Feeling the heat

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A pleasant tourist summer has suddenly turned too hot, and it has nothing to do with the weather. For the tourism industry in Kashmir, it is a third midsummer nightmare.  Ikhlaq Qadri reports.

Empty Shikarah on the banks of Dal Lake Photo By: Bilal Bahadur

The prevailing unrest that witnessed bullets killing 15 youths and injuring scores seems to have badly wounded the tourism sector in Jammu and Kashmir. Experts says the tourism sector, a major part of state’s economy, is losing heavily with almost 90 percent of tourists having left Kashmir valley, apparently, for the fear of being restricted to their hotel rooms.

At a time considered to be the peak of tourism season in the valley, the occupancy in the hotels, guesthouses and houseboats etc has gone down to less than five per cent, which was hovering around 85 percent in preceding months. More and more tourists seem to prefer other destinations over Kashmir.

“We are losing Rs 100 crore a day due to either hartal or curfew in Kashmir and tourism sector is the biggest loser,” says president Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir, Shakeel Qalander.

Qalander says the tourist rush this season had been almost double than the last year, but it saw sharp decline in the last few weeks.

President Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association, Siraj Ahmad, says, “There is less than five percent occupancy in hotels at this time and the tourists staying here might also leave soon.”

Visitors want to explore destinations and enjoy nature, but the tourists were not allowed to move freely due to restrictions.

“When restrictions are imposed on the movement, how come we can expect a tourist to stay here and spend money for being inside the four walls,” explains Siraj.

He also blamed a section of national media for mass exodus of tourists. “Adverse campaign run by a section of national media is adding fuel to the fire,” he added.

A senior official of Houseboat Owners Association termed the condition of tourism as very pathetic.

“Right now tourism is zero. All the bookings have been cancelled. We are completely dependent on the situation,” he said.

Tourism is one of the main sectors which have been at the receiving end since the outbreak of armed militancy in the 1990’s. It has seen a revival in this decade, with number of visitors seeing a constant increase, but for the last three summers agitations have put a stop on its growth.

“God has been so kind to this place and people so sincere and helpful but the situation is fearful that we just want to get out of this place,” a tourist from Maharashtra said.

Another tourist beside him backs his views, “The restriction imposed by the government has scared us more as we are not allowed to move outside. The people are supportive and loving.”

Most tourists praise the support and hospitality of local people.

Amrish Sharma, a techie from Delhi said, “It really was touching the way Kashmiris made us feel here, the conditions otherwise were very hostile.”

While the tourism in general is badly affected but the pilgrim tourism associated with the Amarnath Yatra is going on smoothly.

Despite apprehensions and reports in some sections of national media about threats to the pilgrimage, no pilgrims have been harmed. In 2008, when Kashmir erupted in the row over land transfer to Amarnath Shrine Board, local people supported pilgrims by giving them safe passages during demonstrations and hosting langars (community kitchens) for them.

Environmentalist and chairman Save Dal, Muhammad Yousuf Chappri said, “We welcome tourists whether general or pilgrim. Kashmir and Kashmiris are known to be the best hosts.”

“The tourists come here to get respite. They want to feel the closeness to nature and express their self. We always love to serve them as they are our guests. We are not against any sort of tourism,” he added.

Kashmir is preferred by tourists for various breathtaking destinations that bring one close to nature and its weather.
Chappri wants government to help and compensate the people associated with tourism industry, as he says they have suffered heavy losses. He adds that politics should not be mixed with tourism.

Bidding adieu to the Dal Lake from inside his vehicle a tourist said, “We wish and pray that peace prevails here. No more killings. The Almighty has been generous to this land, let people be showered with blessings.”

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