SRINAGAR: Iconic Kashmiri houseboats face a bleak future as their numbers dwindle to a mere 750, a sharp decline from 2000, primarily due to a blanket ban on construction and a scarcity of skilled craftsmen. The allure of these “floating palaces” for tourists is diminishing rapidly, compounded by the advanced age of the remaining master craftsmen.

Houseboat capsized during intervening night of Thursday-Friday at river Jhelum near Lal Mandi. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Manzoor Pakhtoon, President of the Houseboat Owners Association (HBOA), lamented on the current state of affairs. He highlighted that in the early 1980s, the lakes and rivers of Kashmir boasted nearly 2000 houseboats, a number drastically reduced to 750 today. Pakhtoon emphasised the integral role houseboats play in Kashmiri tourism, branding them the “Crown of Kashmir.”

The imposition of a construction ban by the High Court and the scarcity of elderly master craftsmen compound the crisis. Pakhtoon has been advocating for the reconstruction of gutted houseboats, urging the government to establish a joint committee comprising the Tourism Department and Lakes Conservation Management Authority (LCMA). This committee would assess losses, permitting reconstruction and sparing owners from protracted legal battles.

Expressing concern over the unemployment crisis resulting from the construction ban, Pakhtoon proposed a government-led initiative to train the youth in houseboat construction, aligning with a broader skill development mission.

The recent incident of five houseboats ablaze in Dal Lake, resulting in the tragic death of three Bangladeshi tourists, underscores the urgency of addressing this issue.

Ghulam Mohiudin, an elderly houseboat owner on Nigeen Lake, echoed Pakhtoon’s sentiments, emphasiSing that the declining number of houseboats contradicts the government’s tourism revenue goals. “We can’t construct the new houseboats as there are hardly any master craftsmen left now and they are in their late or mid-70. Houseboats have been the major attraction of foreign and domestic tourists for the past so many decades,” he said. “If the ban is not removed, there would be no houseboat in Kashmir given the fast declining number.” (KNO)


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