India's Jammu and Kashmir receives most tourists in 75 years

NEW DELHI, Oct 7 (Reuters) - India's Jammu and Kashmir has received 16.2 million tourists this year, the most since British colonial rule ended in 1947, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government said was a sign of economic development in the strife-torn region.

Known for its snow-topped Himalayan mountains, fast-flowing rivers, Mughal-era gardens, Alpine meadows and houseboats around a beautiful lake, the federal territory has seen a resurgence in domestic tourism since most COVID-19 restrictions ended this year.

The record tourist arrivals are a boon for Modi's government, which withdrew Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir's special rights in 2019, stripping it of its status as a state in reforms it said were aimed at integrating it with the rest of the country.

Hindu-majority India has been fighting a decades-long separatist Islamist insurgency in Kashmir, which is also claimed by neighbouring Pakistan.

"Kashmir coming alive!" Piyush Goyal, India's trade and industries minister, wrote on Twitter.

He said 16.2 million tourists had visited since January, the highest number in 75 years, adding that the government’s "transformative initiatives and reforms to uplift J&K have given a major thrust to tourism".

Goyal did not say what the previous annual high was.

Though he did not specify, the vast majority of visitors in Kashmir are domestic tourists. Foreign tourists need a special pass to visit most parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

Along with horticulture and agriculture, tourism is an important industry for Kashmir, accounting for about 7% to its economy, according to government data.

Last month, a top government official inaugurated a multi-screen cinema hall in Srinagar, the largest city in Kashmir, more than two decades after cinemas were closed there.

Kashmir, nevertheless, is still seeing occassional violence. The chief of Kashmir's prison service was murdered this week as the interior minister visited the region. A militant group claimed responsibility.

Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel

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