Paradise Regained: Has Normalcy Been Restored To Kashmir, Finally?

Paradise Regained: Has Normalcy Been Restored To Kashmir, Finally?

16 December 2012
The Economic Times
Masood Hussain

Srinagar: The signs are good. Tourists are thronging Lal Chowk, houseboats are booked out and a host of countries are easing travel advisories. Tourism officials are ecstatic and say the Year 2012 has been the best in recent years in the number of visitors the state has welcomed with open arms. So, can we say that Kashmir is well on its way to normalcy after almost two decades of turmoil? Well, that depends. December first week was a picture postcard moment. More than 160 cyclists, mostly foreigners, were seen peddling furiously along Srinagar Boulevard cheered on by school children lined along the road. For the media, the cycling race was just another event, but for the planners in the state government, it was a celebration coinciding with the conclusion of a highly-successful tourist year. As compared to the recent past, 2012 has been one of the best tourist seasons for a state that leads others in terms of sheer natural beauty. By the end of December, the overall arrivals might touch 11 million. Though pilgrim tourists to Vaishno Devi make up most of these numbers, those travelling to Kashmir and Ladakh are substantial and are not just backpackers. By October, Kashmir had hosted 27,596 foreigners, 10,42,431 domestic and 6,21,104 Amarnath yatris as 1,40,288 tourists visited the Ladakh region. The number of pilgrims visiting Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu was 76,88,291. BOLLYWOOD IS BACK The Valley, once the toast of filmmakers, missed out in almost the two decades of the separatist turbulence. But now with the tourists, Bollywood movie crews are back in action. First off the block was Karan Johar. Along with Aamir Khan and Farah Khan, they shot Student of the Year in freezing temperature in Gulmarg, last winter. Then came Saroj Khan followed by a long line of others. Yash Chopra shot the last film of his career Jab Tak Hai Jaan here shortly before he passed away in October. This winter, Ranbir Kapoor is flying in with Deepika Padukone to shoot Ayan Mukherjee's film Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani in Kashmir. Kapoor spent part of last year in Kashmir filming Rockstar. Tourism ministry officials say they are in touch with a number of filmmakers from south India who are keen to shoot in Kashmir winter. THE YEARS OF STRIFE In the years of strife, Kashmir had lost most of the bridges ands the culverts and nearly one-third of all school buildings. There is no clear data available about the cost of the turmoil, but the resultant infrastructure deficit is estimated at more than 200 basis points compared to the neighbouring states. Most of the peripheral health infrastructure collapsed as health professionals deserted and safe places along with thousands of Muslims while a huge population living on this side of the LoC crossed over to the other side. While the situation is gradually improving, Kashmir migrants living as refugees on both sides of the divide are yet to return.