Battle zone to tourist hub: A Kargil story

KARGIL: Millions of Indians got a glimpse of the pristine beauty of Kargil, the battle zone of the 1999 conflict, for the first time when they saw flashes on TV of the military pushing back infiltrators. India’s first televised conflict left people riveted not just by the Army’s triumph but also the untouched beauty of Kargil. The nondescript, sleepy town has now become a vibrant tourism destination.In 2000, a year after the conflict, the battle-torn town hosted just over 300 tourists. However, in 2018, the number of tourists had increased to around one lakh, a trend best described as curiosity piqued by the conflict.Kargil has always been a quiet town. It once served as an important transit point in the pan-Asian Silk Route trade network, reminiscences of which attract tourists. But all who come to this town make it a point to visit the Kargil War Memorial, almost 60km from the town, as “a call of duty”.Besides the conflict zone and the Line of Control, tourists also go to the nearby Suru Valley for mountaineering/trekking, the Kun peaks, and Zanskar Valley.Till 2004, the number of visitors to Kargil increased at a very slow pace, but thereafter they witnessed a huge surge. In 2017, the number reached around 64,000. The data, however, shows that the number of foreigners has decreased over the years.”Actually the 1999 conflict gave Kargil a new identity and tourists started visiting here to satisfy their curiosity about the conflict. Their confidence about security grew slowly till 2004 and it was only after that we witnessed a sudden spurt in the number of tourists,” Shabir Hussain, executive engineer, Kargil Development Authority, told TOI.Seeing the rise in tourist numbers, the Kargil town administration launched an awareness campaign asking locals to develop hotels and guesthouses, said Hussain. “Till 1999, Kargil had only 5-6 hotels. Today we have more than 250 hotels, including some 40 good-quality ones, and guesthouses. We have the potential to attract more tourists and are focusing on developing the infrastructure.” The Kargil Master Plan-2032 aims to develop the town as a vibrant and comprehensive livable town with a tourism base.This Kargil Vijay Diwas, most of the hotels were booked by tourists from Mumbai, Gujarat, Delhi and other parts of the country. Ankush Sharma, a hotel managerand native of Jammu, said it was because of the sudden growth of the hospitality industry that most of those working as cooks, waiters or in other hospitality sector jobs are mostly from outside the town.

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