From war zone to tourist hub, Kargil comes a long way
Tiger Hill in Drass and Tololing in Bhimbat—which caught the world attention during 1999 conflict—have become major tourist attractions
The lofty and tough mountain terrains of Kargil which once echoed with the sounds of guns have become home to the bustling tourism industry.
Known worldwide for never-ending range of differently colored mountains and deserted plains, this thinly populated district spread over 14036 square kilometers has returned on the radar of the tourists, not only from India but across the world.
“The war left an impact on our tourism industry and it took years to bring Kargil back on the world’s tourism map,” said Haji Muhammad Hussain of Kargil who has served as Assistant Director in Tourism Department.
Strategic mountainous peaks like Tiger Hill in Drass and Tololing in Bhimbat which caught the world attention during 1999-Kargil war and posts like Hatamata Hill on Kargil-Skardu border and Palamar hills have become major tourist attractions.
From 2010 to last year, the rush of the tourists to Kargil, both domestic and foreigners, has more than doubled from 28772 to over 64000.
“Last year we received 60000 domestic tourists and over 4000 foreigners,” said Assistant Director Toursim, Kargil, Syed Tahha Aga. “This year upto July 31, around 35279 tourists have already visited Kargil.”
From May to August, the cherished tourist season in Kargil, tourist flow remains at peak and the hotel industry thrives on visitor rush.
The tourist influx has led to expansion of the infrastructure in the tourism sector and created job avenues for the educated youth of this landlocked district having a population of over 1.40 lakh.
“During the past three years at least 35 new hotels have come up in Kargil,” said Muhammad Murtaza, an employee at a local guest house.
The educated and jobless youth of this desert district are finding new job avenues in the tourism sector as the tourist flow gradually picks up with each passing year.
“Some youth have invested in hotel industry while others work as tourist guides. A good chunk of youth have purchased vehicles and remain busy with the tourists,” said Muhammad Yaqoob Hussain, another hotelier.
Post-2010 summer unrest in Kashmir, in which 120 civilians were killed in action by police and CRPF, Kargil is witnessing pilgrims to Shri Amarnath cave in south Kashmir preferring to travel from here via Manali-Leh to reach Baltal in Sonamarg, the base camp for the cave shrine.
“It will help our tourism industry grow,” said Muhammad Hussain.
Another advantage that Kargil thrives on is its centrality in the mountainous Ladakh, thus acting as a base camp for tourists. It is usually from the Kargil that tourists prepare themselves for trip to Leh, Zanskar and Batalik. The Garken and Darsik, the Aryan villages, are also an attraction for the tourists coming to Kargil.
Michael, a tourist from Germany, had visited Leh and was preparing for another trip to Zanskar.
“I will also visit the place where these people of pure Aryan race live. In Germany, people talk a lot about this place (Aryan village),” Michael said.
Kargil sits in a strategic position with Pakistan in the west. Both Leh and Kargil were opened up for tourists in early 70’s and initially tourists would travel only through the Srinagar-Leh road.
Later in the 90s, tourists started travelling to Ladakh via Manali road in Himachal Pradesh. Though cutting through a difficult terrain, the Manali road has become an alternative route to Kargil for many tourists.
“No doubt tourists are coming to Kargil but the rush of the foreigners which this place used to witness prior to 1990 is no comparison to today’s situation,” said an elderly Muhammad Shafi from Drass, part of Kargil. “The Kargil war and the ongoing tension on the borders between India and Pakistan have definitely hurt Kargil’s tourism industry.”