Terrorism to Tourism

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April. 9 – Kashmir once called Paradise on Earth, is back to promoting itself as a tourist destination after a 20 year hiatus, when tourists flocked to it for its intricately latticed houseboats, lofty Himalayan mountains, green pastures, and fresh clean air.

The Northern Indian state is trying to attract wealthy tourists to play golf in its rolling hills in a bid to earn some revenue and change its image as a terrorist hideout. Certainly, the price is right — just US$20 for a round on the 18-hole course, US$10 for a golf cart rental and US$3 for a caddy

Excerpts from The New York Times say that the state is spending US$6.2 million to build a golf course in the winter capital, Jammu, to be completed later in the year, the fifth course in the region, and an international airport is scheduled to open in the summer.

Lyrical brochures declare the state to be a “golfers’ paradise,” and officials have been dispatched to tourism conferences in London, Berlin and Dubai to persuade the world of Kashmir’s golfing attractions.

Introduced by the British during the Raj, the game has recently become a symbol of the new and increasingly wealthy India. And Kashmir’s government believes that golf will attract tourists who spend more than the penny-pinching backpackers who still come to trek in the mountains and stay on Srinagar’s latticed wooden houseboats.

As the violence wanes, tourism is undergoing a tentative recovery, although the United States and most European countries still advise their citizens not to visit Kashmir, excluding the safer Ladakh region. In 2007, 450,000 tourists came, 25,000 of them foreigners, and Mr. Akhtar hopes to double that number this year “if something very bad doesn’t happen.” Mr Akhtar is permanent secretary to the government tourism department, the most senior official in charge of tourism in Kashmir.

“People are going to Sri Lanka. People are going to Israel and Lebanon. But why not Kashmir? It’s safer here than New York,” he said. “Terrorism is a world phenomenon now. In 18 years of trouble, we have had only 25 tourist victims.” No tourists have been killed here since July 2006, Mr. Shah Kashmir's Director of Tourism said.

Photo courtsey The New York Times