The people associated with the tourism sector- considered as the backbone of Kashmir’s economy, are hopeful that their livelihood would no longer witness the blow in future again.The hoteliers, restaurant owners, tourist guides and local ponny wallas say this year they have started receiving tourists beyond what they had expected.

           For a 45-year-old Abdul Hameed Sheikh, a horseman who takes tourists to mesmerising places, Kashmir is no longer a volatile and the most dangerous place on earth. According to him, people in hordes are coming to valley to visit the beautiful tourist places. Hameed, whose livelihood is directly dependent on the arrival of tourists, said that once was the time when it was difficult for him to survive. “After the militancy erupted in Kashmir, everyone was reluctant to visit this place. It had a direct impact upon our livelihood. I started working as a salesman in a shop for years with meagre income but now I am back to business,” says Hameed. Hameed is not alone who is witnessing the change in air.

         There are thousands like him in Kashmir who have started making a livelihood from the tourist arrival. The people associated with the tourism sector- considered as the backbone of Kashmir’s economy, are hopeful that their livelihood would no longer witness the blow in future again. The hoteliers, restaurant owners, tourist guides and local ponny wallas say this year they have started receiving tourists beyond what they had expected. Mohammad Ashraf a tourist driver says due to the violence in the past years, it was difficult for him even to repay the loan amount to the bank through which he had purchased his vehicle.

         “Now at last, there are people coming to valley and we have started earning pour livelihood once again. Earlier, it seemed impossible that anyone ever would risk his life and come to Kashmir,” Ashraf said. Bilal Ahmad, a local tour operator says this year even in a winter season, the number of tourists visiting Kashmir has increased manifold and the coming months would witness a boom if such a trend continues. “There is huge number of domestic tourists who are visiting Kashmir at present. There is no longer any fear in the minds of those visiting valley at present,” he said. Trekking on a treacherous muddy track, snaking through the hills in the midst of the majestic mountains and emerald streams of Sonamarg, 59-year-old Somindara Bandyopaday says “Kashmir is still the most beautiful place on earth.” It is after the 27 long years that this trekker hailing from Eastern India Kolkatta has managed to return to the place that once was his ‘second home’.

Director Tourism, Mehmood Shah says that Kashmir has no competitors in tourism but creating awareness among people of the outer world that it is safe to visit valley is needed.

       Fond of trekking since his childhood, Somindara says he still wonders whether there is some other place where one could find such breath taking treks. But it was at the onset of militancy that stopped this mountain lover to spend vacations in Kashmir. But now, things have drastically changed and life is returning to normalcy here. I am not frightful at all even if I travel for hours all alone.” Walking past the chinar trees in historic Mughal Gardens of Srinagar- constructed in Mughal period, a newlywed couple from north India’s Haryana says they at first were reluctant to spend their honnymoon i n v alley. “ Our parents fi rst confirmed whether things are really normal at this place. When they were satisfied then only they allowed us to go,” says Suraj who has been in valley for the last 12 days. So have the things really returned to normalcy. “Yes, there is no fear at all. People are very much hospitable.

         We have been to Gulmarg, Pahalgham and have taken a Shikara ride at the famous Dal Lake. It is mesmerising. There is no place on earth like Kashmir,” says the couple. Director Tourism, Mehmood Shah says that Kashmir has no competitors in tourism but creating awareness among people of the outer world that it is safe to visit valley is needed. According to Shah, floods affected Kashmir’s tourism a lot but the programs launched by the state government have started yielding results. “We are seeing that tourists are coming and the number will increase. Already travel marts, tourism conclaves are being held.

         The situation is turning in our favour now,” Shah said, adding that Valley continues to remain an ‘all weather’ tourist destination and for foreign tourists, facilities of golfing, water sports, cycling, skiing are available. Kashmir’s young generation of entrepreneurs too have started making investments into the tourism sector. Another young entrepreneur Asif Burza opened chain of hotels in Kashmir and is campaigning on huge scale about how safe Kashmir is for a travel “Earlier, we used to find a sought to fear in the minds of tourists coming to valley. Now we witness them enjoying every moment here,” says Burza.