Inhospitable, No More

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Gone are the days when Dak Bungalow was the only address for travellers in Kargil. Over the years, hospitality sector is booming and the latest entrant is Kaniz Fatima, who has changed the high-altitude competition, reports Bilal Handoo 

Kaniz Fatima Kargil

Kaniz Fatima, running Guest House in Kargil.

In Baroo Kargil, one house would remain under intense evening discussions till 2011. It was the family of Kaniz Fatima (28), the only daughter in the family of six members. The family wanted a direction so that idle members could move out and contribute.

Kaniz, whose father was a medical assistant and mother a nurse, would feel a striking sense of responsibility toward her family. But most of the time she would handle the mounting family matters with silence. She had no idea how to get the family out of the dire striates.

But come spring 2011, and she was no longer handling things with silence. That year as Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) camped in Kargil with a ‘youth-friendly’ Sher-e-Kashmir Employment & Welfare Programme for the Youth” (SKEWPY), Kaniz went to seize the opportunity.

“I got 10 days training,” says Kaniz, spreading a big smile. “I can say, those ten days flipped my life—no wait! I mean, flipped the life of my family.”

Once done with the training, she mulled to venture into Kargil’s ‘virgin’ hospitality sector. But before that could have happened, her home was again under an intense discussion. She sought suggestions from her engineer brother, Ali, well-versed with Kargil’s local market. After gruelling brainstorming session at home, an idea to setup guest house sprang up.

“Yes,” she blurts out, “that is what I wanted to do because hospitality comes naturally to us—I mean people of Kargil. We are very hospitable people.”

But mooting an idea and making it happen are entirely two different things. She knew it and therefore decided to approach it with a calculated bent of mind. After doing hectic deliberations with family and EDI, she finally pitched the cost of her project at Rs 25 lakh. Keeping the potential of her entrepreneurship unit in view, her project amount was sanctioned swiftly.

But once she started implementing her idea, she knew it it isn’t a cakewalk. “First, I had to take the land on lease for constructing guest house,” she says. “And second, I had to order truckloads of construction materials from Kashmir. A single truckload of bricks cost me around Rs 50,000, which otherwise cost around Rs 20,000 in valley. I had to shell out major portion of amount I got from EDI on the construction material itself.”

Within days, she ran out of money. But there was no way to wind up what she had started with great zeal and with an anticipation to create a difference in her family life. She talked to Ali, her elder brother. Both decided to utilise their resourceful contacts within their relative and community circle. They ended up taking loan worth Rs 40 lakh.

And with that amount, Kaniz saw her dream taking shape. Her three storey restaurant with 12 rooms got ready to offer hospitality services by summer 2014.

Her guest house is the fifth major tourist stay in Kargil other than Karavan Sarai, De Zoji la, Greenland and Siachen. She says many people are now investing in hospitality sector in Kargil keeping the tourist flow in view. “Five new hotels are also coming up, which will collectively increase around 100 rooms,” she says.

Post-Kargil war, she says, the region is witnessing huge rush of tourists turning up to glimpse Kargil War memorials. This, says Kaniz, has diverted a new form of tourism to Kargil — she terms as “patriotic tourism”.

“Since the flow of such tourist remains pouring in the region for almost eight months a year,” she says, “therefore my guesthouse can attend to a large number of such tourists.” Though an arts graduate, but it seems Kaniz has commerce bent of mind — as she meticulously watches the local market, observing, who offers what.

Unlike other local hoteliers, she also serves local dishes to her guests, like Thopka, Momo, Sattu and other dishes. Presently she has four workers, including two cooks. But when free, she makes it sure to cook home-made food for her guests. This makes stay at her guest house, a special one.

To spread word of her guest house, she travels to Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian states with her brother Ali during off-season. “Besides travelling,” she says, “I give 20 to 25 percent margin to travel agents.”

Even then, she is candid enough to assert, she is a new player in budding hospitality sector of Kargil. However, her being novice isn’t stopping her to work for securing top slot in Kargil’s tourism sector. When it comes to serve tourists, she says, it is matter of a few months before she will be number one in Kargil.

But for that, this shining face in Kargil’s hospitality sector needs to make her guest house spacious. She is working on that front too. In between, she has moved past from her first month income of Rs 3 lakh. Today, her sales counter is ticking, much to her delight.

Life is now good for her — the way she always dreamt when those intense discussions would make her suffer in silence.

But she isn’t silent anyone. In fact, she is vocal now enough to suggest scores of Kanizs across the state “Go, grab the opportunity and flip your life.”

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