For the first time ever in Jammu and Kashmir, tourist arrivals crossed the one million mark in 2008. It had never been so high even before the insurgency and violence began in 1989.
According to figures recently released by the state tourism department, there were 1, 049,000 tourists in the state last year, a significant increase over the 2007 figure of 6.56 lakh. In 1988, the last year of normalcy in the state, 7.22 lakh had visited.
This was despite the turmoil over the allotment of land to the Sri Amarnath Singh Board that hit the state from June 23 last year. Protests over the allotment of 100 acres of state owned land for the use of pilgrims trekking to the Amarnath cave — with Jammu residents insisting on it, and Kashmir valley residents opposing it strongly — carried on for months bringing down the Ghulam Nabi Azad led government that was in power.
“It is a record,” said tourism secretary Nayeem Akhtar. He hoped tourist arrivals would touch a still higher figure in 2009. “Now, we have bookings from April onwards. Things are looking up,” said Akhtar. “This year, there will another record.”
Once the troubles began tourist visits dropped sharply — to 5.57 lakh in 1989 and then the all time low of just 14,894 visitors in 1990, when the separatist movement hit its peak.
Akhtar said before the Amarnath land row broke out there had been around 4.99 lakh tourists and 1.50 lakh tourist-cum-pilgrims. “Had there been no agitation, there would have been still more visitors,” he said.
“The smooth conduct of elections sent out a powerful message,” he said. “Tourists started visiting the Valley in large numbers immediately after the elections.”
What’s more, investors are showing interests in Kashmir and the resumption of shooting by Bollywood stars like Sanjay Dutt has only added to the state government’s campaign that Kashmir had once again become a hot destination for 2009.