An IIPM Initiative
Sunday, January 23, 2022

The silent valley


It’s that time of the year when the Valley was to have been buzzing with beaming tourists; instead, all that can be heard are wails, sirens and the odd silence. Haroon Reshi treads warily around a lost paradise…
Issue Dated: September 19, 2010
Tags : |
The silent valley Early this year, when the Jammu & Kashmir government dubbed 2010 as the ‘Visit Kashmir Year’ to attract more tourists, and launched a massive advertising campaign across India and in the West, Muhammad Ashraf Dar (43), painted and decorated his shikara (houseboat) to make it more alluring to the visitors. His shikara named “New Dar Place” is among two thousand registered shikaras in the renowned Dal Lake.

In the months of April and May, as the place started filling up, shikara owners like Ashraf anticipated a record-breaking tourist season. With about 6,10,000 domestic and foreign tourists landing in Kashmir Valley by the first week of June, state's ailing economy had much to be optimistic about. Ashraf was looking forward to at least 0.2 million rupees worth of income generation between May and October. His plans included renovation of his one storey house in the Dal Dwellers colony near the Lake. But then, as is known now, events took a nasty turn. On June 11, Tufail Mattoo, a school going teenager was killed by a teargas shell fired by security forces in downtown Srinagar. Violence erupted, and this time angry protesters resorted to stone pelting at the security forces. In the last three months, 67 people, including teenagers and under-10 boys lost their lives in confrontation with the defence forces. More than three thousand were wounded, and many of them still battling for their lives in different hospitals of the Valley. Hartals (strikes) and curfews continue to plague civil life, and government offices, business establishments, educational institutions and public transport have shut down.

Within days of the first signs of trouble, tourists were on their out and others cancelled impending trips to the Valley. The month of September – supposed to be peak tourist season – has only known empty hotels, guesthouses and houseboats as yet.

Mount View Hotel at Phalgam (one of the most popular destinations in the Valley, at an altitude of 2130m above sea level), was teeming with guests in the first week of June. “Now all 55 rooms of our hotel are unoccupied and the staff is idle,” says Saleem, manager at Mount View. “Most of the hotel owners have asked their employees to go home. Thankfully, we are still getting salaries,” he added.

A similar situation is seen at the Dal and Nigeen Lakes’ houseboats. “About 99 per cent houseboats in the lakes are unoccupied. All bookings have been cancelled. We even had to refund advance payments.” says Gulam Muhammad Pakhtoon, Vice President of the Houseboat Owners Association. “Ye to Khuda ka kehar hai (It’s the Lord’s wrath),” says Pakhtoon, proprietor of two houseboats. The silent valley Like the hoteliers and houseboat owners, shopkeepers are suffering a similar fate. The Shaikh brothers – Javid Ahmad Shaikh and his younger brother Shakeel Ahmad Shaikh – run a Kashmir Arts showroom called, “Elegant Store” in the posh polo-view market in Srinagar. Having seen the encouraging influx of tourists in the early months of the season, they stocked in enough inventory hoping for brisk business in the coming days. They had even approached Jammu and Kashmir Bank for financial assistance to purchase Pashmina shawls, sarees, embroidered curtains, chain stitch rugs and Kashmiri hand made dresses. “Not only have we lost business due to regular hartals and curfews, we have also to repay the bank loan with its huge interest rates. It is a grave situation for us,” says Javed, who had opened his shop for the brief period that curfew was relaxed.

The state’s tourism minister Rigzen Jora told TSI that the government had expected a record-breaking 1.3 million domestic and foreign tourists in this summer for a major campaign had been implemented to draw visitors to the state where 60% of the population directly or indirectly relied on the tourist industry. Adventure tourism was promoted feverishly; for the first time, the government had thrown open more than 100 high-altitude peaks in the state to climbers. But all these attempts to boost the ailing tourism industry of this militancy hit state have failed due to civil unrest. “As the situation is constantly worsening, I am afraid we might even lose the winter season activities. Tourism in the state will flourish only after peace is restored.” Jora said.

According to Shakeel Qalandar, President of the Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir, “The State meets with 100 crore rupees of loss each day due to strikes. Since June 11, we have lost to the tune of a thousand crores. And 1.2 million people are directly hit by this loss.” In addition, with waning trade and tourist activity in Kashmir, the corresponding scene in a neighbouring state, HP, has had a shot in the arm.

Ashraf has now dropped plans of repairing his house; he is worried about the days ahead though. He does not have enough savings to hold out the harsh winters, and he is equally worried about the needs of his three schools going kids. The Ashrafs in the Valley are waiting to get on with their lives; when will the deadlock end..?
Rate this article:
Bad Good    
Current Rating 0
Previous Story

Previous Story

Post CommentsPost Comments

Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017