India to allow tourists back into locked-down Kashmir
Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir will allow tourists back into the region two months after ordering them to leave because of security concerns amid an Indian crackdown, an official said on Tuesday.
But tourists are unlikely to experience normal life in the disputed area, or be able to use mobile Internet or cell phones, which remain cut.
Local government spokesman Rohit Kansal said the decision was made after a review of the situation. Security restrictions "have now been withdrawn almost entirely from all parts of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
He said the restrictions on the entry of tourists will be lifted on Thursday.
The government instructed tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave on 2 August, three days before India stripped the Muslim-majority region of its statehood and decades-old semi-autonomy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government also sent tens of thousands of additional troops to the region, already one of the most militarised in the world. It imposed a harsh security clampdown, cutting virtually all communications.
Indian troops arrested thousands of anti-India as well as pro-India activists, including some Kashmiri leaders who have historically accepted Indian rule over the region, in the days leading up to and after the revoking of its special status.
The moves touched off widespread anger, as one of the revisions allows anyone to buy land in the territory, which some Kashmiris fear will result in an influx of Hindus who would change the region's culture and demographics.
Authorities have since eased some restrictions and encouraged students to return to school and businesses to re-open, but Kashmiris have largely stayed indoors to show their defiance of Indian rule.
They have launched a campaign of refusal to resume their normal lives, confounding India at the cost of economic losses for themselves. Shops have adopted new, limited hours of operation in the early morning and evening.
The real Kashmir
Poets call it one of the most beautiful places on earth. Analysts consider it to be one of the most dangerous areas in the world. But what is Kashmir in reality? By Onkar Singh Janoti
Multicultural: Kashmir is well-known for its cultural and linguistic diversity. The Kashmir Valley has a Muslim majority. Hindus are predominant in Jammu while Ladakh is primarily Buddhist. But interminable violence has damaged the very fabric of society
Saffron: Kashmir is also famous for its saffron. India is the third largest exporter of saffron following Iran and Spain
'Switzerland of the East': Kashmir boasts some of the world's most beautiful flowering meadows and snow-capped peaks. Many people call it "The Switzerland of the East". On average, Jammu and Kashmir have welcomed over 1 million tourists in recent years
Under a blanket of snow: Kashmir wears pure white in winter. Many areas are perfect for winter sports but lack infrastructure. Islamist violence remains the biggest challenge
Rivers: the Himalayan part of Kashmir is the source of fresh water for more than 20 rivers, among which the Indus, Neelum and Ravi are the biggest. All these rivers flow from India into Pakistan
Wood: Kashmir is also famous for its wood, the Kashmir willow. Experts believe that it is the best wood for making a cricket bat. Kashmiri wood is also used for building boats
Sufism: Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, reached Kashmir in the 16th century. The Sufi tradition is associated with religious harmony. Many of the saints held dear by Kashmiris were Sufi monks. Sufi singers such as Abida Parveen are popular to this day
Kashmir on the silver screen: Kashmir used to be the most popular location of the Indian film industry during the 1980s. It was a golden era for Kashmir. However, the valley has witnessed violence on an almost daily basis ever since. These days, only one or two films are shot on location in Kashmir every year
Fighting in the clouds: the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan has been going on 1948 and experts see little hope of a solution in the foreseeable future. Both countries spend lots of resources on their half of the divided territory, with their respective armies squared off on what some view as the highest battlefield in the world, the Siachen glacier (5,753m)
Some tourist operators expressed surprise over the government's decision.
"When everything is shut, what kind of tourist will take a risk to come here without basic amenities like phones and public transport?" said Bashir Ahmed, a tourist operator whose business has been shut since August.
India "has always tried to use tourism as a sign of normality," said Nazir Ahmed, a Kashmiri schoolteacher.
Kashmir's pristine mountainous landscape, ski resorts, lake houseboats and apple orchards have long made it a tourist attraction. However, a full-blown armed rebellion has raged in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir since 1989 seeking a united Kashmir - either under Pakistani rule or independent of both countries.
About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and an Indian military crackdown. India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the rebels, a charge Islamabad denies.
Simmering tensions over Kashmir have also threatened to erupt into open conflict between India and Pakistan after New Delhi imposed the heavy restrictions in the area it controls. Kashmir is divided between the two nuclear-armed rivals, which both claim it in its entirety. They have fought two wars over its control. (AP)