Keran : The Jammu and Kashmir administration’s decision to open areas close to the Line of Control for tourists has drawn not only local visitors but also people from far-flung places.Hailing from Hyderabad in Telangana, G Shankara Rao and his family decided to visit the last village on the Line of Control (LoC) after hearing about the decision. “We decided to visit after we came to know that we can see the Pakistan border,” Rao said.
Rao is accompanied by his wife, two daughters and their husbands.
Having lunch on the banks of the Kishenganga river, known as the Neelam on its other bank in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), the tourists cannot believe that they can see people from PoK without having to cross the frontier.
Asked if he felt safe so close to the LoC, Rao said it should be as there are adequate security personnel around. The locals of Keran tehsil are also happy as the decision to open the border areas has brought earning opportunities.
“I am very thankful to the Indian Army and the district administration and particularly to Home Minister (Amit Shah) and Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) who paid attention to this,” Mudasir Khan, a local resident, said.
He further said the Indian Army contributed immensely in the area following the ceasefire. Earlier, there was no proper source of livelihood for the poor people living there.
“Since this border tourism opened, we hope and appeal to people across India to visit,” Khan added.
Shakir Bhat, who works at the local post office, said the opening of the border areas for tourism was possible only because of peace.
“Earlier, we never imagined that we can work like this. It was not possible as it was a firing zone. Since the ceasefire, everything is peaceful, children are going to school … peace should be here forever,” Bhat said.
There is, however, one common demand from most residents.
“We request better roads and connectivity so that the tourists can travel without any inconvenience,” Bhat said, his sentiment echoed by other locals.
Deputy Commissioner (Kupwara) Ayushi Sudan said the administration is working on improving the facilities.
“I would say any tourism that needs to be developed here needs to be sustainable and eco-friendly as well. This is a beautiful valley, we would not like to destroy it. However, the basic infrastructure facilities for Keran are already in the pipeline. Some of those are being done now and some more will be taken up in the future,” she said.
While private investments are welcome in developing infrastructure, the government will not allow damage to the ecology, she said.
“There has been a good footfall of tourists in Keran this year — almost 1,000 to 1,500 people visit every day. The number exceeds 2,000 on weekends. A lot of local torusim has already been generated. With the help of the Army, we are making efforts towards creation of the tourism infrastructure,” the deputy commissioner said.
She said the road has been handed over to the Border Roads Organisation while work is underway for laying optical fiber cables.
“We already have a connectivity project in the pipeline. We hope the optical fiber cable link will be completed by end of this year,” Sudan added.