By Tanima Banerjee:
Kashmir has always been eyed with a lot of pride by every Indian. This beautiful valley is popularly called ‘The Paradise on Earth’, and rightly so. Those who have lived or visited this divinely created world of lush green meadows, the tall surmounting chinar and pine trees, the sparkling snow clad mountains and the multifarious, bright and colorful gardens strewn with a wide plenitude of flora and fauna would all agree to the breath-taking beauty of the valley.
Yet this paradise was overshadowed by dark clouds right from 1947 when the partition took place, and the conflict over Kashmir between India and Pakistan began. The gorgeous valley became home to nasty, violence-loving militants and witnessed endless incidents of violence, tensions, destructions and two huge wars over the decades. Kashmir was no longer the valley of peace and sublime beauty. India’s tourism department of this state suffered a huge setback as the paradise was no longer rendered ‘safe’. No longer was sailing in shikaras on the Dal Lake seen as a heavenly experience or the gardens of Shalimar and Nishant welcoming its tourists to witness its natural splendor. Gulmarg and Pehelgam saw a dwindling number of tourists unlike the earlier times .The streets of Kashmir were patrolled by army men and the paradise harbored fear, terror and death and the valley stood at the edges of complete destruction.
These have been the known facts about the paradise for quite some time now. But the New Year seems to have brought much more hope for the pinnacle of the Indian subcontinent. The home of kesar and Shammi Kapoor movies seems to have recovered its tranquility and its lost peace and attraction over the past few years. Certain figures and records suggest that Kashmir is on its way to become the top tourist destination once again. 2011 was probably one of the most peaceful, violence-free years for the valley since the past two decades. There has been a huge leap in the footprints of tourists the valley has got the last year, thanks to the reduction in militancy operations, from 6000 in 1995 to 200 in 2011. The number of pilgrims visiting the holy Amarnath shrine has increased to 6.34 lakh from 1.5 lakh in 2005. Records reveal that the number of tourists who visited the valley has gone to an encouraging number of 9 lakh, a positive growth since the 1990s and early 2000s.
These happy figures are a result of a reduction in incidents of violence here, which has given a tremendous boost in the growth of the tourism industry, which is one of the most economically relevant activities in the valley. This impetus in tourism, a consequence of the peace and order was recently confirmed by chief minister Omar Abdullah who said “My heartfelt gratitude to the people of J&K for one of the most peaceful years in decades.” Despite some protests against the government and incidents where a few civilians and military personnel were killed, the figures are much lower than earlier years and there has been around a 48 percent decline in incidents of violence. Though one can’t claim that complete peace has been restored, but it can be asserted that things are looking better. Major breakthroughs in anti-military operations have been achieved and a lot of stringent measures are being taken to make this valley a safer place.
A lot is yet to be achieved. But all these facts and figures suggest a commendable work by our armed forces in order to bring forth a sense of freedom in the people of Kashmir to walk about freely in the streets, and more importantly a mental freedom from fear and living every second in terror. The growth is tourism is suggestive of the same. Kashmir is looking at regaining its pride and honor as the blissful paradise.
Though the Kashmir issue is still an unsolved political one, the question of who owns the paradise seems petty in front of its heavenly grandeur that it promises and the way it opens up to those who truly value its splendor. One needs to salute the resilience of all those Kashmiris whose love for their home has given them the strength to survive the dark, difficult times and who welcome with open arms all those who come to witness the god’s own world.