Kashmir’s Fragile Calm: Tensions Take Backseat to Tourism

Kashmir's reputation as an idyllic vale has taken a battering over decades of separatist insurgency and brutal crackdowns by the Indian military. But, while tensions remain and the quest for justice continues, tourists are flooding back

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Yawar Nazir / Getty Images

Skiers walk in India's famous tourist resort Gulmarg, located just miles from the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, Jan. 28, 2012.

The Saturday crowd at the Gulmarg gondola is a frenetic throng of saddled horses, kulfi stands, groups of students and camera-wielding teenagers. Most of the day-trippers eschew the option to ascend from the Kashmiri hamlet of Gulmarg by foot or horse, preferring instead to buy a ride on the wire to the electric green fields of the Khilanmarg plateau in the Himalayan Pir Panjal range. The metal pods sweep a steady flow of tourists over the tall pines and purple lupine, occasionally swaying to a halt that elicits whoops and whistles from the giddy passengers suspended hundreds of feet in the fresh mountain air.

Tourism is Kashmir is back in full swing, with visitors fleeing to the high valley to escape summer’s heat as a semblance of peace — or at least, less violence — has gingerly settled over these lakes and mountains. Indian operators in high-altitude getaways outside Kashmir — like Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s retreat — which surged in popularity when the conflict was at its worst, are fretting about the loss of business as domestic visitors are returning in droves to the fabled destination. Last year, over a million tourists visited the region, and officials say they’re expecting more than twice that number in 2012.

(PHOTOS: The New ‘Kashmiri Intifadeh)

That’s good news for a region grappling with the combustible combination of lots of young people and not enough jobs. Despite the packed gondolas and the flotillas of supine tourists being paddled around Dal Lake’s glassy waters, the valley’s internecine conflict is never really not there. Since the late 1980s, tens of thousands of people have been killed by a separatist insurgency and India’s ensuing military crackdown. Civilian and military deaths have decreased tremendously since the conflict was at its peak in the mid-1990s, but tensions remain. On June 25, for instance, a 200-year-old Muslim shrine burned down in the capital, Srinagar, sparking protests against the slow response of firefighters that rapidly transformed into violent demonstrations against the Indian state as a whole. Even on uneventful days, security at the local airport is worryingly tight, and, with hundreds of thousands of Indian security forces still stationed around the region, camouflage trucks are ubiquitous on Srinagar’s clogged streets. A woman in Delhi, upon hearing about my weekend getaway to Srinagar, said that even though she grew up spending her summers there, she wouldn’t ever choose to spend a holiday in a place with so many gun-toting soldiers around. “I wouldn’t be able to relax,” she said.

She’s not alone. If Kashmir’s worst days are behind it, the painful act of facing atrocities committed during the bloody conflict still lies ahead. Last August, a report from Jammu and Kashmir’s State Human Rights Commission concluded that over 2,000 unidentified bodies, which the group acknowledged could belong to civilians, had been dumped in dozens of unmarked graves near the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. Residents had long been reporting to police that their family members were disappearing over the years, and for years the answer they got was that they must have slipped over the border into Pakistan to join the fight against India. “For years, Kashmiris have been lamenting their lost loved ones, their pleas ignored or dismissed as the government and army claimed that they had gone to Pakistan to become militants,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said last year as the organization called for an investigation into the deaths. Parvez Imroz, a lawyer whose advocacy sparked the official investigation into the unmarked graves, also has documentation suggesting that, statistically speaking, as many as 1 in 6 Kashmiris has been tortured, according to an article that ran this week in the Guardian.

(MORE: Will New Delhi Allow Its Troops in Kashmir to Face Prosecution?)

On the other hand, for all the justice still to be done, many in Kashmir would probably just as soon forget about it — or at least put off thinking about it for a while and enjoy the sun and ice-cold kulfi. In an April article in the Indian weekly Open called “Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy,” Manu Joseph writes that he met plenty of everyday folks in Kashmir who seemed perfectly happy with the newfound calm. “Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building — the elite fight to preserve it,” Joseph writes. “They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military. This might be a long period of calm, but if the wound vanishes, where is the justice?”

In Gulmarg, a steady stream of hearty souls who prefer to walk trudge uphill under the gondola. Even this high up, it’s hot, and halfway up, my hiking buddy and I take a break under a tree to watch people pass. A student in her school uniform — a plaid tunic, long pants and a headscarf — spots us and bounds over. “Please, can I have some water?” she pants, clutching a few plucked flowers and a small portable radio playing a scratchy tune. I hand her a bottle and she tips her head back to take a long, cold gulp. “Where are you from?” she then asks, still breathless. “Canada,” says my friend. The girl’s eyes widen briefly. “Well,” she says with certainty and a whiff of pride, “I’m from Kashmir.” And with that, she hops back onto the trail, leans into the slope and runs up. If kids like her are in charge someday, things might just be O.K.

VIDEO: Kashmir: Taking the Revolution Online

21 comments
tanveer.badyari
tanveer.badyari

Thanks for the beautiful description of the valley,  in the last two years Kashmir has seen a lot of growth  as a major tourist hub in northern parts of India, People flock to kashmir from all parts of India especially in summers to beat the heat and enjoy the vacations with their families . Every tourist coming for kashmir valley tour should visit places like gulmarg,  pahalgam, sonmarg which showcase the the real beauty of nature.

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

@Maaq:disqus 

Really??? In Islam you may not call castes but

you have much worse problems. Have you seen how Sunnis kill Shias and how Shias

kill Sunnis? Hindus at least do not kill other castes. You Muslims are known

all over the world as TERRORISTS! If you don't know that you must be living

under a rock or in a cave. You seem to be intoxicated on CAMEL COLA!

Maaq
Maaq

One Security personnel for every 5 citizens of Kashmir, more that 300,000 killed or disappeared. Kashmir is turned in to slaughter house by brutal Indian army.

bhayzone
bhayzone

 Population of Kashmir is around 4 million, so you mean 80% of the Indian army is just in Kashmir? Get your facts right and stop spreading crap.

Maaq
Maaq

 Right, please check in to the figures provided by Ex military chief  in Indian Defense Review. That's why they are Purchasing Globe Masters from USA so that they can easily redeploy armies from Kashmir to other areas of conflict. Do some reading and fact finding please.

aschwab84
aschwab84

I have been eyeing going skiing there for a while...but that sort of thing intrigues me.  Why people battle these "wars" on religion after thousands of years of pointless wars still baffles me....since we all know they have all worked out in the past.  

Shubham Thakur
Shubham Thakur

The separatists are only a bunch of fools backed by pakistan.They will never allow peace to prevail in the valley.Even history suggests that kashmir is an integral part of India.But unfortunately there are some fools in India who are also crying for azadi.And when it comes to Indian army, soldiers will always respond with a gun to a terrorist.Indian military is trying its best to maintain peace in the valley.Its because of them that tourism is increasing.

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

Muslims NEVER belonged to the subcontinent. They were the invaders from Arabia. Most Muslims in the sub continent are off springs of Hindus forcibly converted to Islam by the Muslim invaders under the threat of violence. Hence Muslims have no right for Kashmir. Pakistan was an Indian gift to Muslims. If Kashmiri Muslims want a country of their own, they can migrate to Pakistan. India has give a large piece of land to Muslims called Pakistan and they can live there. Also since Muslims live in 7th century dark ages with their Sharia BS, do you really want to see Taliban and Al-Qaeda run Kashmir? 

Maaq
Maaq

No we don't want Al-Qaeda to run Kashmir but Hindus for sure can not run Kashmir either, Get some of your 21st Century Refreshing Cow Cola that will cool you down. Let me correct you first, Invaders from Afghanistan not from Arabia. secondly your logic that Muslims have no right to Kashmir is worse that Gandhi's Gay logic of " Free India" which as a result broke India. One more update for your info, Pakistan is not Large piece of Land it is 1/3 of India. Last but not least: Sikhs, Nixels, Mao's, Dilats and Muslims in India are looking for gifts.

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

Interestingly in your reply you left out Taliban, so it

appears you want Taliban to run Kashmir. HINDUS will run Kashmir whether you like it or not just like Jews run Palestine whether you like it or not. 

About the cow cola, as I mentioned all you Muslims in the

sub-continent which includes Pakistan also are off-springs  of

Indian women raped and forcibly married to invading Muslims. So you probably drink  half a cup of cow cola yourself. Also if you are insulting Hindus you are insulting yourself.

In addition it appears that you are also not very well educated.

Gandhi never said "Leave India" It is your moron Jinnah wanted a

separate country for the Muslims. India was magnanimous enough to let 150 million Muslims live in India unlike Muslims in Pakistan who slaughtered Hindus.

I am sure you know that Israel, US and India rule the world. We

set prices for your oil. We take your oil whether you like it or not. 

We are the most developed and advanced in the world.

I have a better idea, we will sell Kashmir to Israel for its

settlements. Let us see what you are going to do about it. Israel knows how to handle you guys really well.

After that you will beg to be with India.

You are our slaves whether you like it or not.

Maaq
Maaq

Very Good I like your thoughts, A typical Hindu brain works like that, for sure all the casts other than Hindu Brahmans are slave to them.  First you were worried about Arabian invaders now you want to sell it to Israel why not to Kashmiris ?.

Looks like your Cola in not cold enough.

RobinRath
RobinRath

You filthy hindus occupy our land and then tell us to migrate to pakistan.Go take care of your slum dog people who live on less than $1 before you drive us to pakistan.

Amita Gupta
Amita Gupta

The writer has

successfully pointed out the grievances of the people of Kashmir, but the

article portrays a half picture and a half story. There is no mention of how

such a terrible scenario was arrived at. To start with the demand for a separate

country on the basis of religion is entirely wrong ( People of Jammu and Ladakh

comprising largely of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhist population are not in

support of ‘Azadi’). Since muslims form a dominant majority in the state they

are seeking their own interest only, a dream of a muslim land). Quoting the

example of my own family that fled from Layalpur (present Pakistan) to evade

forced conversions and settled in Mirpur (Presently P.O.K), they again had to

flee to seek shelter in Jammu. Now imagine if Jammu and Kashmir is granted ’azadi’,

then minorities should be ready to flee once again to other parts of India? Just

because a particular community is not able to live with the people of other

faiths, should minorities keep running from their homes for their survival?

 Back in the 1990's, there was massive islamisation

of Kashmir, the whole Kashmiri Pandit community was forced to migrate. Even

now, when the government is trying to rehabilitate migrants back to Kashmir valley,

it’s being termed as an Isreal-type plan, threats are being issued to foreign

tourists for wearing dresses termed indecent by them. Still, people from the

state are found to be involved in terrorist activities in India. 

The people rightly have their grievances

against the military and the state should definitely address it, but somehow we

tend to forget the human rights of the people serving in the military,

thousands of army men have been brutally killed in the state, stone pelting at

the armed forces for every minor issue is a common scenario and for a soldier

surviving in such harsh terrains, harsh, not only in terms of weather but also

in terms of hostility and being unsafe is not short of an ordeal. 

Being a human, I want to see justice being done,

smiles on the faces of brethren but at the same time I wish they would just

change their perspective and see India from a new angle. (which is not as

unjust as they claim it to be)  

Maaq
Maaq

Thousands of army men have been brutally killed in the state by stone pelting?. What are

they doing there in first place? please get your head out of your but, drink some Cow Cola it may help your forced conversion fever down then you will not look like a fool in Indian paradize.

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

what are they doing there in the first place?

What are YOU doing there in the first place?

Get the f*amp;^k out of Kashmir and go back to the stupid Arabia or Afghanistan that you came from. You don't belong there and you don't have a right to demand anything.

I am proud that India is a secular democratic country in which people from all religions live together. We respect all religions including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam . If you want a country based on religion, you are free to go to Pakistan

150 million Muslims live in India. No body is forcing them to stay in India. They are free to go to Pakistan anytime they want. Same with YOU.

dollyrama
dollyrama

Free Kashmir!

bhayzone
bhayzone

 It's already free and doing well, thank you. Now can you get to freeing your beloved Pakistan.