Tourism Suffers Major Setback In Kashmir Due To Unrest2 October 2010
Srinagar: This summer brought immense sufferings and miseries to the people in valley. Apart from clashes and subsequent killings, there are many untold tales that have wretched the people in thousands even lakhs who have become fodder for the current phase of violence in many other spheres of life. Take for instance the tourism industry in Kashmir that has witnessed the worst ever knock-on effect this summer. Srinagar boasts Mughal gardens, a mild summer climate and elegant houseboats sitting on Lake Dal in front of mist-wreathed mountains. Before the armed insurgency in 1989, travellers from around the world were drawn to Kashmir's culture and scenery. When the era of bloodshed began tourists started abandoning the place and the tourist influx both in terms of domestic and foreigners, showed a huge decline till 2003. After 2003, tourists in bulk returned to this place when India and Pakistan started peace talks and as militant attacks dropped dramatically. Though in 2006, many conspiracies were hatched to stop tourists visiting Kashmir and grenades were lobbed in tourist buses in Srinagar and outskirts, the influx, however, remained undisturbed because of the immediate and all out efforts by the government to thwart any attempt aimed at destroying the economy of the valley. Locals, particularly the people associated with the industry such as houseboat owners, tourist operators taxi operators and the common masses rose to the occasion and fought back the evil designers. In July 2006, when a grenade was lobed towards a tourist bus at Tangmerg, people in thousands came out on the streets to condemn the attack thereby pushing the evils to wall. I yet another incident in Dalgate a tourist bus carrying domestic tourists from Calcutta came under attack of the militants but the locals and the then state government were determined to defeat the anti-peace elements. Ultimately the elements hell bent to destroy the socio-economic fabric were isolated. But this time around, the political as well as the permanent bureaucracy seem to be in deep slumber having no idea of how to give their people a hope to live. No doubt, any optimism has disappeared with more than 100 civilians killed since June 11 across Kashmir, but the response from the administration to the areas other than the law and order spectrum, was even more disappointing. 'On the 600-700 houseboats there is hardly one tourist. I haven't had a single guest since the violence broke out in June,' said Rashid Dongola, 55, owner of the Hilton Kashmir houseboat. As soon as the curfew is lifted, a few hand-paddled boats cross the serene lake carrying vegetables to market. Scores of boats laden with shawls and colourful papier-mache boxes used to vie for tourists' attention. Now there are none. 'This should be high season for us,' said Dongola, sitting in his houseboat's grand wood-panelled interior. 'My boat is rotting here and I can't afford repairs.' with schools shut for months and hospitals running short of supplies, the price of living under the curfew is high. One wonders that in 1995, when the valley was taken over by the armed militants completely, foreigners would visit to the valley, even after 5 foreigners were abducted by a least known militant group, Al-Faran in the thick forests of Pahalgam. This scribe had a chance to watch closely the developments that followed the abduction of the foreigners. I was assisting the relatives of the abducted foreigners in a search out programme sponsored by German TV. I would see the fear but at the same time I would also witness the immense attraction of the foreigners towards Kashmir. This time, response to the situation is altogether missing, people associated with tourism are starving, industry shaken, no hope to live, only desperation. When the director Information Farooq Shah was contacted to give account of the measures and figures of tourists during this summer, he was political. “I cant comment on this at the moment, lets discuss the issue at some other time, there is no scope for discussion right now”.