As Strike Enters Fourth Day, Tourists Pack Their Bags

3 June 2009
The Indian Express

Srinagar: Only week ago, the placid waters of Dal Lake were bursting with activity; the boulevard road leading towards famous Nishat and Shalimar gardens was jam packed with tourists and vehicles, handicraft kiosks, restaurants and coffee joints remained open up to midnight. After many lean years the heavy influx of tourists to the Valley, especially from the mainland raised hope of revival of tourism industry in Kashmir. Government as well as those associated with the Kashmir’s biggest industry were anticipating hectic tourist season ahead. The three day strike call given by hardliner Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani to protest against the alleged murder and rape of two girls in Shopian district has brought life to a standstill and tourism industry back to where it was a month ago. The strike has been extended for two more days and people have apprehensions that it may further prolong. J-K chief minister Omar Abdullah said the frequent strike calls given by some groups will affect states Tourism industry. “As many as 3,800 tourists arrived here on Saturday while only 2,600 visitors reached on Sunday. If strikes continue, this season will also be lost”, he said. Tour operators and houseboat owners claim that many advance bookings have been cancelled and the tourists holidaying in the city and famous tourist resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam have already packed their bags and cut short their trips. “For us another season is lost to senseless strikes and protests,” said Khazir Mohammad Katroo, who owns two houseboats in Dal Lake. “Last week, both my houseboats had full occupancy with the tourists, today, only one room is booked,” he said. “Many of our guests cancelled their advance bookings due to the prevailing circumstances,” he said. Katroo said initially many tourists feared to visit to Valley after some news channels reported about presence of Taliban in Kashmir. But, since past one week, the arrivals reached all time high. “And now, it’s the protests and strikes that ruined our season. Last year, Amarnath land controversy had spoiled our season,” he said. “We are very unlucky, every time when ever there is a good tourist season situation turns hostile in Valley.” Presently there are only few tourists staying in the house boats and hotels, the gardens are empty. “From past three days, we have not received a single query from outside the state or abroad for bookings,” said Omar Ahmad, owner of Labika Tour and Travels. “Instead of fresh queries, many advance bookings have been cancelled,” he said adding that its now difficult to save the season. According to J&K government records, the number of arrivals last week touched around 3,800 a day. This unprecedented rush had led to a hike in airfares and a trip to Valley from Delhi was more expensive than a holiday abroad. The minimum cost for a one-way ticket from Delhi last week was Rs 14,000. The tourist graph however started coming down since Monday when it reached 2,700 arrivals, on Tuesday only 2,200 tourists arrived and on Thursday the number came down to three digit. “We were hoping the tourist rush would cross over one lakh this month. But, now, its difficult to save the season,” said a senior Tourism official in Kashmir. Tour and travel operators were ecstatic with the tourist arrivals, now their hopes are dashed, and they think otherwise now. “For us the game is over,” said Imtiyaz Ahmad, owner of Hotel Residency. “Last week, my entire hotel was booked with tourists, today, only two rooms are occupied,” he said. “This summer we were expecting a good season but strikes have changed everything. Who will dare to come to Kashmir when people are pelting stones and shops are shut,” he said. “I am now planning to strip my additional staff that I had employed for the tourist season.”