Voices of Despair

Pahalgam was apparently crowded because of the pilgrims in July but Umar Khurshid moved away from the road to talk to the stakeholders in hospitality sector and found them sitting idle and holding bad TV responsible for a failed tourist season

Sajad Ahmed 28, is visibly tense. The Front Office Manager at Hotel Hiltop in Pahalgam, Kashmir’s premier picnic spot, he looks hopeless in his moving chair, gazing outside from the front glass wall.

“National media hides the positives and reports all the negative things and it ultimately affects our economy,” says Sajad aguishly. “The TV jingoism is the culprit for killing the season.”

Bad TV, he insists, has turned tourists away from Kashmir to other destinations “We have historically been a prime destination but now we are reduced to stopover destination for tourists visiting Ladakh,” he insists.

Sajad is not the only concerned professional in the village of the shepherds, the Pahalgam. Majid Ahmed owns Kashmir Hotel in the main town. He said various Bollywood film crews have canceled shooting or shifted the location to Ladakh or nearby states, due to the situation of the Kashmir.

“The number of tourist arrivals here have come down to around 200 to 250 per day from around 12,00 to 15,00 earlier,” according to Majid. “Hotel occupancy is at an all-time low, and it ultimately has an impact on the overall economy.”

Mudasir Ahmed 35, is a senior office manager in Royal Hill Top. “Bookings were there until September and we expected a good rush of domestic tourists in October as well. But almost 90% of our online bookings were canceled. This was despite all time low air fares,” he said.

Low footfalls impact everything. Mudasir points towards a boy and informs: “He has done masters in English. He used to earn Rs 6,000, a month but now he stays here hopelessly.”

Mudasir remembers days when he had no time to even call his family during the work. “Barring one or two guests, now no one turns here,” he said. He sits idle for a whole day thinking mostly about the tensions that the turmoil triggers. “No business can flourish in turmoil,” Mudasir said. “Tourists return happily after visit and Kashmir continues to be the safest place for women visitors but turmoil is turmoil.”

Taxi driver, Rayees Ahmed 30, is a resident of Ganishbal, on the fringes of Pahalgam. He had expected 2017 as the best tourist year, after 2016 unrest. “I used to earn a profit of Rs 2000 a day but now I earn Rs 400 hardly,” Rayees said. “People do not know the difference between pilgrims to Amaranth and the tourists to Pahalgam.”

Even the Pilgrim footfalls have gone down. So far not more than 2.5 lakh pilgrims have kept their date with the cave. The arrivals fell to a trickle after an attack one of the buses in July.

Imtiyaz Ahmed 35, works in Hotel Grand Mumtaz. The lone bread-earner of his family, he is thankful to the hotel owner who has continued paying his staff even in worst times. “We are facing a situation created by media that maligned Kashmir,” Imtiaz said.

Working with the hotel for last eight years, Imtiaz had seen the lowest ever footfalls in the fascinating valley.

“Kashmir is a place that does not require publicity,” Shabir Ahmed, owner of Pine Palace Resort, said. “But what kills us is bad TV.” He said they had advance bookings until September but “every day we are receiving calls for cancellation and others put them on hold.” Shabir insists that Pahalgam cannot survive on three percent occupancy.

Hotels have slashed tariffs but there are no takers. “We slashed our tariff from Rs 7000 a night to Rs 2500 but our occupancy is only 20 percent,” Tariq Ahmed 35, accounts head at Hotel Mount View said. “It has an impact. Last year we had 85 employees and now we have only 20.”

Hotel Grand Akbar staffer Fayaz Ahmed said the lack of work has led to the disengagement of the employees in his hotel from 20 to two. Its room rent has gone down from Rs 3000 to Rs 600.

One of the main source of survival these days is the local visitor. “Schools come for picnics and these parks are filled and some money goes to the market, especially to the small business,” Mohammad Rafi Itoo 30, an employee of Floriculture Department said. He is a care taker of Poshwan Park.  “Earlier we used a continuous flow of the local tourist but now it is only on weekends.”

These parks offer an idea of the crisis that Pahalgam is facing. Poshwan Park would be outsourced for Rs 15 lakh, a season. It has gone down to mere one lakh rupees this year.

Beetab Valley Park, situated on Pahalgam Chandanwari road, had a contract of Rs five crores before 2016 unrest and even after such a huge cost, the contractor still made money. That is not the case now.



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