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Kashmir, Small Steps to Normal

With record tourist footfalls, and even new cinema halls (once banned by terrorists), the Kashmir region of India is back in business.

Tourists in Srinagar, Kashmir.

Once places like Pulwama and Shopian in the southern regions of the valley of Kashmir, which has seen more than three decades of violent separatist insurgency, were known as the hunting grounds of terrorists. These are now places where brand new cinema halls have opened defying a decades-long ban on cinema theatres by terrorist groups.

The opening of cinema halls in Pulwana - earlier notorious as the home ground of the neutralised terrorist Burhan Wani - Shopian, and the capital Srinagar, top up a year when the maximum number of tourists have visited the picturesque valley, often poetically called ‘heaven on earth’.

Since the Indian government removed the constitutional special status for Jammu and Kashmir state and divided into two territories, governed by New Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, there have been consistent efforts to normalise the situation in the Kashmir valley, the heartland of the insurgency.

Now with more than six million tourists visiting Kashmir in the last year, things seem to be turning for the better. Tourst footfalls in March 2022, for instance, have been the highest in a decade.

With the rise in tourists in the city, there are many new hotels, guest houses, travel agencies, adventure activities being set up. There are many beautiful new hotels which are opening up in Kashmir, of these 10 new hotels are in Srinagar alone. Major Indian hotel chains like ITC and IHCL (better known as the Taj group) are opening new properties in Srinagar.

Adventure sports like trekking, hot-air balloon rides, river-rafting, and camping are booming. The region's classic tourism activities, like gondola and shikara rides, are also drawing many tourists. Kashmir, with its alpine woods, high mountains, lakes, gardens, ski slopes, and green valleys, is a great tourist attraction. Its unique culture, flourishing handicrafts, and unique cuisine has always been a natural attraction for tourists.

The icing on the cake of course is the opening of cinema halls (the last one had shut down in 1999). A whole generation has grown up in Kashmir without ever being able to go to the theatre. All this will now change. Even Srinagar's famous Dal Lake, where the shikaras float, and whose beauty has been captured in many a Hindi film, now has an open-air theatre.

Till the 1980s, Kashmir had around a dozen cinema halls, and played host to many a film crew seeking beautiful locations. Many popular films, from Kashmir ki Kali in the 1960s to more the more recent Haider, Fitoor, Fanaa and others have been shot against stunning Kashmiri landscapes. The reopening of cinema theatres is likely to further boost the local film-related industry including film festivals.

The last film theater closed in 1999 in Srinagar at the height of the insurgency, but even before that with movie screenings suffered greatly when the violence increased in the city. Soon theaters became military units or were turned into hotels, bunkers, shopping centers.

The government attempted to revive Broadway and Neelam cinemas in 1996, but they did not succeed because of low attendance. Similarly in 1999, the screening of the film Pyar Koi Khel Nahi was interrupted at the Regal Cinema at Srinagar's Lal Chowk when a grenade was thrown by terrorists during the theater's opening week. Therefore, with the opening of the new theatres, Kashmir is now celebrating the start of a new era.

The multiplex's owner, Vijay Dhar, announced that the halls would have a number of food courts that would promote local and traditional cuisine. The multiplex will eventually include a gaming area as well. He also said, "The idea is to restore cinema in the valley which will provide younger generations with some entertainment”.

Dhar also owns one of the main schools in Srinagar, Delhi Public School (DPS). He says his students had never been to a movie theatre in their home town. Now they can.


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