Thousands of tourists and students scrambled to get places on planes and buses leaving Kashmir yesterday after the Indian government warned of the threat of “terror” attacks.
Thousands of military reinforcements were arriving in the state, where a three-decade old insurgency has left tens of thousands of dead.
The Jammu and Kashmir state government said late Friday that tourists should leave “immediately” because of new intelligence about “terror threats” to Amarnath Hindu pilgrimage in the region.
Anxious tourists, including some foreigners, flooded the airport in Srinagar yesterday, many without tickets for flights.
Visitor numbers have been boosted by the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage, which draws hundreds of thousands of Hindus each year.
The pilgrimage has been cancelled because of the scare.
A huge security force had been guarding the route even before the alert.
A second smaller pilgrimage, the Machail Mata Yatra, in Jammu region was also cancelled yesterday.
“Passengers who were scheduled to return in coming days have turned up in panic at the airport today,” said the manager of one airline operating the Delhi-Srinagar route.
“It’s chaotic and not many will manage seats unless there are additional flights.”
Hundreds of students from outside Kashmir were evacuated in buses.
“All the non-local students have left the campus for their respective states,” an administrative official at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar said.
A senior local government official did not give a specific number, but he said most of the 20,000 Hindu pilgrims and Indian tourists and the more than 200,000 labourers were leaving the region.
Around 60 international tourists arrived in Kashmir yesterday, however, the official said.
Yesterday Germany and the UK issued advisories to their citizens discouraging them from travelling to Jammu and Kashmir.
“Travellers staying in Kashmir (especially the Kashmir Valley and the Armanath Yatra Pilgrimage Route) are advised to leave Jammu and Kashmir,” the German ministry of foreign affairs said.
The UK’s foreign office advised against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir with the exceptions of travel by air to Jammu and within the city, and within the region of Ladakh
Kashmiri residents formed long lines outside petrol stations, food stores and bank cash machines on Friday night after the alert was announced.
But the queues eased yesterday.
India’s military head in Kashmir, Lieutenant General Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, said Friday that a sniper gun and a mine with Pakistani markings had been found on the route of the Amarnath Yatra.
“This proves Pakistani attempts to attack the Yatra,” said Singh, who has 500,000 forces in Kashmir battling the insurgency.
The Indian government has admitted that 10,000 extra troops were sent to Kashmir a week ago.
Media reports Friday said a further 25,000 had been ordered there.
The government has declined to say how many are in the new reinforcements.
While military authorities and the state government highlighted the security risk, Kashmir politicians have raised fears that the troops are sign that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government could carry out a threat to scrap Article 35A of the constitution that guarantees a special status for the state.
Political leaders in the state have warned that cancelling rights, which mean only state domiciles can buy land in the region, could spark unrest.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik said “unnecessary panic” was being created by “rumours”.
Modi’s government has refused to say whether it is about to scrap the constitutional article, though he has often spoken against it.