IT’S no news that the Kashmir valley has been enjoying a boost in tourism, especially since the G-20 meeting in Srinagar. This meeting saw delegates from different countries of the world wanting to explore Kashmir’s potential in tourism and since then, the effort has been to work out a policy so as to bring new destinations under the tourism map and widen the scope for tourism here.
In a recent move, the Union Territory administration has opened up tourist destinations like Keran, Karnah and Teetwal along the border areas.
The Keran village, along the Line Of Control, is turning out to be hotspot for tourists in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Once a part of the princely state Jammu and Kashmir, the Keran valley got divided into two parts, leaving thousands separated from each other.
Keran is a beautiful border area with the Kishanganga (Neelum) flowing through it which acts as a Line Of Control between Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and Jammu and Kashmir.
On the other side of Kishanganga River is the Neelum valley of the Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the village located across is also called Keran, 93 kilometres from Muzaffarabad. The ancient Sharada Peeth temple, as well as the adjacent ruins of Sharada University are situated in the same Neelam Valley, just a few miles from Keran.
At Shardi village, where Sharda temple and University are situated, the river Kishanganga (Neelum) joins Madhumati and Sargun streams. Between the 6th and 12th centuries CE, it was among the most prominent temple universities in the Indian subcontinent. The Kashmiri Pandit brethren have been demanding the opening of the Sharda Peeth corridor for many years now.
Keran nestles many streams, springs, river, mountains, dense forests including walnut trees and a variety of wildlife. Some 40 kms towards the west from district headquarters, Kupwara, Keran enjoys a majestic view. To reach the Valley, one has to pass through the Firkiyan Gali (at an altitude of 9634 ft). On the way to Keran, at the Firkiyan top, the 360-degree view of the surroundings is mesmerising and its enchanting beauty brings goosebumps.
Some tourists at the Firkiyan Gali shared that they were visiting for the first time and were highly enthusiastic about the place and its surroundings. Some had travelled almost 100 kms to experience this breathtaking place along the border.
Years ago, it was not possible to travel in these high sensitive security camps of the border district of Kupwara but now things are changing in the Valley and the Kupwara district is witnessing a huge rush of tourists exploring border areas.
One can witness the lush green forests, meadows, streams and also the architecture of wooden houses here. These rare, beautiful wooden houses need to be preserved and protected and need to be promoted as heritage sites.
The people in this village are now witnessing a change in the situation – so thankfully different from the horrors of violence they have seen. People feel happy with the normalcy and peace back across the border. They feel this kind of environment will provide them a chance to finally earn a good livelihood since a boost in tourism gives them an opportunity of starting different short term business ventures.
Mohd Hanieef Khan, a resident of Keran, says that years ago “we only witnessed shelling and cross-firing between the two countries’ forces and we were always at a threat of losing lives and collateral damage of our houses and shelters. Life was tough and we always lived in fear. But now things have changed and we are finally feeling safe and secure in this region”.
The landmark decision of the Government of India to bring border areas like Keran, Gurez, Tangdhar, Machil and Bangus on the tourism map has brought happiness to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. These being treated as the new tourist destinations, will facilitate peace and development in these border areas.
Another tourist visiting this location shares that these borders are defined territorial areas but we should foster human relationships with each other in a peaceful manner without harming each other’s sentiments along the border. “This location in Keran village provides visitors a chance to have a look at the other side of the border-line and vice versa – which could actually build more peace and understanding,” he says.
Any non-resident traveller wishing to visit the border areas of Keran, Karnah and Machil has to obtain permission from the Kralpora Police station, which is very easy, since the person just needs to submit an application form there with the requisite copy of the Adhaar card. The permission is granted with ease without too much legal complexity. Within the station, the permission is provided on a fast-track basis without wasting any time.
Lodging too is no problem. Along with a few government-owned rest houses, there are home-stay facilities available for tourists. Camping tents are also available along with basic facilities. Since the spot has recently been introduced as a tourist destination, a lot is being done to promote tourism in the area by the government. Also, the Indian Army personnel are always seen giving a helping hand to the local population to lead Keran towards peace and prosperity.
The administrative machinery of the Kupwara district needs to work on providing proper network facilities to the visitors though, since in this border area, communication is tough due to poor network facilities. People visiting this area face a lot of difficulties connecting through cellular networks and their mobile phones remain signal-less.
Besides this, the administrative machinery, in collaboration with the Indian Army posted there, needs to build proper parking and other infrastructure facilities so that the visitors do not face any problem in exploring this new tourist attraction and bring abundance to the over 10,000 residents of this area.