Kashmir is renowned for its natural beauty and warm hospitality. Yet, the true magnificence lies along the borderlands, where flowing waters and lush greenery create a mesmerizing tapestry.
Since the establishment of peace, these picturesque destinations have gained traction in the realm of tourism, with the development of border tourism gaining widespread popularity.
Previously, these areas remained unexplored by travelers, visitors, and even local tourists due to the constant threat of infiltration and cross-border firing. The repercussions of such incidents were felt deeply by civilians.
However, the abrogation of Article 370 chocked-off border infiltration and cross-border shelling. This not only paved the way for the advancement of border tourism but also opened avenues for economic growth and local involvement.
Today, a noticeable surge in offbeat tourist destinations is evident. Hidden gems like Keran, Lolab, Machil, Teetwal, Tangdhar, Gurez, Tulail, and Uri have garnered attention.
These locations boast captivating vistas with snow-capped peaks and gushing waters cascading over rugged rocks, all set against breathtaking landscapes.
These places have emerged as novel tourist destinations in Kashmir, yet only a handful of people from both within the valley and outside are aware of these stunning spots, which extend beyond the popular destinations of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.
As a step towards fostering border tourism, the Jammu and Kashmir government, in collaboration with the army - whose efforts have been instrumental in establishing peace - is rapidly undertaking the task of opening up, developing, and enhancing infrastructure in offbeat border destinations.
Over the course of just three years, substantial progress has been achieved in implementing various developmental projects aimed at ensuring convenient and comfortable travel experiences for tourists.
Over the past three years, a significant surge in visitors has been observed at these lesser-known tourist spots, surpassing the attention garnered by even the Line of Control (LoC) region.
This accomplishment owes its success to the establishment of peace and the reduction of infiltration to virtually zero levels. Consequently, this transformation has breathed new life and renewed optimism into the residents of border areas.
The development of border tourism not only yields economic benefits and enhances engagement but also offers health advantages.
Border regions are replete with adventure, often enveloped in verdant forests, flowing streams, lush meadows, towering mountain passes, and peaks.
These destinations remained off-limits due to security concerns and inadequate infrastructure and connectivity. However, they have now transcended their previous limitations and become accessible to the public.
As time has progressed, individuals from local, national, and international spheres have embarked on journeys to explore these offbeat locales, teeming with joy and excitement.
In recent years, the development of roads, improved connectivity, the establishment of home stays, availability of tents, and unrestricted access to previously restricted areas have successfully diverted the attention of travelers and tourists, consequently promoting border tourism.
Significantly, apart from enhanced connectivity, resting facilities and museums for visitors have also been established. Notably, this year has witnessed two important developments, namely:
The Shina Culture Centre in Gurez: It stands as a testament to the collaborative efforts of the Indian army and the local community, reflecting their commitment to promoting the rich heritage of the Dard-Shin tribal community.
The Centre was recently inaugurated by the Lt. Governor of JKUT, strategically positioned within the picturesque Gurez valley. Its primary purpose is to both preserve and showcase the vibrant cultural legacy of the Dard-Shin people.
Named after Shinon Meers, the Shina Cultural Centre is a distinctive initiative that pays homage to the preservation of Shina Culture and the essence of the Shina Dard-Shin community.
This institution serves as the first museum dedicated to the Dardis, tracing the evolution of Shina Culture, language, and the unique way of life in Gurez. Within its walls, a wealth of artifacts, monuments, and precious items vividly illustrate the essence of Shina culture.
Beyond providing valuable insights to travelers, the centre offers historians a platform to delve into both tangible and intangible forms of art. It also stands as a vibrant space for the community to share their stories and exhibit their cherished traditions.
Nestled along the banks of the Kishanganga River and tucked behind the Lala Ded Peak, the Shina Culture Centre's location adds to its charm, making it an enchanting destination for tourists. This initiative serves to spotlight the cultural legacy of the Shina community, marking a pioneering effort.
Situated at the heart of Gurez, the Centre presents a unique opportunity for visitors and tourists to immerse themselves in the bygone days of the Dard-Sin community's way of life.
Gurez, situated in the Bandipora district of northern Kashmir, is renowned for its educational and scenic attributes. The district is particularly famous for housing Asia's second-largest freshwater lake, Wular Lake, enveloped by mountains and water bodies. Gurez, located in proximity to the Line of Control (LoC), only 123 kilometers away from Srinagar, stands as an enticing destination frequently explored by people.
The ephemeral beauty of Gurez remains accessible for only three months due to heavy snowfall. However, during this window, Gurez stands as one of the most captivating offbeat tourist destinations in the Kashmir valley. The flowing waters of the Kishanganga River at the base of the mountains amplify the allure of the region.
Named as Shinon Meers, the Centre acts as a beacon of insight into the Shina Culture, people, traditions, and ways of life of the Shina community residing in Gurez.
Gurez's history is steeped in significance, with its valley intertwined with numerous historical events. This initiative serves to draw visitors' attention to the Dard-Shin community and their significant contributions to the nation-building process.
Notably, the Shina Cultural Centre was completed within 90 days, showcasing the dedicated effort to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the Dard-Shin community in the Gurez region.
The museum is the result of collaboration among various institutions and encompasses a diverse range of features, including digital displays, exhibits, artifacts, textiles, interactive boards, and distinct sections.
These sections delve into Dardistan, Kishanganga River, Gurezi way of life, Language Section, Symbiotic Relationship with the Indian Army, Souvenir Section, and an AV room. Particularly significant is the Sand Art section, which will portray Operation ERAZE, an Indian Army operation conducted for the liberation of Gurez in 1948.
Transit facility at Sadna Top: Tourists heading to Tangdar/Tweetwal are required to cross Sadhna Pass, also referred to as Sadna Top, which was previously known as Nastachun Pass.
Situated in the northern Kashmir district of Kupwara, this mountain pass is located within the expansive Shams Bari mountain range, at an elevation of approximately 3,130 meters (10,269 feet) above sea level.
Sadna Top is renowned as one of the most famous peaks in the Kashmir valley, exuding a magnetic charm with its surrounding mountains and breathtaking beauty. Its name was changed to Sadna after Bollywood actress Sadhna Shivdasani's visit to the pass following the 1965 war, during which she uplifted the spirits of Indian soldiers stationed at Sadna Top.
Sadhna Top often experiences high winds and fog, making it a challenging passage. To address this, the Indian army has recently established a transit facility, offering a much-needed resting place for tourists.
This facility proves particularly advantageous during adverse weather conditions, providing visitors with a space to rest while also enlightening them through the exhibits housed within the transit-cum-museum center at Sadna Top.
Notably, travelers are now enjoying their journeys without encountering the difficulties of security checks. Previously, this pass was considerably inconvenient during travel; however, this transit facility has alleviated these challenges for both locals and visitors alike. It encompasses a waiting area and a refreshment corner, offering comfort to transient visitors.
Within the facility, informative boards have been strategically placed, depicting the rich history, culture, and traditions of the Karnah valley. The presence of a security museum at the pass ensures smooth movement and eases travel-related concerns. This transformation has turned the pass into a resting place, greatly enhancing the convenience of the public.
In recent years, border tourism has gained significant momentum, leading to the newfound popularity of remote destinations that were once considered unimaginable to visit.
This surge in popularity can largely be attributed to the rapid development of infrastructure. Notably, Tangdar, Karen, Tweetwal, and Gurez have all undergone transformative changes and witnessed substantial advancements over the past three years. These changes encompass both developmental improvements and an increased flow of tourists.