At a time when the occupancy in Kashmir hotels is below one-fourth, the start of the yearly Amarnath yatra could have been a game changer. Yatris, being pilgrim-tourists usually avoid the picnics and the luxury travel, still a section of them has historically been spending time in the breathtaking meadows of Kashmir. An earlier survey, almost a decade back, had suggested some percentage of the pilgrims do try mixing their religious voyages with the luxury.
The hospitality sector has never been the mainstay of Kashmir economy but the quick spending by tourists have remained a key income that always had a cascading impact in certain urban and a few rural belts. In certain cases, this income is the only source of income.
Though the hospitality sector had started picking up after the unrest of 2010, it took a serious hit during 2014 floods. Later the TV and the politics took a stand on Kashmir that it has not been able to actually undo the damage that was done to the destination.
There were instances in which some Bollywood crews and a few from peripheral cinema made serious efforts to shoot their films in Kashmir. These films were appreciated and did well at the box office but it did not help the destination, either. At the same time, there were a few films that showcased Kashmir as a territory in perpetual conflict and some of these projects were political in nature, at least at the face of it.
The yearly yatra has been there for centuries. For tragic reasons, this pilgrimage was also politicised during the initial years of militancy. While there was scope of de-politicising the event, with every passing year, a layer has been continuously added to it. This, however, has not impacted the population in Kashmir that remains connected with the event as it was in past. There has not been any shift in the systems that have evolved over the decades in managing this pilgrimage. This was despite the fact that at one point of time some people in the government tried to upset the evolved system. This actually led to unrest in 2008 that eventually led to the collapse of Ghulam Nabi Azad government.
Home Minister Amit Shah spent two days in Srinagar. While he reviewed developmental activities, was brief on the security situation, had an interaction with the Panchayats, the emphasis remained on the Amarnath yatra. The systems for yatra 2019 are expected to be better as the entire administration is geared up. The statements issued by the separatist clan have asserted that pilgrims were and shall remain the guests. In this backdrop, it is hoped that the pilgrimage remains a success as it has always been, barring some bad days in distant past.
However, the new systems that evolved since 2016, the pilgrims are being discouraged from mixing with the host population, not permitted to stay in hotels thus depriving them of opportunity from enjoying Kashmir. They move between lunghars right from Jammu and are rarely permitted to move off the security escorts. This is despite the fact that some of the worst accidents to the pilgrim convoys were managed by the host population and not the security forces.