The violence in Kashmir is at an all time low and a record number of tourists have visited the valley this year. NAZIR AHMAD RATHER profiles the resurgence of tourism industry in Gulmarg which has seen a huge influx of tourists from 2011.
With the violence in Kashmir Wat an all time low and a record number of tourists visiting the scenic valley in 2012, one of the most cherished tourist destinations, Gulmarg, where the trade was affected as a result of the violent protests in 2008 – 2010 has seen a sharp rise in business last year. From shopkeepers to hoteliers, from cable car operators to Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA), everyone is excited about the heavy influx of tourists.
“A large number of tourists visited Kashmir in October last year which is usually considered an off season month for the tourist movement. This year we have outsourced our assets in Gulmarg which include the tourist parks, toll posts, parking places, cafeterias, hotels and small huts. GDA outsourced the toll post at Tangmarg at a whooping rate of R 59 lakhs in 2011 which is a record as compared to the toll post in Pahalgam which was outsourced for R 50 lakhs only. We have also rented out three small huts and Royal Park hotel for R 29 lakh a year. The parking places, cafeterias and the children parks in Gulmarg were rented out for R 12 lakhs for a single year,’’says Mehmood Ahmed Shah, the Chief Executive Officer of GDA.
The rush of tourists to Gulmarg was so huge last year that the cable car earned around R 22 lakhs per day in the months of June, July and August. “Even in the month of October, we were fetching R 10 lakhs a day, which was a new experience for us since October is considered as an off season for tourist arrival in Kashmir,’’ says Sheikh Parvaiz, the liaison officer of cable car project.
Apart from these two leading government owned subsidiaries, there are other private organisations who have managed to do a brisk business in 2011 in Gulmarg. The biggest beneficiaries were the nearly 24 hotel owners of Gulmarg which can provide accommodation to about 1500 tourists. A 40-room hotel earned around Rs 80,000 to R one lakh on a single day during the peak season in 2011 with the occupancy rate almost hundred percent.’’ We used to earn R one lakh between June to August on a single day. Our rooms were booked in advance and the occupancy rate was hundred percent,’’ says Manzoor Ahmad Khan, the manager of Hotel Poshwan at Gulmarg.
This year, it was not only the natives of Kashmir who thronged Gulmarg in huge numbers but also the tourists from India and abroad. As a result, the Dhaba owners managed to do a brisk business. There are around 143 dhabas in Gulmarg and each dhaba owner earned around Rs 10, 000 a day on an average during the peak tourist season.”I would earn around Rs 10, 000 per day during the peak season,’’ says Shabir Ahmad Khutoo, a dhaba owner.
People associated with the art and craft business have similar views about the jump in trade since 2011 which they attribute to a peaceful environment that has prevailed in Kashmir over the last two years. ‘’We did a good business this year. My seasonal turnover touched around Rs 3 lakh from March to October. It was only due to the peace prevailing in the valley,’ ’says Waseem Malik, the owner of Village Art and Craft, Tangmarg. As the tourist season is picking up in Kashmir, a large number of transporters too are relieved to find the peace return to the valley. ”We managed to earn around R 2 lakhs up to the last week of October last year. We are hopeful to do more business with the tourist rush still the best, even in the last week of October,’’ says Satish Sharma, a driver working with Yatrika Tour and Travel agency in Jammu’s Katra region. However, the pony owners are not satisfied with their trade, despite a record number of tourists visiting the valley, ‘’No doubt, a record number of tourists visited the valley this year. But for us, it has been no better. We are the worst sufferers as far as the daily earnings are concerned,’’ says Bashir Ahmad Mir, President of Pony Owners Association in Gulmarg.
“The restrictions put on us by GDA and the Indian Army has ruined