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Foreign trekkers say militancy waning in J&K

Three foreign mountaineers, who travelled for around a month crossing over out-of-bound peaks and valleys in Zanskar, Kargil and Kishtwar suspected to be safe havens of militants during the heyday of militancy in the state, suggest militancy is waning in Jammu and Kashmir.

india Updated: Oct 31, 2011 19:40 IST
Peerzada Ashiq
Peerzada Ashiq
Hindustan Times

Three foreign mountaineers, who travelled for around a month crossing over out-of-bound peaks and valleys in Zanskar, Kargil and Kishtwar suspected to be safe havens of militants during the heyday of militancy in the state, suggest militancy is waning in Jammu and Kashmir.

Robin Boustead (43), an English adventurer, Helen Clements (38), a doctor from South Africa and Toni Wilson, a businesswoman from England trekked hundreds of kilometers from Manali in Shimla to Bardab in Zanskar to Kishtwar in Jammu region to finally reach to Srinagar in Kashmir region on Sunday.

"We started on October 3 in Shimla. Kashmir has a lot to offer to adventure tourists. There are beautiful untouched mountains and valleys. We saw Brown bear nurturing her child under a tree in a very natural way. It is only possible to see such things here," said Boustead, who is mapping Himalayan route from Nepal to Kashmir and has already covered 8,000 kilometres.

Number of foreign tourists trekking in Kashmir fell sharply in 1995 when six foreign tourists were kidnapped by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen shadow group Al-Faran in south Kashmir's Pahalgam area.

Since there were no trekkers' routes in the area, these mountaineers followed marks of snow leopards and Ibeks, mountain goat, to lay a route. "There are villages up there which has no memory of witnessing a foreigner or outsider... There are no stories of militancy up there neither did we confront any evidence pointing towards militancy," said Boustead.

Kishtwar was once a hub of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Hizbul Mujahideen militants in Jammu region. It was suspected that upper reaches in Kishtwar and Bhaderwah were dominated by militants with their camps and training centres during the peak of militancy. But, according to latest police figures, there are around 250 armed militants in entire Kashmir valley. "Most are in north Kashmir districts closer to the Line of Control with Pakistan occupied Kashmir," said a police officer.
The conflict image being projected across the globe did not dissuade these trekkers from embarking on the treacherous mountains of the valley.

"There was no fear in our minds. Danger is in every part of the world. Driving in a car can prove more dangerous at times. Should one give up driving then?" asked Wilson.

These trekkers have come as an icing on the cake with the Tourism department recording 11 lakh tourists this year, highest ever figures in the state.

Boustead, whose country Australia has issued a negative advisory on India and particularly on Kashmir along with Germany, was not deterred by his country's move.

"I take them (travel advisories) with a pinch of salt. Kashmir is perfectly civilized part of the world. Simple advisory is not at times representative of the situation. Instead, a caution list should be issued to travelers," said Boustead.

The trekkers, who claim to be ambassadors of Kashmir's peaceful zones, are planning to trek again for four months next year.

"There is an entrenched belief that Kashmir is dangerous and to add to this many tour operators in India do not sell Kashmir as safe place. It makes things worse," said the Australian trekker.

First Published: Oct 31, 2011 19:38 IST