Kashmir is steadily returning to its position as India's premier tourist destination, but a recent flap over dress wear has locals concerned about the impact of fundamentalist groups.
With militant violence on the wane, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is on its way to regaining its place as India's biggest tourist draw. This year, more than 500,000 visitors, including some 20,000 foreigners, have already visited the state, according to reports.
But the state's increasing appeal to visitors has raised hackles among hardline Islamists, who last week issued an edict condemning the clothes some visitors wear.
"Some tourists, mostly foreigners, are in miniskirts and other objectionable dresses," AFP quoted Zahid Ali, a spokesman for Jamaat-e-Islami, as saying.
The group sent a letter to the J&K Tourism Department, demanding that an "Islamic dress code" be enforced on visitors.
Speaking to Khabar South Asia, Ali denied that Jamaat was seeking to intimidate visitors.
"We are not issuing any threats to the tourists. We only asked the government to ensure that (while) encouraging tourism, evils like alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution do not rear their heads," he said.
Critics of the group, however, say the hardliners are trying to hold Kashmir back from improved economic prospects.
"They have already ruined one generation and wish to cripple another by keeping the people in poverty. Kashmir's chief economic sustenance comes from tourism and they want to create a fear psychosis," Kashmir University lecturer Siraj Amin told Khabar.
Aziz Tuman, president of the Dal Lake Houseboat Owners' Association, told Khabar that Jamaat is "exaggerating" the impact of foreign tourists. "Less than 5% of visitors are Westerners and it's a fact that all of them are sensitive to the local culture and dress modestly."
The state government is seeking to downplay the impact of the Jamaat campaign. "The national media is needlessly giving these people publicity," G.M. Dug, chairman of the state-controlled J&K Tourism Alliance, told Khabar. "I tell you, they have zero influence nowadays because the Kashmir people are sick and tired of fundamentalists."
Indian Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed, however, said there is cause for concern.
"We are taking a very serious view, and are alert to the possibility of fanatics staging some sort of aggression on tourists. So there is added security for women from this week. We don't want Kashmir to get a bad name again," he said.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, a leading member of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) triggered controversy by suggesting that tourists from Israel were not welcome in Kashmir.
In mid-June, the J&K government announced it would be sending a delegation of officials to Israel in a bid to sell their state as a tourist destination. Israelis are already big spenders in India – in Himachal Pradesh, J&K's neighbouring state, they constitute the single-largest bloc of foreign tourists.
"This is a provocative step as it is hurtful to Muslim sentiments," declared Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, normally regarded as a moderate voice within the APHC. "I am warning the government that the consequences will not be good."
Locals in Srinagar don't necessarily agree, analysts say. "The attitude towards Israel here is the same as in the rest of the Islamic world," said Khursheed Wani, a commentator on Kashmir politics. "But nobody who is looking forward to reconstructing his life after two decades of bloody conflict will tolerate a boycott of Israeli tourists."
Kashmiri taxi operator Safdar Hashim told Khabar: "Israelis make up the single biggest bloc of foreigners. The locals have nothing against them because they are decent and avoid illegal activities. So why should we listen to politicians who only wish to prolong the misery of the people?"