LoC Battleground Turns Tourist Spot27 May 2010
Srinagar: One history distorted, another made. The Jammu and Kashmir government has put Kargil’s Batalik on the tourist map for the first time since the 1999 war, the move coming at a time the area is under the spotlight in the row over fudging of the conflict’s records. Batalik was one of the war’s most important theatres where the now-retired Brigadier Devinder Singh, the army officer wrongfully accused of negligence in detecting the intrusions, commanded his 70 Infantry brigade. “Batalik was out of bounds for both domestic and foreign tourists, but that will be history now. They are now free to come anytime,” Kargil police chief Aijaz Ahmad said. The curbs were formally lifted yesterday, with the government organising a three-day tourist fair in Batalik. The aim was to showcase the area, known for its scenic but inhospitable landscape, and the life and the culture of its Drokpa inhabitants who claim to be the only surviving members of a pure Aryan race. Kargil collector Sheikh Riyaz Ahmad said opening Batalik would help promote tourism in the entire district. “There is great potential for trekking. Plus, Batalik is a virgin site with beautiful valleys. A historical road runs parallel to the Indus river. It is also home to Drokpas who have been living here for centuries,” he said. “The Batalik sector is spread over 1000sqkm area and there are no less than 20 villages in it,” he added. The Drokpas’ Aryan descent has fascinated foreigners. Unlike the area’s other people, most of whom have Mongoloid features, the Drokpas are of central Asian origin. The race-sensitive Buddhist community has been known to fiercely guard its racial identity by preventing inter-caste marriages. Sheikh said the government had drawn up a new set of rules to let in visitors. “There is little tourist infrastructure now but with the restrictions gone, the area will see development (of such facilities),” he added. Some of the Kargil war’s most important battles were fought in Batalik. One such battle featured Lieutenant Manoj Kumar Pandey of the 1-11 Gorkha Rifles. He was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the highest gallantry award, for recapturing Jubar Top, a strategic peak, in Batalik in June 1999. Last year, the government allowed foreigners to visit Turtuk in adjoining Leh, described as the Kargil war’s last outpost. Turtuk is part of the Nobra valley, situated 220km from Leh and 660km from Srinagar. Ladakh, which includes Leh and Kargil, is popular with foreign tourists who flocked to the cold desert even during militancy in Kashmir. Around 75,000 foreign visitors go there every year. The season, July to August earlier, now runs from May to October.