News

DATE=6/24/99 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT NUMBER=5-43713 TITLE=KASHMIR TOURISM BYLINE=JIM TEEPLE DATELINE=SRINIGAR CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: FOR CENTURIES, WRITERS AND POETS HAVE CALLED THE KASHMIR VALLEY PARADISE ON EARTH. SURROUNDED BY SNOW CAPPED PEAKS, THE VALLEY IS DOTTED WITH LAKES, FRUIT ORCHARDS, PINE FORESTS AND ALPINE MEADOWS. TOURISTS USED TO FLOCK TO KASHMIR BUT FEW DO NOW. WITH INDIAN ARMY TROOPS FIGHTING WHAT THEY CALL PAKISTAN-BACKED INFILTRATORS ON KASHMIR'S MOUNTAIN PEAKS AND INDIAN SECURITY FORCES HUNTING FOR ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN THE KASHMIR VALLEY, KASHMIR HAS BECOME PARADISE LOST. VOA'S JIM TEEPLE REPORTS THIS HAS BEEN AN ESPECIALLY PAINFUL YEAR FOR KASHMIR BECAUSE JUST A FEW WEEKS AGO IT SEEMED TO MANY THEIR TROUBLES WERE OVER. // ACT OF HELICOPTER FLYING // TEXT: IF YOU COULD IGNORE THE MILITARY HELICOPTERS TAKING OFF AND LANDING, AND THE HUNDREDS OF TROOP TRANSPORT TRUCKS LINED UP ALONG ITS MAIN STREET, THE SMALL TOWN OF SONOMARG COULD PASS FOR AN ALPINE VILLAGE IN SWITZERLAND. A LITTLE MORE THAN A MONTH AGO SONOMARG WAS BUSTLING. FOLLOWING A VISIT TO PAKISTAN BY INDIA'S PRIME MINISTER IN FEBRUARY AND A BELIEF THAT A NINE-YEAR OLD INSURGENCY BY ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN KASHMIR WAS WANING, TOURISTS WHO HAD STAYED AWAY RETURNED BY THE THOUSANDS TO SONOMARG AND OTHER TOURIST DESTINATIONS IN KASHMIR. THAT WAS BEFORE INDIAN ARMY PATROLS STUMBLED ONTO HUNDREDS OF HEAVILY ARMED GUERRILLAS IN THE STEEP MOUNTAIN RIDGES WHICH OVERLOOK SONOMARG AND OTHER TOWNS IN KASHMIR. IN THE WEEKS SINCE THEN, INDIAN AND PAKISTANI FORCES HAVE BEEN EXCHANGING ARTILLERY FIRE ACROSS THE LINE OF CONTROL THAT DIVIDES THE KASHMIR REGION BETWEEN INDIA AND PAKISTAN. NOW SONOMARG'S SMALL HOTELS SIT NEARLY EMPTY AND PONIES WHO USED TO FERRY TOURISTS TO NEARBY GLACIERS STAND IDLY BY. RAMZAN BODOO WHO RUNS A SMALL REST HOUSE AND SHOP IN SONOMARG SAYS HE HAS LITTLE TO DO. // BODOO ACT // WE DON'T SEE ANYTHING HERE. WE WAKE UP EVERY MORNING AND OPEN THE SHOPS AND JUST LOOK. // END ACT // // OPT // SONOMARG IS AS FAR AS TOURISTS CAN TRAVEL IN KASHMIR. THE TOWN IS A STAGING AREA FOR INDIA'S ARMY, WHICH IS FIGHTING ABOUT 100 KILOMETERS TO THE NORTH. WHILE MOST TOURISTS HAVE FLED, SONOMARG IS NOT YET A TOURIST GHOST TOWN. A FEW HARDY VISITORS CONTINUE TO MAKE THE 150-KILOMETER TRIP FROM SRINIGAR, THE SUMMER CAPITAL OF INDIA'S JAMMU AND KASHMIR STATE. AMIT GOKHALE, HIS FATHER ASHOK AND THEIR UNCLE R-B BAPAT SAY THE FRESH MOUNTAIN AIR AND NEARBY HINDU SHRINES PUT SONOMARG AT THE TOP OF THEIR ITINERARY WHEN THEY DECIDED TO VISIT KASHMIR. BESIDES THEY SAY THE THOUSANDS OF TROOPS GARRISONED IN THE TOWN MAKE THEM FEEL SAFE. // ASHOK/BAPAT ACT // THESE PEOPLE ARE HERE FOR OUR PROTECTION, THEY ARE HERE TO PROTECT US ... YES...WE SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID OF OUR OWN PEOPLE...KASHMIRI'S ARE OUR OWN PEOPLE AND WE ARE NOT AFRAID OF OUR OWN PEOPLE. // END ACT // // END ACT // SOUTH OF SONOMARG, IN THE KASHMIR VALLEY INTRICATELY CARVED HOUSEBOATS, MANY BEAUTIFULLY FURNISHED WITH CHANDELIERS AND KASHMIR CARPETS SIT EMPTY ON SRINIGAR'S DAL LAKE. THE LAKE AND THE TOWN WHICH SURROUNDS ITS RESEMBLES AN ARMED CAMP. TOURISTS WHO WANT TO TAKE A SHIKARA OR GONDOLA RIDE AROUND DAL LAKE HAVE TO STOP AT SMALL POLICE STATIONS TO SIGN IN AND HAVE THEIR PAPERS OR PASSPORTS CHECKED. BETWEEN MARCH AND MAY, BEFORE THE FIGHTING BEGAN, MORE THAN 100-THOUSAND TOURISTS VISITED KASHMIR, WITH MOST STAYING IN SRINIGAR. EIGHTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD ABDUL SAMID KOTROO, WHO HAS BEEN THE HEAD OF THE DAL LAKE HOUSEBOAT OWNERS ASSOCIATION FOR NEARLY A HALF CENTURY, SAYS HE AND HIS COLLEAGUES HAD NOT SEEN SO MANY VISITORS SINCE KASHMIR'S INSURGENCY BEGAN NINE YEARS AGO. BUT THEN FIGHTING STARTED IN KARGIL, A TOWN IN NORTHERN KASHMIR ALONG THE LINE OF THE CONTROL. ABDUL SAMID KOTROO SAYS ONCE THAT HAPPENED THE TOURISTS VANISHED AS QUICKLY AS THEY HAD COME. // KOTROO ACT // HEAPS OF THE HOME (INDIAN) TOURISTS CAME HERE. BUT UNFORTUNATELY THE KARGIL (FIGHTING) STARTED. IT WAS A SORT OF DREAM I'LL TELL YOU. PEOPLE CAME AND THEN THEY WERE JUST ALL GONE. EVERYTHING IS GONE. BUT WHAT CAN WE DO. THE ONLY THING I CAN SAY ABOUT THIS SITUATION FROM THESE LAST NINE OR TEN YEARS IS THAT I FEEL WE ARE FULL OF SINS AND THIS IS WHY GOD IS PUNISHING US. BUT AT THE SAME TIME WITH HUMBLE SUBMISSION I PRAY TO OUR ALMIGHTY GOD TO GIVE THE WISDOM OF UNDERSTANDING TO OUR PEOPLE TO SETTLE THESE THINGS AMICABLY BETWEEN THEMSELVES. // END ACT // ABDUL SAMID KOTROO SAYS TO SURVIVE MANY HOUSEBOAT OWNERS HAVE SOLD THEIR PRECIOUS CARPETS AND ANTIQUE FURNITURE. HE SAYS SKILLED CRAFTSMEN WHO ONCE FOUND STEADY WORK BUILDING AND REPAIRING THE INTRICATELY CARVED BOATS NOW HAVE LITTLE TO DO, AND NOW THEIR CRAFT, LIKE KASHMIR, IS SLOWLY DYING. (SIGNED) NEB/JLT/LTD/KL 24-Jun-99 9:12 AM EDT (1312 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .