The flights are full, new buildings tell of a growing demand for hotel rooms and motley crowds on the banks of the Dal lake signal that the paradise once considered lost may yet be regained.
Kashmir appears to be firmly back on the tourist map.
Last year, more than 1.4 million tourists thronged Srinagar, the highest in two decades, before protests across the Kashmir Valley put an end to that. This year, locals and travel industry analysts expect record tourist arrivals.
“From April 1-June 15, our hotel bookings have gone up more than four times compared to that last year,” said Tarique Khatri, vice-president of cleartrip.com, a travel solutions company.
“All hotels are occupied to capacity,” said Nazir Rah, owner of the Rah group of hotels and resorts in Sonmarg, Srinagar.
“Looking at the demand and unprecedented rush, we have rented out rooms but officially, we inaugurate our hotel only on June 25.”
According to travel portal yatra.com, Kashmir has emerged as the most attractive tourist hotspot this summer with the demand for travel packages to the Valley nearly trebling. “Not just packages, even additional services including the entire inventory for houseboats and rented helicopter services from Pahalgam are sold out,” said Khatri.
Flight bookings have seen a nearly 75% jump this year compared to last year.
Tourists returning from Srinagar said the state's infrastructure, especially the airport, needs a leg up. “The Srinagar airport is unable to handle the tourist inflow as it has never seen such traffic,” said Mehak Hirani, a Delhiite recently back from a Valley vacation.