Australia has advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Kashmir. But Australian Gary Weare has been visiting the Valley intermittently since 1970. He explains why.
"Kashmir," Weare said, "is no less safe than any part ofIndia for tourists to come." He believes the media, both domestic and foreign,have "not been very kind to Kashmir." Kashmir tourism players have time andagain rued that negative portrayal of Kashmir in the national media wasespecially keeping foreign tourists away. Having witnessed Kashmir for nearlyfive decades now, Weare has a nuanced understanding of the developments.
"If we look at the present circumstances, the (Pulwama)suicide bombing was militants attacking security forces. They were notattacking tourists, they weren't attacking Kashmiri people," Weare said.
"I love Kashmir because I certainly believe it needs supportthat the advisories are misplaced," he said.
Weare, author of an acclaimed travelogue 'A Long Walk in theHimalaya' is one of many tourists who are visiting Kashmir despite theirgovernments' advisories. In case of any eventuality, such 'rebel' touristscannot claim insurance cover.
Like Weare, Ru is currently on his first-ever visit toKashmir despite the advisory by his home country, England. He doesn't regretcoming here.
"Definitely I did theright thing by coming to Kashmir. There is a certain element of mysticism inKashmir. It certainly looks something different. Something you get a thaw fromfast style of living. I mean American style of living," said Ru.
"It is projected as a quite dangerous place. I found itquite contrary. I was told there are check posts at every point. It's not thereality," Ru said and plans to bring his wife next time.
"Media has a lot of role to play to clear negativeconception about Kashmir," said Ru.
Despite an uncertain political situation, a total of 20,258foreign tourists have visited the Valley till March this year, many of them,like Weare and Ru, ignoring the travel advisories.
Official data show the number of foreign tourists visitingKashmir has increased steadily in the past three years—from 24516 in 2016 to31697 in 2017 and 56029 in 2018.
The majority of the foreign tourists this year hail fromMalaysia (2945) and Indonesia (1010) followed by those from the tourismparadise Thailand (691).
The highest number of foreign tourists (67762) visitedKashmir in 1989, a year before the insurgency erupted.