At 11 Lakh, J&K Tourist Count Best In 25 Years15 October 2011
Times of India
New Delhi: India has rediscovered its romance for Kashmir with an unprecedented 10.73 lakh tourists visiting the Valley till September 30. This is believed to be the highest number of tourist arrivals in the last 25 years, strong evidence of what's possible if normalcy is given a chance. Kashmir has surpassed last year's tourist arrivals of 7.38 lakh, and the data collected by the state tourism department shows both Indians and foreigners have given the Valley a thumbs up despite apprehensions over security. Foreign tourists visiting Kashmir has jumped from a few thousands to about 22,000. Beneficiary of the bonhomie is not just Kashmir, but Ladakh and Amarnath as well. Visitors keen on taking in Ladakh's stunning vistas and adventure opportunities doubled to 1.48 lakh this year. The number of Amarnath yatris is at a high of 6.35 lakh - a jump of 2 lakh from last year. The director of tourism in Kashmir, Farooq A Shah, said, 'This is the highest number of tourist arrivals recorded in the last 25 years. It has been a very good season for us. But Kashmir's potential is unparalleled and we hope to do more work.' Hotel and Restaurant Association of Katra's senior vice-president Rakesh Wazir endorsed the tourist season's success. He said he expected the number of pilgrims arriving at the Vaishno Devi shrine to increase further from the current 75 lakh estimated by the tourism department. 'There has been a lot of improvement in infrastructure and with the (new) rail link we are sure to cross the 1-crore mark by 2012,' he said. A peaceful season has meant a booming economy for locals after the stone pelting unrest in the Valley and the tragic cloudburst in Leh last year. The state government is advocating against travel advisories issued by some countries, pointing to the vote of confidence tourists have delivered. The Union tourism ministry had in recent years launched an advertisement campaign, with J&K as a special focus. State officials and political representatives have also made their presence felt in the international market through trade fairs and other initiatives.