Despite being termed as the 'Switzerland of east 'with its impressive peaks and verdant valley, and raising temperature in plains, the number of tourists' visiting Kashmir has plunged to a record low. This is a cause of worry to people associated with tourism industry in the valley.
Official figures suggest that as against 1,72,000 visitors (both domestic and foreign) by April- end in 2006; just 72,000 tourists have visited Kashmir in the same period of this year.
Officials of the tourism department blame last year's militant attacks on tourist responsible for the remarkable decline in the tourist inflow in the valley.
"We all know the reason behind the decline in tourist inflow to the valley, its all because of last year's militant attacks on them," said a top official of the state tourism department.
Last year tourists in Kashmir were under attack from 'unidentified militants' and a series of grenade attacks on them had left 15 tourists dead and more than 70 injured, the attacks have played the spoilsport for the people associated with tourism industry in the state as majority of the domestic tourists are now heading towards much safer hill resorts like Shimla.
The famous boulevard road at the bank of much cherished Dul lake in Srinagar presents a deserted look with only locals around.
The beautifully carved Shikaras and houseboat stand empty waiting for the customers, with a bleak hope of them coming.
"We are the worst affected with the decline in tourists coming to valley, last year's attack on tourist have rendered us jobless," said Bashir Ahmed Mallah a houseboat owner in Dul Lake.
He added, "In the hope of receiving more tourists many of us have taken loans from the banks to refurbish our houseboats, but now with the present situation we doubt that we would be able to return the loan back to the banks."
The valley is facing this crunch despite the assurances of proper security to tourists given by the state government and a significance decline in violence related incidents in the valley as compared to last few years.
To attract more and more tourists to the valley, the state tourism department had organised road-shows in various Indian states like Maharashtra and Gujarat, but the road shows failed to bring visitors to the valley.
"It is a depressing situation; the houseboats are empty, shikara drifters idle and taxi-operators desperately looking for guests" said Azeem Toman, Chairman of the houseboats association.
Adding he said, "We have invested huge money in decking up and decorating our houseboats. But many of us are still awaiting the season's first guest, if it continues like this we will have to suffer great losses"
Situation is not different in the famous hill resort of Gulmarg that last year saw 100 per cent booking- now present a deserted look with almost no tourists around.
"Given the heavy rush of tourists last winter we were hoping of a booming season ahead, but now we are literally starving for guest as our livelihood deepened on tourism," said Ajaiz Ahmed Naiku a hotel owner in Gulmarg.
The major tourist attraction in Gulmarg is the Gulmarg Gondola (Cable car) is also running in huge losses, with no tourists around to buy the ride.
"We are running empty gondola" said an employee at the Gulmarg Gondola.
But the state tourism department is hopeful to pick up the pace in coming days, as the mercury continues to rise in the plain across India.
"Kashmir is a paradise on earth and though we are going through a lean phase at the moment, but we are hopeful to attract more and more tourist in the coming few days," said Farooq Ahmad Shah director of the state tourism department.
Adding he said, "We have lots of attractions in Kashmir, ranging from golf to water and adventure sports; there is no reason for tourist to stay away from valley for long."