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FROM JAMMU & KASHMIR
Changing Kashmir
With reduced level of violence, tourists are thronging the Kashmir Valley
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
Summer is back in Kashmir. Roses and tulips are in full bloom, dotting the acres of rolling meadow, stretching to the horizon and gently merging with the sapphire of the sky. It is unabashed beauty, in colours like scarlet, ochre, white, peach, turquoise and pink, almost naked in it starkness which takes your breath away by its sheer audacity.

But even more breathtaking are the hordes of tourists who have descended on the Valley. From every part of India, they are everywhere, with children in tow, merrily honking on the roads, pushing for photo-op in the Tulip Gardens, thronging the Shalimar and the Nishat Bagh, and of course jostling for the shikara rides on the Dal lake. If one were to look for signs of normalcy, one needn’t even step out of the fledgling Srinagar airport, which is undergoing transformation at the moment. In a few years it will be bigger, better and international to boot. But in the summer of 2008, its facilities are pushed beyond redemption. With nearly a dozen flights every day (not much by any stretch, but unprecedented in Kashmir), the small airport induces claustrophobia, as people park themselves everywhere. In any other Indian city, this would have led to angry reactions, but in Srinagar the chaos is causing cheer.

So has peace finally returned to the turbulent Valley? There are no easy answers. Most people still prefer the cautious, ‘there is certainly a lot less violence’. The word normalcy still does not come easily. Because though there are more people on the road than the security personnel, the uniformed force still has the knack of appearing in the most unexpected quarters. The bunkers are less visible, but if you look for them, then there is one every few metres. Yet there are increasing signs of the good times, particularly in the Srinagar city. The streets are bustling with people. In the afternoon the roads almost get clogged with the school buses vying for space with the regular traffic. A swanky cafeteria has come up, where though one still does not find dating couples, many youngsters hang out. Then, there are the tourists; the biggest evidence that fun has replaced fear.
For the last three years, every year has seen an increase in tourist traffic to Kashmir. This year is no different. With the decreasing levels of violence, the numbers of tourist have been increasing. Even the Hindi film industry has returned to the Valley after a long hiatus. Film actor and politician Shatrughan Sinha’s son Luv is shooting for his debut Sadiyaan in the Tulip Gardens in Srinagar, and his leading lady is a local Kashmiri girl.
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