The land of love and beauty in north Kashmir is set to mesmerise visitors once again. The fading insurgency has paved the way for Lolab Valley to host tourists.
In this spectacularly beautiful valley where verdant forests and gushing stream create a serene atmosphere, violence seems an odd outgrowth. But that had been the case for nearly two decades when insurgency made this place off limits to visitors.
Thankfully, the violence has waned. The Lolab Valley in north Kashmir, popularly known as the land of love and beauty, is once again in the limelight, a sought-after destination for travellers and a source of job opportunities for many Kashmiris.
About 140km from Srinagar, the Lolab Valley and its 400,000 people endured the dubious distinction of being the largest militancy-infested area in Kashmir for more than 20 years.
But the Valley -- located in north Kashmir's frontier Kupwara district, and bestowed with picturesque pastureland and lush forests – was formally opened to tourists by state authorities on September 30th.
According to Lalpora police, the last gunfight in Lolab occurred July 15th last year when five Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militants and two army soldiers were killed.
"With violence declining and peace and normalcy gaining ground in the Valley for over a year, people – especially the jobless youth of Lolab – are looking forward to making income from tourism-related activities," Riyaz Ahmad, an unemployed graduate, told Khabar South Asia. "I am planning to build a hotel in my native Chandigam for tourists."
Ahmad hopes the tourism industry will generate sustainable incomes. "Lolab is no less beautiful than other popular tourist destinations in Kashmir, and we are expecting a huge rush of tourists next season," he said.
Rolling out the red carpet
Tourism authorities have trained 130 educated Lolab youth in hotel management to provide quality services to visitors. Authorities plan to convert at least 100 residential homes into guest houses and cottages for tourists.
"We will also set up a few quality restaurants in Chandigam and Khumriyal," Kashmir Tourism Director Talat Parvez told Khabar. "Locals should be ready to provide services to the tourists. Our department will also print publicity brochures to woo the visitors to virgin destinations in Lolab."
Skilled hands in hotel management like Sajad Ahmad in the town of Charkote are enthusiastic and eager to serve. "This will earn me a handsome salary every month," he said.
A lift to local economy
Industry stakeholders believe picturesque Lolab can boost the local economy and will spare no expense to attract tourists.
"Foreign tourists in particular are fond of remote places with serene environs like Lolab," Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) President Rauf Ahmad Tramboo told Khabar. "It is for local people to take benefits and provide quality services to the visitors. The association will act as a bridge between locals and the tourists."
Kupwara Deputy Commissioner Samad Hafeez told Khabar, "Apart from providing basic facilities, the administration will ensure that more and more local people derive economic benefits from tourists."
Sight-seeing in Lolab
Apart from Chandigam, Khumriyal and Dardpora – places blessed with verdant forests and gushing streams, caves and old religious shrines – Kalaroose village in Lolab is famous for its copper mines and carved rocks called Sat Burn (seven doors).
"The shrines and caves are expected to attract hordes of tourists. We are ready to host the visitors after a long period of time," Mohammad Sultan, a trader from Kalaroose, told Khabar. "Fresh water springs, especially Kumarji Nag and Chandinag, are worth seeing."
Popular destinations including Mir Sadradin Sahab Shrine in Kanthpora and Mir Baba Nazuk Shrine in Devar Lolab witnessed a great rush of devotees and tourists before the outbreak of insurgency in 1989.