Journey to the picturesque village of Keran in Kashmir, where a history of conflict is giving way to a thriving tourism industry
By Mir Tanveer
The picturesque landscape of Kashmir Valley is experiencing a remarkable surge in tourism this year, with the aftermath of the G-20 meeting held in Srinagar being credited as a catalyst for this thriving industry. Delegates representing a multitude of countries worldwide convened to deliberate on Kashmir’s untapped tourism potential and strategies to expand its horizons. Notably, the recent actions by the Union Territory administration have led to the accessibility of tourist havens such as Keran, Karnah, and Teetwahl in the border areas. Kashmir’s Keran: Borderland Blooms with Tourism
Among these, Keran village, nestled along the Line of Control, has emerged as a North Kashmir Kupwara district hotspot, drawing the attention of enthusiastic travelers. Once an integral part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Keran’s division has left a poignant legacy of separation, poignantly captured in Javeed Akhtar’s song “Panchhi nadiyan pawan ke jhoken.”
Situated amidst this breathtaking border terrain is Keran, a stunning region through which the Kishenganga (Neelum) River flows, delineating the Line of Control between Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir. Across the river lies Pakistan’s Neelum Valley, featuring a village also named Keran, positioned 93 kilometers from Muzaffarabad.
Remarkably, the ancient Sharada Peeth temple and the adjacent ruins of Sharada University grace the Neelum Valley, located a stone’s throw away from Keran. The confluence of the Kishenganga (Neelum), Madhumati, and Sargun streams occurs at Shardi village, where the temple and university reside. During the period spanning the 6th to the 12th centuries CE, Sharada University was a beacon of educational prominence in the Indian subcontinent. Notably, the Kashmiri Pandit community has long advocated for the opening of the Sharda Peeth corridor.
Keran’s beauty is an ensemble of crystalline streams, gushing springs, majestic mountains, and dense forests, embellished with walnut trees. Standing proudly amidst this natural marvel are picturesque wooden houses, a living testament to the region’s architectural heritage. As the District Headquarters Kupwara lies 40 kilometers to the west, Keran presents a mesmerizing panoramic view, accessible by traversing the Firkiyan Gali at an elevation of 9634 feet. The journey to Keran offers a breathtaking 360-degree spectacle from the Firkiyan peak, a truly awe-inspiring encounter.
Eager tourists, who have journeyed over 100 kilometers to reach this enchanting vista, expressed their excitement, “This is our first visit to Keran village, and the surroundings are incredibly captivating,” shared one traveler at Firkiyan Gali.
Notably, the changing tides of Kashmir Valley are dismantling barriers that once restricted travel to these high-security border areas. The district of Kupwara is now witnessing an influx of tourists eager to explore these previously restricted terrains. The allure of lush green forests, sprawling meadows, meandering streams, and the timeless architecture of wooden houses beckon to those who venture here. The unique architectural marvels, resonating with heritage, must be preserved, protected, and celebrated for generations to come.
Keran Village, once marred by the horrors of violence and strife, is now experiencing a remarkable transformation as it opens its doors to tourism. This shift has brought about a wave of positive change, replacing the grim memories of conflict with the joy of exploration for visitors. The residents of this village are basking in the newfound normalcy and tranquility that stretches across borders. This burgeoning atmosphere is not only fostering happiness but also offering a lifeline for the local populace, who had long struggled with limited resources. The prospect of tourism presents them with an avenue for sustainable livelihoods, with various short-term business opportunities sprouting up in the picturesque Keran Village nestled along the banks of the Kishan Ganga river—a natural divide between two nations.
Mohd Hanieef Khan, a proud local resident of Keran, reminisces, “Years ago, our lives were overshadowed by the constant threat of shelling and crossfire between the opposing forces of two nations. We lived in fear, our homes vulnerable to collateral damage and our very lives hanging in the balance.”
“In those trying times, survival was an uphill battle, and our children were robbed of a carefree childhood, plagued by the fear of relentless shelling. Our lives were inextricably tied to the tumultuous borders. Today, the narrative has taken a complete turn, and a sense of safety and security pervades our region. The guns have fallen silent on both sides,” he adds, a hint of relief evident in his voice.
The pivotal decision by the Government of India to spotlight border areas such as Keran, Gurez, Tangdhar, Machil, and Bangus for tourism has instilled a renewed sense of hope and happiness among the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. These emerging tourist destinations not only promise economic development but also pave the way for lasting peace in these once contentious zones.
A visiting tourist reflects, “While these borders delineate territorial lines, as humans, we should strive to foster connections that transcend such boundaries. Keran Village provides a unique vantage point, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of life on the other side of the border, where Indian citizens revel in the serenity of the Kishan Ganga’s banks.”
For non-resident travelers hoping to explore Keran, Karnah, and Machil, securing permission from the Kralpora Police Station has been streamlined. The process involves submitting a straightforward application with essential documents, notably the Aadhar card. The station expedites the approval process, recognizing the value of minimizing bureaucratic hurdles for enthusiastic tourists.
In addition to a handful of government-run lodges, the region offers comfortable homestay accommodations and well-equipped camping tents, ensuring that the infrastructure aligns with the burgeoning tourism industry. As Keran Village emerges as a coveted destination, the government, particularly the Indian Army, plays a pivotal role in fostering local development and prosperity.
However, challenges remain. The administrative apparatus in the Kupwara district must address the deficiencies in network facilities that hamper communication, a vital aspect of the modern tourist experience. Visitors often contend with weak cellular signals, a drawback in an otherwise enchanting setting.
Further collaboration between the administrative machinery and the stationed Indian Army is crucial in establishing essential amenities like proper parking and necessary infrastructure. A seamless and well-equipped environment will undoubtedly enhance the appeal of this budding border tourism locale, potentially serving as a wellspring of employment for Keran Village’s ten-thousand-strong population.
The tale of Keran Village serves as a beacon of transformation, a testament to the resilience of communities yearning for peace and prosperity. As this tranquil haven gradually embraces its newfound identity, it stands poised to rewrite its narrative—from a theatre of conflict to a canvas of tourism and growth.