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TRAVEL IS AN ADVENTURE IN KASHMIR

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Adventure travel has taken on new meaning in troubled Kashmir, famed for its sparkling lakes and hiking trails through Himalayan forests.

Tourism has almost ceased as separatist militants engage Indian security forces in running battles in Srinagar and other towns of the Kashmir Valley, which 400 years ago India's Moghul emperors dubbed "Paradise on Earth.""We still have the adventure. We just don't have the tourists," said the state's Deputy Director of Adventure Tourism Mohammad Ashraf.

More than 700 people have died so far this year in a separatist revolt in India's only Moslem-majority state.

Srinagar and other towns in the valley have been under partial or total curfew since January, when tens of thousands of Indian security forces poured into Kashmir to fight the militants.

In 1988, before the anti-India movement surfaced, 60,000 foreign tourists and more than 600,000 Indians visited the Vale of Kashmir.

This year only a few hundred "really adventurous" foreign tourists and hardly any Indians have come, Ashraf said.

"It's a different kind of adventure now," he added.

The trickle could dry up completely. Tourism officials in Srinagar said India would probably soon declare the Vale of Kashmir a "disturbed area," making it all but impossible for foreign tourists to visit.

Ashraf, however, sees an environmental silver lining in the cloud hovering over the valley.

The Jammu and Kashmir state government is hiring the pack ponies normally used to carry hikers' luggage to carry garbage picked up on the trails.

It is also buying up the famous silk carpets made on hand looms to keep hundreds of family weavers in business, said Ved Marwah, special adviser to state Governor Girish Saxena.

The houseboats on Dal Lake, which the British introduced last century as an escape from the scorching summer heat of India's northern plains, have been particularly hard hit, and not just economically.

Last month militants hiding in houseboats and on a hill overlooking Dal Lake launched rockets and grenades at security forces housed in deserted tourist hotels.

Some houseboats were damaged in the fight and owners scurried to move 100 others, moored by the lakeside tourist strip known as The Boulevard, to another shore.

The few foreign tourists on the boats packed up and left after the incident, said Iqbal Chapri, head of the Houseboat Owners Association.

But the season was dead before it began for most owners of the lake's 2,000 registered houseboats.

"The people living in houseboats and around Dal Lake are in constant threat at the hands of the paramilitary forces," Chapri said.

"Where you find the cat, you find the rat. The militants came on our houseboats because the security forces have militarized Dal Lake," he said.

On a recent visit the road around the lake, which was once thronged with backpackers, was deserted except for military vehicles dodging flocks of sheep and long-haired goats.

The nomadic Gujar tribesmen were shepherding the flocks from the plains to summer pastures near the snowline.

The authorities were bracing for a fresh wave of militants trying to slip through mountain passes for a summer offensive.

In Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and heart of the revolt, the latest monuments commemorate the dead in what residents call "cross-firings" between militants and security forces.

A roadside wall in Srinagar's old city has been arrayed with dozens of shoes and sandals. They were left on the street on May 21 after security forces opened fire on a funeral procession for Kashmir's slain chief Moslem cleric, Moulvi Mohammad Farooq. The death toll was 55.

Farooq, killed by 16 bullets fired by unknown assailants, is buried in one of four "martyrs' graveyards" in Srinagar.

An Indian army machinegun nest has been set up in the shadow of his tomb.