It has been subjected to repeated terrorist attacks for over two decades. Landslides blocking the Srinagar-Jammu highway leaving travellers stranded are an annual feature.
Yet Kashmir — touted as 'paradise on earth' — continues to be among the top tourist destinations for Indians. Neither security concerns nor hostile weather have managed to keep tourists away from the land of shikaras.
A survey conducted by Thomas Cook (India) Limited in September 2006 revealed that Kashmir featured on the top as the dream destination for 26 per cent Indians. Mumbaiites place Kashmir at number three — after Kerala and Goa — on the list of preferred domestic destinations.
"It is heartening to see that despite the unrest in the state, Kashmir hasn't been forgotten," Sachin Rampal, senior manager corporate communications, Thomas Cook (India) Limited, said. "People across generations know about Kashmir and want to travel there. It remains one of their dream destinations."
Kesari Tours — another popular tour operator — started organising tours to Kashmir three years ago. And the number of tourists opting for Kashmir has been on the rise since. This year, Kesari Tours sent 9,500 tourists from Maharashtra to Srinagar alone. "This year the numbers were the highest," Veena Patil, director, Kesari Tours, revealed.
Patil clarified that her company prefers not to take tours to the Valley between mid-November and mid-February given the weather conditions prevailing there. "If we offer packages even during these months people will come but we do not find it safe," she explained. But according to Rampal the weather is not deterrent but an attraction for tourists.
And it is not just Kashmir but also other north-Indian destinations like Shimla and Kulu Manali that are popular. "We sent around 11,000 tourists to Himachal Pradesh this year," Patil stated. "In fact, Shimla and Kulu Manali attract tourists throughout the year."
Vaishnodevi is another sure-shot stopover for nearly 75 per cent tourists visiting Kashmir. "All these tourists are from middle class and upper middle class families mainly from the Gujarati, Maharashtrian and Bengali communities," Patil added.