Indian administered Kashmir became part of the international aviation map on Saturday with an Air India flight connecting the summer capital Srinagar with Dubai. Kashmir officials hope the flights boost Kashmir's tourism and trade which is struggling amid the continuing conflict involving Kashmiri Muslims who want an independent Kashmir.
India's ruling United Progressive Alliance's chairwoman Sonia Gandhi inaugurated the international airport terminal in Srinagar Saturday.
Gandhi also inaugurated a rail link connecting Kashmir's northern town Baramulla with a southern town Anantnag and called both projects an achievement.
To begin with, Air India will operate a weekly flight between Dubai and Srinagar.
Kashmir officials hope the international link boosts Kashmir's struggling exports and tourism. Mubeen Shah is the Chairman of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "This has been the demand of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for a very very long time. With this there is a possibility of getting very high value tourists to Srinagar from Dubai and international destination. Second we can send our goods directly to international destination without routing them through to New Delhi. Our handicrafts, our handmade carpets are high value items normally sent by air and Dubai is a very important destination," he said.
Shah says it also creates possibilities of exporting cut flowers and fresh fruits from Kashmir.
Besides exports, Kashmiri leaders hope that tourism, which suffers because of the region's conflicts, will receive a big boost by the flight.
As Shah explains, Kashmir, sometimes described as the "Venice of the East," receives only a small share of the international visitors who visit India. "In Kashmir our seasons are different than the seasons in India. For example the summer season is very hot in India. Normally no foreign tourist will come to India during that time. But people, let us say, who are in Dubai, who have their vacation, it will be easier for them come directly to Kashmir which has weather similar to Europe and it is a very cheap destination," he said.
Adverse travel advisories of European countries keep many tourists from visiting Kashmir. Shah says flights should be introduced to Singapore and Malaysia to bring in more tourists from Southeast Asian countries which are not affected by the advisories.