Thousands of tourists are flocking to Kashmir Valley as the second wave of Covid - the world's biggest surge - is sweeping through the country. On Srinagar's Dal Lake, shikaras have come alive and footfall at the tulip garden is increasing by the day. Most tourists say that with international travel being out of the question, Kashmir seems the best possible place.
Officials at the tourism department said more than 1 lakh tourists have arrived in the Valley since December, when the daily Covid surge in Kashmir crossed 1,200. The Valley recorded 1,269 cases on Tuesday.
"We found an opportunity and thought we should invite people here. We have seen Covid management is very well in Jammu and Kashmir and that's how it picked up December onwards," said Dr GN Itoo, the director of tourism Kashmir.
"Let me inform you that so far, 1.13 lakh tourists have visited," he added.
Priya Kotecha and her father Major Manoj Kotecha have travelled all the way from Gujarat because their trip to see the Dal lake and Tulip garden was long overdue.
"As you know, there are constraints in international travel. People are preferring domestic places. Actually, we had made plans to come here a long time ago. Everything was booked. All of a sudden there was the Covid surge and we were in a dilemma whether we should come or not," Priya Kotecha told NDTV.
There isn't a better place to visit post-retirement than Kashmir, her father added.
"After my retirement, I decided to visit Kashmir. Before coming, we took the RT-PCR test and also the antigen test once we reached here," said Manoj Kotecha.
Many visitors said that with restrictions on international travel, Kashmir has become a good option for them.
For hoteliers, it has come as a boon, especially after prolonged curfews and shutdowns in the wake of scrapping of Article 370 and the subsequent lockdown last year over the Covid outbreak.
Many said their businesses are recovering at last.
"It started in December. In hotel industry, people who lost their jobs and livelihood are getting their jobs back," said Mushtaq Chaya, chairman of the Hoteliers Association.
"But the way Covid is spreading in Maharashtra and Gujarat, it is having an impact on tourist arrivals," he added. Over the last few days, bookings have been cancelled as well.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has closed all schools after the second Covid wave. But it is making all efforts to bring tourists to the Valley.
The government has been criticised for organising a tulip festival in Srinagar last week and allowing thousands to visit the garden every day.