Kashmir divisional commissioner Pandurang K Pole on Saturday said that annual tourist numbers in the Kashmir valley have increased three times in the past one and a half years taking the yearly numbers to 12-15 lakh.

He predicted that the numbers would cross 35 lakh next year when Kashmir would connect with the rest of India after the completion of the Katra-Banihal train.

Pole said before 2019, some 8 lakh tourists, including Amarnath pilgrims, would visit Kashmir annually on average.

“Among the 8 lakh tourists, some 3 lakh would be Amarnath pilgrims which means only 5 lakh tourists would visit here in a whole year before 2019,” he said.

He said that after December 2020, things have changed. “Now if you see the statistics, since December 2020, every month 1.25 to 1.5 lakh tourists are coming only by air. Those who arrive by road are separate. So annually we are getting 12-15 lakh tourists,” he said.

Pole said that in the coming year, the number is going to increase by 7 to 10 times.

“How would that happen? The train is coming. The trials of the train from Katra to Banihal would start by the summer of 2023,” he said.

He said that as Kashmir would connect with the rest of India and the work on the highway would also have been completed by 98 percent, tourists would arrive here in greater numbers. “So the tourists who would visit Jammu, some 1 crore people visit Vaishno Devi. If one-fifth of tourists from Vaishno Devi visit here, which can add 20-25 lakh tourists to our existing number which will increase the current numbers more than 7 times,” he said.

“We want that the tourists don’t remain confined to Sonmarg, Gulmarg or Pahalgam but visit every village of the Valley. That is why we have identified 75 offbeat destinations and tourist villages on which work is going on,” he said.

“Kashmir’s 35-40 % economy is dependent on tourism, hospitality and handicrafts. When a tourist comes, he not only visits Gulmarg or Pahalgam but also buys handloom, handicrafts products and fresh and dry fruits here,” he said.

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