KASHMIR, September 10, 2023 (The Week): Last summer, a group of young tourists visited Suhail Ahmed Khan’s residence at Keran village in Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Situated on the banks of the Kishanganga river, Keran is about 84 miles from Srinagar. Part of the village stretches to the other side of the river in the Neelam valley of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Across the Line of Control (which cannot be crossed), the river is called Darya-i-Neelam (the river Neelam). Keran is nestled amid picturesque meadows, verdant forests, meandering streams, bubbling springs, majestic walnut trees and diverse wildlife. A major attraction for tourists is the panoramic view across the LoC into the Neelam valley, where residents have constructed modern houses, hotels, restaurants and picnic spots accessible through well-maintained roads and reliable mobile connectivity. Both local people and visitors gather along the banks of the river, exchanging gestures of greetings with those in Keran. Most residents in Keran and the Neelam valley are relatives separated by the LoC. On weekends, the influx of tourists increases significantly. After dusk, the entire valley lights up, creating a spectacle amid the cool breeze wafting in from the Kishanganga.

Keran and other areas with untapped tourism potential along the LoC, such as Teetwal, Bangus and Machil in Kupwara and Gurez in Bandipur, remained isolated from the outside world because of decades of turmoil. These areas were on the primary infiltration routes from Pakistan in the 1990s. For livelihood, the local people looked for government jobs and employment as army porters. These areas were opened up for tourism after India and Pakistan announced a ceasefire along the LoC in February 2021, sparking optimism among local people. The government’s decision signified at least a semblance of normalcy in Kashmir after the instability caused by the revocation of Article 370. It also holds the potential to bring these unseen gems to the tourist map and improve the lives of local people.

Much more at source.