Army is putting in relentless efforts to pull out Jammu and Kashmir from despair and uncertainty which it witnessed during the past 30-years due to Pakistan sponsored terrorism.
The Army besides fighting terrorists has been taking various steps to help the local populace in one or other way. The Army Goodwill Schools, scholarships for meritorious students, organising sports events, talent shows, helping people in distress have been a part and parcel of Army’s culture in J&K.
After India and Pakistan armies agreed to implement a ceasefire agreement along the borders and Line of Control in the Himalayan region in February 2021, Indian Army has embarked on a project to promote “border tourism” in frontier areas of the Union Territory.
‘The Log Hut Cafe’ in Gurez Valley close to the LoC in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district was set up soon after the ceasefire was declared. Gurez is about 140 km from Srinagar City. At about 8,000 feet above sea level, the Valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It has diverse fauna and wildlife including the Himalayan brown bear and the snow leopard. The Kishanganga River flows through the Valley.
The success of ‘The Log Hut Cafe’ has proven beyond doubt that the Army is out to set the things right in the frontier areas that were hit by shells and bombs fired from across the LoC for three decades. The cafe located in Dawar area is thronged by hundreds of visitors everyday and it has provided employment to the locals also.
Inspired by the Army’s initiative, locals too have started small eateries and are earning their livelihood. Not only restaurants and hotels are coming up in the border villages but the Army is promoting a new concept of home stays. This is helping villagers to earn money from the tourist stays. In 2021, 15000 visited Gurez and till date 13,000 visitors have arrived in Gurez. The Army’s contribution in enhancing the tourist inflow to J&K has received tremendous support from every section of the society since the intention of the soldiers is to serve the nation and its people.
‘The Log Hut Cafe’ is a perfect spot for the bikers, trekkers and other adventure lovers to sit back and relax. The cafe hosts special events and musical evenings every weekend for the tourists. Significantly, the local artists have performed in the cafe in the waning language of Dard-Shin which is helping in reviving the culture of Gurez.
The model view point has been constructed by the Army to facilitate the large number of tourists thronging Gurez this tourist season. Another step taken by the Army in Gurez is the Green FDL initiative on a forward post where Kashmir’s first windmill has been established to reduce consumption of fuel and carbon footprint.
Since Gurez does not have capacitive power supply the locals and Army personnel are dependent on diesel generators for power supply which incurs a huge financial impact on the government. The authorities are exploring the possibilities of harnessing renewable sources of energy to ameliorate the power situation in Gurez.
Another tourist destination close to the LoC is the Bangus Valley situated 125 kms away from Srinagar at an altitude of 10,000 meters above sea level in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district. The Bangus is surrounded by snow-capped lofty mountains of Himalayan Shamasbari range and on the other side is Leepa and Neelum Valley of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). It is replete with lush green meadows, majestic pines and Deodar trees. The Bangus Valley harbours different species of flora and fauna.
Tourists had no access to Bangus till February 2021 due to the roaring of guns. After the truce was announced it was opened up for visitors and the Army is putting in efforts to develop it as a tourist destination. It has been brought on the tourism map. Brought recently on a tourist map Bangus is being thronged by a few nature lovers. The soldiers stationed there are facilitating the visitors. The plan has been formulated to develop this beautiful Valley into a destination that everyone would like to visit. Bangus Valley cannot be made accessible to all without the Army’s help and support.
Army playing a crucial role
The Army has been playing a crucial role to promote border tourism. People have started visiting places like Keran, Tangdhar, Gurez, and Tulail and are staying in tents. Change in the security situation has opened up the frontier areas to the world.
In May this year, Army opened a cafe at Kaman Post, the last post of Indian Army on this side along LoC in Uri in North Kashmir with an aim to promote border tourism.
The government is also planning to develop the border areas in Uri, Rajouri and Chakan-da-Bagh in Poonch among others as border tourist destinations. The Union Ministry of Tourism has already given its nod to the project.
Till the recent past borders in Jammu & Kashmir were only known for the cross-LoC shelling and infiltrations but things have changed after August 5, 2019 — when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate J&K’s so-called special status and divided it into two Union Territories. Various facilities are being developed in the frontier areas so that people can come and visit. This also helps in promoting the economic development of the border areas.
People want to visit zero-line
In September last year, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence and Tourism, Ajay Bhatt, who visited Kupwara district stated that in times to come there will be prosperity and development besides border tourism will be opened as the concept shared earlier has been accepted.
He had stated that the people want to visit the zero line of the Line of Control (LoC) and the work on the same is underway.
Tourism can be instrumental in economic growth and opening up of employment opportunities. The figures reveal that 1 in 4 of all new jobs across the world come from the tourism sector. Travel and tourism contributes 10.5 per cent of global GDP and nearly 11 per cent of all jobs. India, though with promising projections of tourism’s contribution to annual GDP by 2028 to be around 10.35 percent, means finding out newer avenues.
The Centre has decided to set up 75 cafes managed by Border roads Organisation across 12 States and Union Territories out of which 26 will be set up in UTs of J&K and Ladakh. The multi utility facilities in the frontier districts will go a long way in promoting border tourism in the erstwhile princely state and would boost the economy of the region.