Terming Kashmir as a safe place for tourists, a delegation of tour operators from different parts of the country, who were on a familiarisation tour of the Valley, today called upon the people to visit the “heaven on earth”, saying the atmosphere here was “totally positive.”
“We have seen a total positive atmosphere here in the Valley right from the airport. Till now in these 20 years (since the militancy broke out in Kashmir), no untoward incident has happened with any tourist in Kashmir. They remained safe here, feel safe and it is safe here,” Satish Shah of Pooja Holidays Mumbai told PTI here.
Shah was part of a 25-member delegation of tour operators on a Familiarisation tour of the Valley on the invitation of the Department of Tourism, Kashmir.
During their stay of four days in Kashmir, the tour operators visited many famous places of the Valley, including Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Srinagar to assess the situation after months of unrest following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani in July.
Shah said people outside the state were worried because of the situation but the tour operators would now assure them that the place was safe for the tourists.
“They are a little worried because of what we get to hear from the media. However, we will assure them that it is totally safe here and there is no comparison whatsoever of the hospitality here. Now, we have to bring back that flow of tourists which was broken because of the situation. We have to bring back the tourists to the heaven on earth,” he said.
Shah said no other destination in the world is like Kashmir. “The tourists must come here. I have visited many places around the globe. This is a much better place than Switzerland. What you cannot enjoy there even after spending Rupees three Lakh, you can here enjoy by just spending around Rs 25-30 thousand.
“We are taking this message that this heaven is totally safe and there is no problem and the people here are waiting to welcome you. There is no destination like Kashmir, not only in India but in the whole world,” he said.
The tour operator said Kashmir was their most favoured destination and they would promote it with full dedication. They have even started an exclusive Kashmir-themed office in Mumbai to attract the intending visitors.
“Almost 50 per cent of our yearly turnover is of Kashmir, but the place is not just our bread and butter, it is our life. For the first time in Mumbai, we recently opened a new office for Kashmir only which has an exclusive Kashmir gallery where various famous places of the Valley are being promoted,” he said.
Another tour operator, Sudhir Patani of Patani Tours, Mumbai, said Kashmir was their second home.
“We feel Kashmir is like our second home. We are so related to the Valley that whenever we visit here, we feel like at home. We are very much positive, the CM (Mehbooba Mufti) gave us assurance and the department is taking steps. The people are so eager to visit. I expect that there will be such a huge rush of tourists here now that the Valley can barely cope, he said.
He said while the tour operators were facing losses due to the situation in the Valley, they were “hopeful of seeing the same hustle-bustle in Kashmir” which was here before July.
“We did not feel that there is any problem in moving around here. We are planning press conferences in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Kolkata once we return so that we sent a message across to the people that whatever is being fed to them (through media), there is nothing like that. Kashmir is very safe and you can go ahead with what you are planning,” Patani said.
Similar views were echoed by Gujarat-based Navbharat Holidays director Rohit Thakkar, who said that the tourists should visit the Valley and the government should try to dispel the apprehensions of the people.
“We had a good time here. The place is absolutely safe. The tourists should visit in large numbers but the government must try to dispel the apprehensions the people outside the state have. They should be assured,” Thakkar said.
The delegation said they had interactions with many stake-holders in the Valley who all pitched for the return of the tourists.
“We have had interactions with the local travel fraternity, local taxi unions and pony wallas. Overall, the experience has been good. It is just that the tourist flow should now start and we are receiving a very good response from the people on our social media posts.
“They as well as the people here want that tourism comes back to its original glory in Kashmir,” said Vishvajeet Patil of Mumbai-based Raja Rani Travels, known to bring a lot of tourists to the Valley.
Patil said tourism was the “backbone of Kashmir and should not be affected.”
“We are from Mumbai and have had a lot of similar episodes but that does not curtail life in Mumbai. So, also I feel that life or tourism, that is the backbone of Kashmir, should not be affected. These things happen and it is sometimes blown out by the media or by some other angle.
“But we have not felt any kind of restrictions in our movement or enjoyment. We moved freely and were not under any security cover. We feel that the place is ready to welcome the tourists in a big way, he stressed.