Kashmir As Safe As Any Place In This WORLD

Those who are propagating that “Kashmir is not safe” seem to have forgotten that not a single tourist was harmed when Kashmir was simmering, writes Syed Arshid Ali
Kashmir is renowned globally as heaven on earth. Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world visit various tourist places of Kashmir to relish its beauty. Kashmir has not only mesmerized the people globally, it has even made the erstwhile rulers of Kashmir to fell in love with the beauty of Kashmir. In the seventeenth century, Mughal emperor Jahangir after coming to Kashmir was overwhelmed by the beauty of the vale. In order to express his love towards Kashmir, he epitomized the beauty of Kashmir when he said, “GAR FIRDAUS, RUHE ZAMIN AST, HAMIN ASTO, HAMIN AST.”(If paradise is anywhere on the earth, it is here, it is here, it is here)
Kashmir is called the explorers paradise. God has bestowed it with everything to attract the people to cherish it. The beauty of Kashmir has made it famous all over the world and is rightly known as the paradise on earth. The natural scenic beauty of Kashmir has been eulogized by the poets since times immemorial. Nature is the partial to this place as it has been bestowed with numerous fresh water springs. Every year Kashmir attracts thousands of tourists from all over world who find relaxation, enjoyment and charm of nature here and throng to various destinations to enjoy its panoramic beauty.
Last few years Kashmir valley is witnessing a huge tourist flow. In 2002,just over 27,000 tourists dared to visit the Kashmir valley, frightened off by the anti-Indian insurgency, which has claimed up to 70,000 lives since erupting in 1989.So far this year according to official figures, the area has received more than 1.5 million holidaymakers-more than 23,000 of them from outside India.
Many people have started believing that this year would be different from the last three years so stage seems to be set for a good tourism season which government claims is the back bone of the state’s economy.Neha Sharma is one among thousands of tourists who have visited Kashmir in the last few weeks despite strikes, curfew and protests which erupted in the valley after the execution of Afzal Guru on February 9. A fashion designer from New Delhi, Neha arrived a few days ago with her husband and children. “Seeing soaring mountains, lush flower-dotted valleys and the chance to relax in houseboats on Dal lake on Saturday, the day separatists had called for a complete shutdown.However,the strike had a partial impact in valley and tourist places were normal. “We had some inhibitions when we booked our tickets last month due to report of violence. But after coming here, I realized that Kashmir is absolutely peaceful and normal and there is no threat to tourists.
However, the propaganda launched by some people with vested interest about Kashmir being an “un safe tourist destination” can definitely hit the tourism sector. The pro-Kashmiri independence Hurriyat conference party disagrees bitterly with much of Abdullah’s politics. But on the issue of tourism, the two are united. Last year at the start of the summer season, Geelani wrote an open letter to tourists and pilgrims that said: “whatever your faith, whatever language you speak and to whatever region you belong, we are bound by a common bond, the bond of humanity. You are our honored guest, respecting and protecting guests is not only our moral obligation but article of faith. Chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Muhammad Yasin Malik had issued a statement assuring the tourists that Kashmir is the “safest tourist destination” and they are welcome. He termed rumors about Kashmir being unsafe as baseless. He had assured the tourists about their safety. Interestingly the Jammu Kashmir tourism minister Mr. Glulam Ahmad Mir had seconded Malik and had appreciated him for giving such a bold statement. It was a rare occasion, a minister praising a separatist.
Anyway those who are propagating that “Kashmir is not safe “seem to have forgotten that not a single tourist was harmed when Kashmir was simmering in 2008 and 2010. People were angry but despite that they exercised restraint to prove it to the world that they are not violence mongers and they respect their guests even during the worst times.
Two years ago, the old city in Srinagar was the sort of place police would only venture into wearing body amour. A stronghold for violent separatists agitating for an independent Kashmir, it was at the center of uprisings that left more than 100 people dead, buried along with dreams of peace in the mountainous north- Indian region.
How quickly things change. This week, carefree tourists lined up in the same streets for barbecued mutton tikka and streaming plates of Rogan josh.The Nowhatta mosque, where in the summer of 2010 youth would gather after Friday prayers to lob stones at the security forces (an episode commemorated in graffiti on a nearby wall declaring the area Srinagar’s Gaza Strip) is to become a stop-off on an official walking tour focused on heritage, crafts, hotels and markets.
Last year, Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has lobbied the British high commission in Delhi to relax the guidelines. Peoples insurance here is null and void. “You’ve had British citizens killed more recently in countries that you still have not stopped people from visiting. I mean, how many British citizens did you loose in 9/11? Did you stop people from visiting New York? You’ve lost them in Spain, in Bali, tell me where you have not lost them, “said Abdullah. “We have lost Indians in London. There is still a possibility that al-Qaida could do something stupid like they have done in the past, but we haven’t stopped Indians from travelling to London. There is no reason to single out Jammu and Kashmir, or even Srinagar, as an unsafe destination. Germany had already revised its travel advisory on Kashmir in June 2011.After Omar Abdullah’s remarks, the announcement in 2012 by the united kingdom to lift travel advisory for Jammu and Kashmir has come as a morale booster for the tourism fraternity in the state. It was a significant development that has come at the most opportunate time. It will help Kashmir tap the European market. This is a positive step which will definitely boost the foreign arrivals to Kashmir. It is a moment of joy for the whole tourism of J&K in general and the valley tourism industry which has been the sole and direct victim of the adverse travel advisories imposed by the various western and European countries in particular.
A few tourists who visited Kashmir in 2008, 2009 and 2010 publicly announced that people of Kashmir are not to be blamed for the violence. Despite 112youth falling to bullets of government forces in 2008, 2010 and not a single member of minority community was touched. The annual Amarnath yatra passed off peacefully with thousands of devotees visiting the cave shrine in south Kashmir. One wonders how anyone can ignore such glaring facts.
New Delhi based news channels in 2010 aired many debates in Kashmir but all these channels made violence a focal point. None of these channels bothered to highlight how tolerant and hospitable Kashmiris are. Ironically these channels claim that they are unbiased and believe in objectivity. It seems objectivity for them is only to report violence. One needs to ask them why they don’t report how they treat their guests. Had that not been a fact Thousands of non-local labourers would not have stayed in Kashmir and are earning their livelihood with honor and grace. Kashmiri separatists leaders have quite often reiterated that people of Kashmir are not against any religion or the people of India and any one can come here without any fear.
Some people are of the opinion that once tourists get over the fear psychosis Kashmir has got the potential of becoming a top tourist destination. Many people do not want that to happen. Some believes that it can make Kashmiris economically stronger. They fear that if Kashmiris become financially strong they can pose a bigger threat and can turn the tables. Poor Kashmir can never be threat as for any poor nation hand to mouth survival is the first priority.
In order to boost tourism industry, the department has done a lot in terms of the facilities for the tourist’s .We Kashmiri people have always shown better understanding of the communal and regional ethos and always give respect and love to the people who visit our valley. And we ought to be proud to feel that the people, who visit us, appreciate our approach and courtesy even though misconceptions and wrong propaganda is launched against us every time. The whole country may be burning with communal atmosphere but we have the culture and tradition to shower respect and love upon yatries, tourists and guests. The tourists who visited our valley do not visit for any political consideration but in fact are lovers of nature. They want to enjoy the beauty of our valley for which they have a deep \passion. Tourism is a natural source of income for us and we have a responsibility to safeguard this economical source. Moreover, tourists are human beings whom we treat humanly because we are bound by our faith.
Syed Arshid Ali is a Tourism management Student/Feedback at syedarshid95@ymail.com