SRINAGAR, India – The idyllic Kashmir Valley opened to tourists on Thursday, over two months after the government’s travel advisory for the disputed region that is in the throes of a fresh turmoil due to the revocation of its semi-autonomous status.
However, the government’s ban on mobile phones and internet connectivity continues along with restrictions in parts of the valley that has been battling three decades of an anti-India armed rebellion.
The travel advisory was lifted after Governor Satya Pal Malik, a Central government appointee administering the region, directed the security department to revoke its Aug. 2 order “asking tourists to leave the valley.”
The advisory also forced thousands of Hindu pilgrims to make a hasty retreat before the end of an annual pilgrimage to a Himalayan cave shrine in south Kashmir.
It was issued in the thick of Kashmir’s tourist season, days before the government on Aug. 5 ended the Muslim-majority state’s special constitutional and bifurcated it into two centrally-administered union territories.
The move, which stripped Kashmir of the privilege of having its constitution, a separate flag, and limited self-governance, was preceded by a massive security lockdown.
An additional tens of thousands of troops were deployed in already one of the highest militarized regions in the world.
The revocation of the advisory has, however, cheered Kashmiris a little amid fears that the valley will have no visitors due to the turmoil.
“We don’t think anybody is going to visit here amid the ongoing communication blockade and a huge presence of (security) forces,” Ishtyaq Mir, manager of hotel Luxury in Srinagar, told EFE.
“How can you expect tourists in a black hole,” Mir said, referring to the so-called “information black hole” caused by the suspension of mobile phone and internet services.
Traders say the peak of Kashmir’s tourist season, from July to September, is already over.
“Our tourist season is already gone,” Athar Yamin, an office-bearer of Travel Agent Society of Kashmir, told EFE.
“There were more than 21,000 tourists and around 8,000 pilgrims in the valley when the advisory was issued. Since then, hotels and houseboats are running empty. All of us are fighting for survival,” Yamin said.
However, some traders were more apprehensive about the overall situation in the region.
Sadiq, a taxi driver who reveal6ed only his first name, told EFE that many issues needed to be addressed first before expecting tourists.
“We have thousands of people in jails, hundreds tortured and shops closed continuously,” Sadiq said.
He questioned why the communication blockade was not lifted and thousands of extra paramilitary troopers deployed across the valley called back if the situation is conducive for tourists to return.