PRIME Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter on Wednesday to urge people in India to visit Kashmir to witness 1.5 million flowers in bloom in Srinagar's famous tulip garden which is being thrown open today. The PM also attached the picture of the garden to his tweet. Spread over an area of about 30 hectares the garden which is located in Zabarwan foothills was opened in 2007, to boost tourism in the Kashmir Valley by then chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Ever since thousands of tourists visit the garden during the limited period of bloom of tulips. Last year, no one could visit due to the Covid-19 lockdown which brought number of outside tourists to zero during April, May and June. This spring, there is an expectation of a bumper tourist season following a large tourist footfall in winter. In a recent statement to parliament, Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel said the number of tourists who visited in Jammu and Kashmir this year so far has been the highest in last 16 years.
This is a great news for the sector that has been devastated over the last two years. According to official data 8,42,202 tourists visited the valley in 2018, 4,99,582 in 2019, and only 28030 in 2020.
Since the end of last year, the tourism department has been trying hard to bring more visitors to the Valley by organizing tourism promotion programmes. And to this end, the tour and travel operators from Maharashtra were brought to initiate an 'Unlock Kashmir Tourism Campaign'. Similarly, after a long drawn effort by the successive J&K Governments to bring Bollywood back to Kashmir, the exercise is finally paying off. Tinsel town is showing signs of shrugging off its Kashmir scare and finding its lost paradise again.
But would tourists come in spring too just as they did in winter? Depends on how the situation evolves. Covid-19 pandemic remains a dampener though. With the country bracing for a second wave of infection, the situation could go back to square one. But there's one good possibility though. International travel will take a long way to return to normal. This, in a sense, offers tourist places like Kashmir some hope. Indian tourists who can't visit abroad, can visit the Kashmir within the country.
Tourism sector forms 6.8 percent of Kashmir's GDP and employs 2 million people. But the seven month siege following erasure of the region's autonomy followed by Covid-19 pandemic, the sector is in bad shape. A significant number of people associated with it have either been laid off or are in the process of losing their jobs. Here's hoping that this spring and summer, the tourism picks up. This will go a long way to shore up the Valley's battered economy.
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