TURNING THE TIDES | From bunkers to hotels, LoC areas witnessing border tourism boom

TURNING THE TIDES | From bunkers to hotels, LoC areas witnessing border tourism boom
Gk Photo

Baramulla, July 7: In a remarkable turn of events, the demand for constructing bunkers to shield against shelling near the Line of Control (LoC) in Uri sector of Baramulla district, as well as in Teetwal and Keran sectors of Kupwara district, has become a thing of the past. Instead, the focus has shifted towards redesigning homes into hotels, signifying a positive change in the region.

This transformation has been catalysed by the government's shift in strategy, which now emphasises promoting border tourism and exploring untapped destinations in India.

The pivotal moment arrived in February 2020 when India and Pakistan agreed to uphold the ceasefire agreement signed between the two nations in 2004. The agreement followed civilian casualties on both sides due to ceasefire violations. Of late, the success of the ceasefire agreement has brought renewed hope and optimism to residents residing in Keran, Teetwal, Machill, Uri, and Gurez.

Waqar Ahmad, a resident of Keran on the LoC, used to incessantly demand the construction of underground bunkers to safeguard his family from shelling and firing during ceasefire violations from across the LoC. However, after the successful two-year ceasefire agreement, Ahmad has transformed and redesigned his house into a hotel-like structure.

"We have embarked on converting our homes into homestays to bolster border tourism in Keran," Ahmad said. "We offer tourists visiting here a wide array of facilities. Moreover, we serve them delicious homemade Kashmiri cuisine, adhering to our traditions."

The locals acknowledge the Army for assisting them in attracting tourists and enabling them to earn a livelihood through border tourism.

Suhail Ahmad, another resident of Keran, said, “We are indebted to the Army and the local administration for their unwavering support.”

Once considered inaccessible to both locals and visitors from outside Jammu and Kashmir, border areas like Keran, Teetwal, and Uri now offer camping, trekking, and adventure activities. These areas have become prominent tourist attractions, just like the renowned destinations of Pahalgam and Gulmarg in Kashmir.

A senior Police officer stationed in Kupwara attributed this “positive change” to the efforts of the J&K government in promoting border tourism. The officer highlighted that apart from local visitors, tourists from other regions of India also flock to these border areas such as Teetwal, Keran, and Machill. “The locals have converted their homes into homestays, providing facilities for overnight stays. Additionally, visitors frequently visit Keran and Machill for camping experiences,” he said.

Regarding the formalities required for visiting the border areas along the LoC, the Police officer said that visitors need to apply for an online pass, which is issued by the office of the Deputy Commissioner (DC) within 24 hours. Bilal Ahmad of Baramulla, who camped with his family in Keran during Eid, praised the simplicity of the camping process.“Filling out a simple form and carrying a few photocopies, which are submitted at certain checkpoints, is all that is needed,” he said.

Over the past year, the government and the Army have undertaken various initiatives to promote border tourism. Recently, in collaboration with the Himachal Pradesh Paragliding Association Birbling Kangra, the Army organised paragliding activities in Kalaroos village. This village is known for its mysterious caves, which, according to local myths, have secret tunnels that extend all the way to Russia.

Furthermore, the government opened Kaman Post, also known as the Bridge of Peace, situated along the LoC in Uri, for tourists and the general public. This marked a significant moment of peace and tranquility in the region.

After being off-limits to the public for years, the Army has taken a step toward promoting the historic post as a tourist destination, made possible due to the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan. On the occasion of Eid-ul-Adha, people from Baramulla town and its surroundings flocked to Kaman Post in Uri to spend quality time with their families and friends.

Recently, the Army organised its inaugural yoga session at Kaman Post Uri, which witnessed enthusiastic participation from senior Army officers and students from the Army Goodwill School (AGS) Uri. A senior Army official said that in addition to opening Uri's Kaman Post to tourists, numerous tourism activities were being planned for the area. He expressed optimism, saying, "We can expect to see even more activities in this region in the times to come."

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