About half a dozen scenic places located along the Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan-controlled J&K in north Kashmir are luring tourists from across the country thanks to the cessation of firing agreed upon by the two countries three years ago to give peace a chance.
The scenic valleys and meadows of Baramulla, Kupwara, and Bandipore districts that were tucked away in remote areas have been receiving good tourist footfall since February 2021, when India and Pakistan agreed to end the frequent exchange of firing on the LoC.
The ceasefire has rekindled hopes of peace, prosperity, and development among the locals.
The scenic locations, hitherto unexplored that have been attracting tourists from across the country for two and a half years include Kaman Post or Aman Sethu near Uri in Baramulla district on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, Teetwal, Bangus, Keran, and Machchil in Kupwara and, Gurez in Bandipore.
Aman Setu or Kamaan Post in Uri
In Jammu division, Suchetgarh and R S Pura areas along the international border (IB), are also getting a flow of tourists, both local and from outside J&K.
To make the most of the peace, the government has identified 75 new destinations for development. The Tourism department is currently developing these and locals are ecstatic about the changes it will make in their lives in the coming years.
“Last year, the concept to promote tourism in the areas to expose their history, scenic splendour, and unique culture of the locals by developing tourist villages was launched”, said an official of the Tourism Department.
Instead of building big hotels, the Department has been working to develop homestays that will eventually generate employment for the youth and end the relative economic backwardness of these remote areas.
Keran village from where tourists can see the people of POK
Bangus, a mini-Valley, located about 150 km from Srinagar and Gurez, home to Dard-Shin people and right on LOC will take time to have facilities, and yet both places are seeing huge footfall of tourists daily.
In September 2021, the Government of India announced plans to develop border areas, particularly in North Kashmir that have a huge potential.
One of the most important destinations, Kaman Post near Kaman Bridge or Aman Sethu near Salamabad-Uri on the Srinagar-Muzafarabad, has turned into a major attraction for tourists, both locals and outsiders. At least 16,000 tourists visited the spot between May and July this year.
This location first became popular among the local tourist as they flocked to see the bridge from 2003-2006.
The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service connecting divided families on either side of the LoC was launched by the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on April 7, 2005, followed by cross-border trade in October 2008. The 120-km road from Srinagar is an all-weather link to Kaman Post.
Local youth in Gurez receiving training in snow skiing
Both the passenger bus service and the cross-border trade stand suspended due to the freeze in the relations between India and Pakistan.
Teetwal, close to the LoC in the Kupwara district, has become yet another important destination where Shardapeeth temple on the banks of Kishenganga river was thrown open in March. A lot of pilgrims have been coming to the temple and locals are offering homestays to the pilgrims.
Though the 85 km Srinagar-Teetwal road is not a fair weather road, on average 20-30 pilgrims have been visiting the shrine daily.
Gurez Valley, 141 km from Srinagar, is fast becoming a popular tourist destination, though the area remains cut off from the rest of the valley for more than four months of winter due to heavy snow on the high peak Razdhan Pass.
Of the five high-peak mountain Passes, Razdhan Pass, at a height of 11600 ft from sea level, presents the most beautiful scenery in Kashmir. “During the past two years, a lot of development has taken place in the area. Almost 95 percent of the road from Bandipore is completely developed…There are several facilities available now like food outlets, homestays and about 300 tented accommodation”, said Faheem Altaf an adventurous biker from Bandipore, visiting the area frequently every season.
Shardapeeth temple in Teetwal
Machil, a tehsil headquarter, 52 km from Kupwara town is also known as the valley of potatoes. It is a small beautiful valley with green meadows and mountains.
The fresh ceasefire along the borders between India and Pakistan, which came into effect in February 2021, is the second such step toward peace and development during the past three decades. Since the eruption of militancy late in 1989, coupled with cross-border infiltration of armed militants, the first ceasefire remained in force between 2003 and 2006.
“Mostly adventurous youth prefer to visit the area”, he said. Gurez has a population of about 40,000 with little agricultural produce except for potato, Rajmah (Kidney beans), and Zeera (Cummin), while its mountain peaks form the dividing line between India and Pakistan.
Keran village, 40 km from Kupwara town is attracting bloggers who can easily communicate with the POK residents on the other banks of the river. People on both sides wave at each other and go into simultaneous dancing bouts and all this interaction is getting traction on social media.