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Home > Business > Business Headline > Report

Tourist flow to Kashmir rising

June 14, 2004 14:57 IST

Tourism to Kashmir has survived at full strength after a weekend hotel attack that killed 5 Indian visitors, as thousands of people flock to the scenic Himalayan region, an official said Monday.

"The tourist inflow to the Kashmir Valley continues unabated as more than 2,300 tourists arrived in Srinagar on Sunday," a government spokesman, Kulbushan Jandial, said.

A grenade attack on a hotel in the Pahalgam tourist resort on Saturday killed four tourists and injured 28 others. One of the injured died in hospital late Sunday, police said.

Rebel group al-Nasereen claimed responsibility and warned Indians not to visit the disputed Muslim-majority territory.

But tourists were undeterred.

"Kashmir is not 100 per cent normal yet. There can be attacks here and there but that doesn't mean we should stop coming," said Amit Kumar, a businessman from New Delhi who arrived in Srinagar with three friends.

"In Delhi I could die in an accident and here I may die of bullets or bombs. It doesn't matter at all," said his friend, Rajiv Kulkarni, also from the Indian capital.

The visitors rushed to telephone their families to let them know they had landed safely in Srinagar before checking in at a houseboat on Dal Lake, where troops patrolled on motorboats as tourists took rides on traditional Kashmiri gondolas.

More than 100,000 tourists visited Kashmir in the first five months of 2004, the biggest inflow since the Islamic insurgency broke out in 1989 and devastated the once-thriving hospitality business.

After Saturday's attack, senior government officials rushed to top attractions Sunday to reassure visitors, with Tourism Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir even joining tourists in river rafting.

"Despite the bombing, we did not change our programme," said tourist Jyoti Kaur, 26, from the northern Indian state of Punjab, who was visiting with her elderly parents. "We are not scared at all."

The attack did not stop officials from announcing the date for an annual pilgrimage to the Hindu cave shrine of Amarnath, which is reached in a gruelling mountain procession that has been attacked by rebels in the past.

Authorities said the pilgrimage would start on July 29 from the winter capital Jammu with some 3,500 visitors expected to take three days to reach the shrine, which Hindus consider an abode of the god Shiva.

Violence has ebbed in Kashmir since India and Pakistan, which both control parts of the Himalayan territory, launched a peace process in April 2003 and their leaders met in Islamabad in January this year.

But seven more people were killed in separatist-linked violence overnight, police said.

Among the dead were a father and son shot by masked gunmen in their home in southern Rajouri district, police said.

A police spokesman suspected rebels carried out the killings because the son, Mushtaq Ahmed, had previously worked for counter-insurgency forces.

At least 40,000 people have died in the 15-year insurgency, according to Indian officials.

Separatists who want Indian Kashmir to join Pakistan or become independent put the toll between 80,000 and 100,000.

-- AFP

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