Srinagar: Deserted look sported by the picturesque tourist destinations, houseboats and hotels in Indian Kashmir bears witness to the tough times tourism industry is going through these days.
Srinagar’s Mughal gardens are crying for a tourist buzz, snow caped mountainous Gulmarg no more dazzles with the visitors and the scenes provided by other destinations make a grim reading as well.
Famous Dal Lake-in the lap of Zabarwan mountain valley- provides a picture of boredom. Shikara riders can be seen smoking, sleeping, gossiping or lamenting rather than usual ferrying of tourists across the waters of Dal Lake. Houseboats moored on its waters are no more playing host to the recreational activities.
The visitors have left the valley, with it, hopes of revival of tourism industry in the valley dashed. ‘Bumper’ summer of the industry has evaporated into the stone pelting, street protests, bullets, tear gas shelling, killings, curfews and shutdowns.
Thanks to the latest turmoil in the valley, the tourism industry has come to a virtual grinding halt, giving sleepless nights to the tourism fraternity.
Developments for last four months in the valley have forced tourists—Indian and international—to flee the valley and advanced bookings were cancelled wholesale.
It all started after killing of a 17 year-old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo hit by a tear gas shell fired by the police on June 11 triggered unending cycle of violence that consumed 111 civilians thus far-majority of them young.
Ever since Tufail’s killings, the situation has gone from bad to worse and seems to have no end in the immediate future.
Latest unrest in the valley or ‘summer uprising’ what many dub it as, has handed over a body blow to the overall economy of the state. Tourism industry heads the charts of worst hit sectors.
Mushtaq Ahmad Burza, president Kashmir Hotels and Restaurant Owners Federation or KHAROF, shares the quantum of losses tourism industry has incurred during the last 128 days of turmoil.
“Our industry (tourism) has been affected the most due to the unrest in the valley. No sooner the unrest started tourists started to pack their bags coupled with the cancellation of advance bookings. It has had a telling blow to the already ailing industry,” laments Burza who owns half a dozen premier hotels in the valley.
Tourism industry, according to Burza’s estimates (roughly), has suffered a loss of RS.1000 crores during the tumultuous period.
For the major part of last four months, valley has witnessed protests and shutdown against the killings in line with the separatist calendars, while government on its part has enforced curfew and restrictions to curb the protests.
As a result, tourists were left with no other option but to leave.
“People come to Kashmir for site-seeing. But due to the prevailing conditions they were confined to their hotel rooms or houseboats. They decided that it was better for them to leave,” Burza told Agence India Press.
As the word of valley’s prevailing situation reached across the India and rest of world, advance registration was also cancelled- making things worse for the fraternity.
Nearly livelihood of 3 percent of state’s population is directly or indirectly dependent on tourism industry, making it a lifeline of the Jammu and Kashmir economy.
Kashmir has a vibrant tourism industry with half a dozen world famous destinations, well supported by nearly 1500 hotels and 1200 houseboats.
Tourism industry appeared to be well on course in its recovery mission after twenty years of uncertain business as all the destination were choc-bloc with the tourists- something for the fraternity to cheer about.
More than 6, 00,000 had visited the valley till first week of June.
It seemed ‘Kashmir, 2010’ or ‘Visit Kashmir, 2010’ campaign –aimed to woo the tourist across the world for a visit to the valley- launched by Travel and Tour Operators of Kashmir or TAAK, an association of 370 local registered operators, in collaboration with state’s tourism departments earlier this year was bearing fruits.
Joy, however, couldn’t last long with turmoil playing the spoilsport.
While talking to Agence India Press, Abdul Raouf Tramboo, president TAAK, elaborates, “Those entire dependent on the tourism were satisfied with the tourist inflow to the valley in the early season. We had to work overtime as we could see a big number of visitors queuing for bookings. But after June 11, scenario changed. The arrivals have plummeted to zero,”
The only silver lining over this ‘action packed’ period was smooth Yatra of devotees to Holy Amarnath Cave, 148 KM to the south of Srinagar.
Around 4, 50,000 Hindu pilgrims paid obeisance to the 5,000 years old Hindu shrine, dedicated to god Shiva.
Even it couldn’t provide a great deal of relief as movement of devotees was confined to the pilgrimage route owing to the strikes and curfews.
Tramboo explains, “During the normal situation, the Amarnath Yatris (devotees) would visit to the various spots before leaving for Yatra or after completing it and stay at hotels and houseboats. But, situation forced them to leave the valley, soon after they completed Yatra.”
Successful and uninterrupted Yatra, Tramboo felt, has a message for the tourists.
“Not a single Yatri was attacked during their visit to the valley. It shows visitors are always welcome to the valley. People shouldn’t shy away from visiting Kashmir.”
With Kashmir witnessing ‘zero tourism’ during its bumper season—June to September- fraternity is mulling lay-offs. Infact, more than 50,000 employees including waiters, cooks and peons have already been retrenched. Hotel, restaurant and houseboat owners and travel and tour operators are left with no option but to lay-off some of their employees.
“I waited three months for situation to improve but nothing seems to go our way. Now I have asked asking some of my employees to leave. It is unfortunate but we can’t do much about this. There is hardly any business. There is zero occupancy in hotels. We can’t bear salaries of our employees,” said an hotelier, who declined to be named.
Dullness and emptiness in around the destination is coincided with disappointment and concern look on the faces of all those associated with the tourist industry.
Hopes of tourist arriving in the near future are bleak and fraternity is readying themselves for tougher times ahead.
Abdul Majeed is one of lucky waiters to have escaped the lay-off blow. He is still holding on to his job that pockets him with Four Thousand rupees a month. But uncertainty is written all over his demeanor, perhaps representing a general mood amongst all those dependent on the ‘ailing’ industry.
“My boss is paying me the dues as he used to do before the turmoil. But in my heart of hearts I know it would be difficult for my boss to pay me the salary if there is no improvement in the situation. I am not sure what lies in the future for me and my colleagues,” Majid reckons with a smile that soon disappears as he starts thinking about his ‘uncertain’ job.
‘Zero’ tourism means that allied industries like artisans, handicrafts, restaurant owners, saffron growers, taxi drivers, ponywalas and almond and fruit growers had to suffer huge losses owing to the turmoil in the summer.
Lay-offs in these industries are picking up the pace and the trend is going to render thousands of employees-majority of them daily wagers and low paid- jobless.
The sequence of events and no signs of situation coming to the normal don’t augur well for the tourism and its allied industries that were meandering to some sort of stability after twenty years of uncertain business.
All that has been halted as street continues to burn.
With fractured past, hopeless present and uncertain future, tourism industry has been left on its own.
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