For decades, the flow of tourists to Jammu and Kashmir has been viewed as a barometer of the region's tranquility. In the post-August 5, 2019 era, the Indian government has actively promoted tourism in the newly formed Union Territory as a sign of normalcy and development. The record-breaking 1.88 crore tourists in 2022 seemed to affirm this narrative. However, scrutinizing the figures reveals a more nuanced picture.
Surprisingly, the spotlight of Jammu and Kashmir's tourism isn't on the picturesque Kashmir Valley but on Jammu. Pilgrimage, rather than leisure tourism, remains the primary driver of tourist traffic. The question arises: should pilgrims be categorized as tourists?
In 2022, only 14% of visitors explored Kashmir, a statistic inclusive of the 3.65 lakh pilgrims who flocked to the Amarnath cave shrine. The dominance of religious tourism is epitomized by the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu. Over a crore pilgrims undertake the arduous 12-kilometer trek to this revered site annually. In 2022, more than 91 lakh pilgrims made the journey, with these numbers now being counted in the total tourist count.
While Jammu and Kashmir boasts a substantial accommodation capacity, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of tourist estimations. Some argue that not every outsider in the Union Territory is a tourist, citing the presence of defense forces and non-local workers.
The evolving dynamics of tourism in Jammu and Kashmir illuminate the need for a more refined approach to interpreting tourist statistics and a comprehensive understanding of the region's visitor landscape. Beyond the numbers, the story of Jammu and Kashmir's tourism speaks of its unique blend of spirituality, scenic beauty, and the quest for peace and prosperity.