A Kashmiri boatman saved three tourists from drowning in the Jhelum in Srinagar but was himself swept away after he was allegedly forced to jump back into the river to retrieve their bag, police said on Saturday.
However, the body of the sixty-year-old boatman, identified as one Ghulam Mohammad Guroo, was untraced till Saturday, a day after a team of Indian Navy divers joined the search operations.
Police quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the boat capsized during a cruise on the river on Wednesday evening. After saving the three tourists, Guroo dived back and even got hold the bag but could not swim back to the bank due to exhaustion.
The unidentified tourists, whom other boatmen claimed to have seen coaxing Guroo to return to the river, allegedly left the spot in a hurry.
Boating on the iconic Dal Lake and the Jhelum on small boats locally known as ‘shikaras’ is a must-do for thousands of tourists who visit the scenic Kashmir valley every year, especially during the summers.
A boat ride on the Jhelum, which meanders through Srinagar, takes visitors past architectural landmarks and both Islamic and Hindu religious sites.
Police, however, said such accidents are rare.
“You have to see his [Guroo’s] age. He was tired after saving the three persons but he attempted again without caring for his own self,” a police officer said.
His grieving family and friends are accusing the three tourists of being “heartless”.
“He saved their lives and he lost his while doing so but they are now nowhere to be found. They just didn’t care to even enquire,” said Abdul Qayoom, a house-boat owner and friend of Guroo. “It was their greed that they asked him to go back into the water to get their bag. Is your bag more valuable or a man’s life?”
Guroo, a bachelor, is survived by his sister Ruqaiya and brother Ramzan.
On Saturday morning, the siblings stood on the banks of Jhelum as police search boats whizzed past. “Oh, brother, please come out of the water,” wept Ruqaiya as she beat her chest.
Javed Ahmad Khan, a police boat driver, said searching for the body was a near-impossible task.
It is feared that the river’s strong current could have swept the body many kilometres downstream from the accident spot.