Thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers have started fleeing the disputed region of Kashmir following an alleged terror threat.
Indian security officials said they had found evidence of an attack planned by Pakistani military-backed militants on a major Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir.
On Saturday, the local government ordered tourists and Hindu pilgrims visiting a Himalayan cave shrine “to curtail their stay” in the Indian-controlled territory, citing security concerns.
Hundreds of Indian and foreign visitors, including some Hindu pilgrims, congregated outside the main terminal at Srinagar airport in a bid to book flights out of the region.
However, most are unlikely to get tickets as authorities have yet to arrange additional flights, officials said.
Tourists and pilgrims also took buses out of the region after authorities ordered them to leave their hotels in the tourist resorts of Pahlagam and Gulmarg on Friday evening.
Indian students were also bussed out from some colleges in Srinagar by authorities.
A mine with Pakistan ordinance markings was among the caches of ammunition retrieved following intelligence reports of likely attacks on routes taken by devout Hindus who trek to the holy Amarnath cave every year, officials said.
A local government order issued later effectively called off the pilgrimage and asked devotees and tourists to return home.
The advisory sparked panic and led to “thousands” of tourists, pilgrims and labourers fleeing the region, one senior local government official in Kashmir said.
He said the majority of the 20,000 Hindu pilgrims and Indian tourists and 200,000 labourers were leaving the region.
“The advisory has led to panic among people and the visitors here”, another local government official said.
“Kashmir has seen worst times but we as government officials don’t know what is happening.”
People sought to stock up on essentials and there were long queues outside petrol pumps, cash machines and medical shops in Srinagar.
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.
Kashmir, which touts itself as a “Paradise on Earth”, is divided between India and Pakistan, with each country claiming the territory in its entirety.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989 and most Kashmiris support the rebels’ demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. Many also participate in civilian street protests against Indian control.
Tensions flared after a vehicle laden with explosives rammed into an Indian police convoy on 14 February which killed 40 paramilitary policemen and lead to aerial clashes between India and Pakistan.
Around 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown.