Tourists pack up or cancel plans as curfew, security concerns in Kashmir remain

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Jul 11, 2016 11:09 IST
Curfew continued for a second day throughout Kashmir, bringing normal life to a stand still in the volatile region. The death of a Hizbul militant, Burhan Wani, plunged the state into its latest spate of tense protests, in which 22 people were killed. (Waseem Andabi/HT Photo)

Mohammad Ali, a social activist from Dhaka in Bangladesh, is in a fix. He had no idea that Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani’s killing by security forces would end up disrupting his well-laid plans halfway through an idyllic vacation in Srinagar with his wife and two children.

Kashmir descended into chaos after Wani’s death, resulting in the reported deaths of 22 civilians and a policeman. Even though a curfew was imposed across the state on Sunday, continuing on to Monday, protests and police-public clashes continued to occur. All the shops and restaurants in Srinagar remained shut, and the streets were bereft of any human presence.

“We are stuck inside this hotel and cannot go anywhere – neither Gulmarg nor Sonmarg. They will probably not attack tourists, but we do not want to be caught in the crossfire,” the 37-year-old activist said. He has already settled bills with his taxi driver, and in now trying to book an air ticket back to Bangladesh via Kolkata.

Ali, however, is just one of many wanting to rush out of the strife-torn state a little earlier than planned.

Read | Kashmir violence: Toll reaches 22, restrictions continue for 3rd day

Saurabh Muthye, a 37-year-old businessman from Nagpur, was scheduled to return from Kashmir on July 15 after undertaking a trek or two. But Muthye, sensing the tension brewing in the Valley, advanced his ticket and left on a Sunday afternoon flight.

Muthye said he didn’t want to take any chances by staying back in Kashmir.

With normal life severely affected, tourists are trying to leave Kashmir, not only because of the violence, but because there’s “nothing to do” now. Shops and establishments remained shut for a second day, while roadways were blocked and trains suspended. (Waseem Andabi/HT Photo)

Although Hindustan Times could not identify the exact number of tourists who left the Valley, sources in the travel sector said it was substantially high. The reason was not just the perceived security threat, but also the fact that there was nothing to “do in Kashmir right now”.

“Tourists who are already here are rushing to the airport and many who were scheduled to come are cancelling their tickets,” said Omar Nazir Tibet Baqal, owner of Srinagar-based Labaika Tour and Travel Agency.

Even as the movement of Amarnath Yatris from Jammu to the base camps in Kashmir remained suspended, many pilgrims arrived in Srinagar via air.

Rakesh Agarwal, a pilgrim from Tamil Nadu whose trek from Baltal was scheduled for Monday, came to Srinagar with his extended family on Sunday. He was planning to spend the night in the city because travelling to Baltal was near-impossible due to the curfew.

“Though not worried, we are trying to decide what to do next. I’m sure our Yatra dates will be officially postponed because of the volatile situation,” Agarwal said.

Mahmood Ahmad Shah, director tourism of Kashmir, said the crisis was bound to have an adverse effect on tourism.

“Tourism is driven by peaceful times,” he said, adding that the government was doing its best to ensure the safety of visitors.

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