India to open 100 Kashmir peaks to foreign climbers

Fri Apr 9, 2010 2:46am EDT
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By Sheikh Mushtaq

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters Life!) - Mountaineers, rejoice: India will, for the first time, allow foreign climbers to scale more than 100 high-altitude peaks this summer in the Himalayan state of Kashmir.

Officials said the move was an effort to boost the scenic region's ailing tourism industry, hit by two decades of separatist rebellion. Officials say 60 percent of Kashmiris are dependent on tourism.

Kashmir was once dubbed the Switzerland of the east. It was once a mecca for climbers, skiers, honeymooners and film-makers drawn to the state's soaring peaks, fruit orchards and timber houseboats bobbing on Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital.

But the number of visitors began falling after a revolt broke out in 1989 that has killed more than 47,000 people so far.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Muslim majority Kashmir, which is divided between the South Asian neighbors who both claim it in full. India accuses Pakistan of backing separatist militants fighting its forces. Pakistan says it only offers them political backing.

The peaks to be opened for trekking and mountaineering are situated at an altitude ranging from 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) to 7,800 meters (25,590 feet), mostly in the Eastern Karakoram mountain range of Ladakh.

"This summer 104 peaks in Ladakh region will open for trekking and expeditions which would pave the way for adventure tourism and attract foreign tourists in a big way," Nawang Rigzin Jora, Kashmir's tourism minister, told Reuters.

"The defense ministry, which had earlier expressed reservation on throwing open the peaks, has given its nod."   Continued...