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Travel restrictions lifted in J&K, wanderlust Bengalis eager to visit Kashmir

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Kolkata, Oct 13: The wanderlust in Bengalis appears to have been reignited, following the much-anticipated lifting of travel restrictions to Jammu and Kashmir, as people thronged its tourism office here with queries on making a trip to the 'paradise on earth'.

Having missed out on the opportunity to visit the state during the Durga Puja holidays, travellers from West Bengal are now eager to pack their bags and visit the Valley, officials said.

Travel restrictions lifted in J&K, wanderlust Bengalis eager to visit Kashmir

There is great interest and curiosity over visiting J&K among travellers from West Bengal, who account for the second highest number of domestic tourists to the state after Gujarat, said Ahsan-ul-Haq, the officer in-charge of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourist Office here.

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"Even during the restrictions, we were getting lot of queries from interested travellers in Bengal," Haq told PTI. He said that the J&K administration's decision to restore postpaid mobile phone services from Monday will go a long way in getting Kashmir "firmly back" on the tourism map of the country.

The officer admitted that the lack of mobile connectivity was impacting the tourism industry in that state, since visitors who had made bookings earlier could not get in touch with the travel operators and hotels. In a major step towards easing the 69-day lockdown in the Kashmir Valley, authorities on Saturday announced that some 40 lakh postpaid mobile phones will become operational from Monday noon.

Jammu and Kashmir was opened to tourists from October 10. The state administration on August 2 had issued a security advisory asking tourists to leave Kashmir as soon as possible, citing terror threat in the Valley.

The advisory was issued just before the Centre announced the negation of the Article 370 of the constitution and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories on August 5.

Anil Panjabi, Chairman (East), Travel Agents' Confederation of India, said that tour operators in Kolkata and other places in West Bengal are now flooded with queries about travel to the Kashmir Valley. "We are hoping that a large number of tourists from West Bengal will travel to Kashmir now that the restrictions have been withdrawn," Panjabi said.

He said that during the 2018 Durga Puja holidays, around 3,500 tourists from West Bengal visited Jammu and Kashmir, but none could make the trip this year during the festival season, owing to the restrictions. Panjabi added that over 6,000 people travelled to the picturesque Valley in 2018 from the eastern state, and the number is likely to increase three-fold in 2020.

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The official said that he plans to take a delegation of tour operators from West Bengal to J&K in November to explore tie-ups with agents and hotels, and would also invite them to visit Kolkata for similar purpose. Haq said the queries from potential travellers mainly revolve around the security situation and connectivity in the Kashmir Valley. "As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), J&K is the safest compared to other states and the crime rate is negligible," Haq claimed.

The state is also safe for solo women travellers and other female tourists, including hikers, he said. "A few months back, a woman research scholar of history from Calcutta University visited Awantipora alone to explore the ruins of ancient temples there, and we helped her with all necessary information," Haq said.

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