Fear melts, Valley gets visitors on X’mas
25 December 2002
The Indian Express
Gulmarg: There are no Christians here anymore. There was no Mass today. The old church lies in ruins. But Christmas was a big celebration all around Gulmarg in the Kashmir Valley. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had come with a group of 29 executives from top travel and tour operators to give a ‘‘healing touch’’ to the devastated tourist trade. ‘‘Fear is the biggest hurdle. We are here to assess the situation and help the state government in its efforts to attract tourists,’’ said Pranab Sarkar of the Indian Association of Tour Operators. ‘‘It is good that we came. Now it is easy to encourage tourists to overcome their fear and travel to Kashmir.’’ If nothing else, there was enthusiasm among the locals. ‘‘It is the first white Christmas after many years, and now the government too seems serious to help the trade which has been destroyed in the past 12 years of violence,’’ said Ghulam Mohammad, a tourist guide. ‘‘A large group of Gujrati tourists surprised us all today. Let this be the beginning,’’ he said. And a beginning it was. Gulmarg was covered with a thick blanket of snow, with dozens skiing on the slopes. Tourism was the first casualty of militancy in Kashmir and saw a decline by nearly 90 per cent. The trade looked up in the early months of 1999 but the Kargil war destroyed it all. Mufti has planned separate development authorities for Gulmarg and Pahalgam, the two main tourist attractions in Kashmir. ‘‘FICCI will hold its conference here, so will the chambers of commerce of Punjab and Haryana,’’ the CM said. He also talked of a direct helicopter service from Srinagar airport to Gulmarg.