Kashmir opens 100 peaks in Himalayas to tourists

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The Independent Online

In an effort to persuade potential tourists to forget its recent troubled history, state authorities in Kashmir have announced that more than 100 high altitude peaks previously off-limits to foreigners are to be opened to all.

Hoping to return to the days when Kashmir was considered the Switzerland of the East, officials hope that the mountains will lead to a flood of people wishing to take up trekking and climbing trips.

"This would pave the way for adventure tourism and attract foreign tourists in a big way," Nawang Rigzin Jora, Kashmir's tourism minister, told Reuters. "The defence ministry, which had earlier expressed reservation on throwing open the peaks, has given its nod."

The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was once considered a first-choice destination for honeymooners, vacationers and back-packers. Its breathtaking mountain scenery and lures such as the houseboats on Srinagar's Dal Lake ensured that hundreds of thousands of tourists made their way there.

But when an insurgency gathered pace after 1989 and the Indian government responded by turning the Kashmir valley into one of the most militarised places on earth, numbers sharply declined.

In 2008 there were just 25,000 foreign visitors, mostly from South-east Asia and the Middle East, compared to 100,000 in 1989.

Violence in Kashmir has fallen since a peace process between India and Pakistan started in 2004. But there are still regular clashes between stonethrowing youths and police as well as incidents between militants and the security forces.