J&K: As the dark clouds of 30-year-long Pakistan-sponsored terrorism are disappearing from Jammu and Kashmir, the tourism industry is fast becoming the identity of the region.

The efforts of the Tourism Department to rejuvenate the industry are being acknowledged and rewarded at different levels. In the recently held India Today Tourism Survey, Jammu and Kashmir was chosen as the best adventure tourism destination in the country.

Earlier this month South Asian Travel Trade Expo (SATTE), one of the biggest domestic travel marts, awarded Jammu and Kashmir for their best post-COVID-19 business recovery.

In 2022, nearly 1.88 crore tourists visited the Union Territory due to the calibrated post-COVID-19 initiatives that the Tourism Department took to revive the sector.

After August 5, 2019 -- when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcate it into two Union Territories -- the government has diversified the tourism products to attract the visitors and the idea has worked. The tourism season in Jammu and Kashmir is no longer confined to a few months. It has become an all-season activity.

Exploring New Destinations:

New trekking routes, rafting and adventure activities have been added to make adventure tourism popular. Many areas that remained unexplored during the past three decades of turmoil have been brought on the tourism map.

Border tourist destinations like Gurez, Bangus Valley and Uri in North Kashmir were among the most visited places in 2022. Last year, Gurez was adjudged as the best offbeat destination in the country.

The government during the past three years has added 75 new tourist destinations in the list of tourist spots to make visiting J&K a memorable experience for visitors. To facilitate the boarding arrangements in the new tourist destinations the government has been focusing on homestays to maintain the scenic beauty and the ecology of the areas.

In 2023, the Tourism Department is expecting a 15 to 20 per cent increase in footfall.

Politicians Enjoying Too:

Notably, Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy in his recent speech spoke about the record surge in J&K tourism and without naming senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi (who was seen enjoying skiing in Gulmarg with his sister Priyanka Vadra Gandhi) stated that some politicians also are enjoying in Kashmir now.

After 2019, the Centre made a record allocation of Rs 786 crore in the budget for the upliftment of the tourism sector in Jammu and Kashmir.

The progressive and transformative initiatives, and the liberal funding provided by the Centre have changed the landscape of the Union Territory.

Jammu and Kashmir has become the most happening place in the country as its pristine glory stands restored. Cultural and musical shows have replaced the sounds of bullets, grenades and bombs.

Peace returning to Kashmir has proven to be a blessing for a common man. The Valley has not witnessed a shutdown for even a single day or any stone-pelting incident post abrogation of Article 370, a temporary provision in the Constitution of India.

Pathbreaking Initiatives:

Hotels, guest houses and houseboats have been witnessing full occupancy as the beauty of Kashmir has mesmerized the tourists.

The government has explored the topographical and geographical features of the Himalayan region to promote tourism and adventure sports. The requisite mechanism has been put in place to make tourist destinations accessible.

During the past three years, several fairs and promotional activities have been organized in different states of the country to ensure that the inflow of tourists into Jammu and Kashmir gets a boost.

The focus on tourism has helped in creating employment avenues for skilled and unskilled youths.

This year thousands of tourists thronged the resorts like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and other places in Jammu and Kashmir to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Hotels and resorts recorded 100 per cent occupancy even in the winter season as the visitors arrived to enjoy snowfall.

Steps taken for the restoration of the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar have added to the beauty of these historical places.

Last year the Jammu and Kashmir Government and Mumbai-based JSW Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the conservation, restoration and maintenance of the Mughal Gardens at Nishat and Shalimar.

According to the MoU, the JSW Foundation extended technical and financial support, while the J&K Government provided assistance and funding for the project through support resources and other infrastructure.

In March 2021, the night flight operations commenced from Srinagar Airport thus fulfilling a long pending demand of the tourism players to improve Kashmir's connectivity with the rest of the country.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) picked Srinagar among 49 cities as part of the creative city network under the Crafts and Folk arts category. This inclusion paved the way for the city to represent its handicrafts on the global stage through UNESCO. It was a major recognition for Jammu and Kashmir on a global platform.

Jammu and Kashmir tourist village network under "Mission Youth" has helped in introducing the idea of rural tourism. The initiative has transformed 75 villages of known historical, picturesque, beauty and cultural significance into tourist villages. It has also promoted youth-led sustainable tourism, community entrepreneurship and has empowered the people in rural areas.

The idea of connecting the religious places, especially in Jammu region, through a tourism circuit has led to the increase in footfall of tourists visiting temples and shrines.

Security Forces Play Significant Role:

After 2019, Jammu and Kashmir has swiftly moved towards development. Jammu and Kashmir Police and other security forces have played a major role in J&K's transformation from a terror-hit region into a most favourite tourist destination in the country. The security personnel have cornered the terrorists and the anti-national elements, who at the behest of their handlers sitting across the Line of Control, were responsible for ruining the Union Territory.

The security forces and the investigating agencies have dismantled the terror ecosystem and have almost stuck the last nail in the coffin of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. People have supported the moves of the government by rejecting the idea of separatism.

As of date every place in Jammu and Kashmir has become vibrant and is moving towards prosperity. The days of anarchy and agents of Pakistan calling the shots have ended. A new dawn has broken out in a strife-torn region, which witnessed a Pakistan-sponsored onslaught for 30-long years.