
“You can apply for the e-permission online on the district administration website and get it within no time,” Farah said.
The area had earlier witnessed ceasefire violations between India and Pakistan which left many dead and injured.
A top army official from North Kashmir told Kashmir Observer that the tourists wouldn't find any inconvenience from the Army and they are free to visit non-prohibited areas.
He said around 35 people from Maharashtra visited Machil in last month and stayed there for three days.
In August 2021, the department organised a tourism festival at the Bangus Valley in Kupwara district in order to promote tourism.
On the occasion, LG Manoj Sinha said that the tourism department and the Army will make efforts to facilitate visits to such remote places.
The footfall has certainly increased, said Azad Khan, a resident of Bangus valley in Kupwara.
Khan said the residents don't encourage fancy hotels but would prefer serving the tourists at home.
Similarly in the Gurez sector of North Kashmir's Bandipora district the tourists' arrival has remained at an all time high from the last two years of the ceasefire.
In July 2022, the Tourism department organised a three-day festival in Gurez in a bid to boost tourism in the border area.
Lately, home-stays and tented accommodations are becoming popular in these areas with LG administration making efforts to promote tent stays at scenic locations that will deliver rapid growth to the tourism industry.
On 22 July, LG chaired a high-level meeting to review the new initiatives of the Tourism Department. While reviewing the measures being taken to promote home-stays in the UT, the LG was informed that around 800 home-stays are registered with the Tourism Department.
The Lt Governor directed Secretary Tourism, Sarmad Hafeez, to submit a report on the number of tourists staying at these home-stays, and set the target of enhancing the capacities of home-stays to 25,000 beds by 31st December.
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