No shikaras on the Dal Lake this season

A M Jigeesh Recently in J&K | Updated on September 05, 2019

Shikaras waiting for tourists at the Dal Lake, Srinagar AM JIGEESH   -  AM JIGEESH

Tourism sector has collapsed in Kashmir following curfew and clampdown

Since the night of August 1, when security agencies, citing ‘a red alert’, descended on hotels and asked tourists and travellers to leave, tourism and allied industries in the Valley — taxis, shikaras on Dal Lake, hotels, restaurants and shops — have collapsed.

This August has been starkly different from that of the previous years when, despite tensions and political turmoil, the Dal Lake would be teeming with shikaras and small boats, from which traders sell handmade souvenirs, saffron sachets and miscellaneous locally made knick knack.

But after the scrapping of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, the evening lights on the Dal Lake have dimmed and the shikaras no longer ferry tourists or traders. Except a few vegetable vendors and kebab sellers whom BusinessLine met during a visit to the Valley last week, no one bothers to venture out much.

Ali, who sells curios from his bicycle, said “There has been no sale for the past one month. I just came to see if things have changed.”

Mubarak had started a new tourist agency with help from a couple of his friends. He got his first order from Europe in June and the guests reached Srinagar as scheduled on August 1.

“But the security agencies reached our hotel the same night and asked us to leave, citing a red alert. They asked the hotels to close down at least three days ahead of the abrogation of Article 370,” Mubarak said. He said he lost a lot of money because he had to compensate the tourists.

Ramesh (name changed) runs a tea stall near Dal Lake, which had to be shut down because of the curfew and the hartal (protest) that followed. Ramesh is a migrant from Jammu. “All shops in the complex where my stall is located are shut. But the locals are helping me out. They have fixed me up with another shop nearby. I am grateful that I still have some means to earn a livelihood,” Ramesh said.

The leader of shikara and houseboat owners is anxious, “There are two lakh people who make a living out of Dal Lake. It includes 5,000 shikara owners, more than 2,000 houseboats and workers. We don’t know what lies in store,” he said.

Rahman, a shikara owner lamented, “I used to make at least ₹3,000 a day during the season. This month, I didn’t get even a single tourist on some days. My income this week is just ₹500.” .

Tariq Ahmed, a houseboat owner and a social activist, said Kashmiris are used to such long shutdowns but this time, the official clampdown is coupled with the silent protest from the traders and local businessmen against abrogation of Article 370. A large number of them have decided to suspend operations.

“We have decided to switch off the lights during the night. The well-lit Dal is a sight to behold. We are losing our business, money and life. But this protest will continue until the Centre reinstates Article 370,” he said. “This is the way they treat us for no reason. The police drove away not just tourists but even the poor bhelpuri sellers from the road,” he added.

“I used to get at least a dozen bookings during the tourist season. Now, it is one or two bookings a day,” said Shihab, who operates a vehicle from the pre-paid taxi counter at Srinagar airport. “The situation has turned grim,” he said and added that without a notice, roads could get closed. “It is risky to take tourists out of the city,” he added.

Hotels shut

Just one of our 34 rooms is occupied now. Most of the groups have either cancelled or the police forced them to vacate,” a hotel manager told BusinessLine.

Two foreign tourists near Dal lake said they came just two days ago and will go to Ladakh. “We haven’t faced any difficulties than some restrictions in travelling,” one of them said.

Published on September 05, 2019

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