it is no wonder then that the picturesque valley has been Iseeing fewer and fewer visitors
and the tourism industry in Neelum Valley has seen a major decline. Curiously, the
government of AJK celebrated 2019 as the year of tourism”, but locals working in the tourism industry look back at the year differently. THE TROUBLE WITH TOURISM A school that was damaged by Indian shelling in Lake, Keran, Upper Neelum, Kutton,Jagran, Baboon Valley,Arang Kel and Toabutt. The valley has inspired many nature-lovers to call it heaven on earth. But with its entire length on the LoC, for 14 years, the area has remained a battlefield between Indian and Pakistani forces, following the beginning of an
armed freedom movement in India-held Kashmir in 1989. The only major road linking Neelum Valley to the rest of AJK remained closed for over a decade.
Indian snipers targeted the vehicles and pedestrians from across the Neelum
River, a stone’s throw away. The 14-year-long warlike situationhas left almost all major markets and villages destroyed. Educational institutions, hospitals and other
government and private infrastructure were also damaged. Children were born
and reached teenage years, never knowing what peace looks like.And then, finally, India and
Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003 and it seemed like things would
change. ATEMPORARYBOOM Neelum Valley in October 2019.
Khawaja Riaz works as a tour operator in Neelum Valley. In previous years, he would host an average of 12 to 15 major group tours during the peak
tourist season between May and September. But this year he brought only
three group tours of 40 people each to the valley. According to Riaz, his company has to often change the itineraries of their group tours, sending travellers to alternate
destinations such as Naran, Swat and Gilgit-Baltistan because of frequent
Indian shelling in AJK. “Only a few people dare to visit an area under fire,” he
says. Most do not want to put their lives in danger. “Neither can we put their lives at
risk just for the sake of our business,” Riaz says.A majority of the scenic areas that
tourists want to visit are situated close to the LoC. The 240-kilometre-long bowshaped Neelum Valley is situated in the  northeast of Muzaffarabad. The valley is
known for its scenic beauty, pleasant weather, waterfalls, high mountains and
lush green valleys. The Neelum River slices through the valley. The destinations
in the region most popular with tourists include the historic Sharda Town, Ratti
Gali Lake, Chitta Khatta Lake, Patlain Travelling to the Neelum valley