95% of tourists cleared out of Kashmir valley, NIT students leave
Srinagar: Over 95% of tourists and Amarnath pilgrims had left Kashmir by Saturday afternoon after the Jammu and Kashmir government asked them to curtail their visits and leave the Valley because of perceived terrorist threats, according to the director of tourism, Nisar Wani.
Tourists and pilgrims were flown out of the valley by Air Force aircraft, commercial flights and on Jammu and Kashmir State Road Transport Corporation buses. Some 20,000 of them were estimated to have been in Kashmir when the advisory asking them to leave was issued on Friday.
“Almost 95% tourists have left. Those who could afford to buy tickets went by flights while those who could not were sent in Air Force planes,” said Wani. “Many were ferried in the buses and cars during the night”.
While a group of 116 foreign tourists landed on Saturday, who could not arrange return flights, Wani said that by Sunday, most of the tourists would have left the Valley.
He added that 32 fully booked flights from Srinagar International Airport mostly flew the tourists out of the valley.
No new pilgrims have been allowed to move towards the two base camps in Pahalgam and Ganderbal since July 30; the yatris who were already in the Valley have been ferried back in buses.
“Most of the pilgrims left by early morning while there are a few hundred people like employees or those making arrangements for the yatra who would leave by the evening. It will be empty by evening,” said additional deputy commissioner, Ganderbal, Shafqat Iqbal.
“The langars (community kitchens) are also being closed,” he said.
Everyday, anywhere between 3,000 and 20,000 pilgrims would visit the holy cave in the south Kashmir Himalayas after the Yatra started on July 1. This year, some 342,800 people performed the pilgrimage to the cave shrine. In June, 170,000 tourists had visited the Valley, while in July, 152,000 tourists had gone.
The Amarnath yatra was scheduled to end on August 15.
Hundreds of non-local labourers and daily wagers have also started to leave the Valley. The unprecedented security advisory from the home department talked about “latest intelligence inputs of terror threats, with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra” and asked yatris and tourists to curtail their stay and return as soon as possible in the interest of their “safety and security”.
The advisory came after security officials on Friday said that Amarnath Yatra was under threat and they had recovered a large cache of ammunition including a Pakistan-made anti-personnel mine and a US-made M-24 sniper rifle along the route to the shrine.
Ravi Khanna, a tourist from Rajasthan who had arrived in Valley two days ago had to cut short his visit after the government’s advisory on Friday. “Soon after the advisory was issued I decided to leave the Valley. I got air ticket on a higher price. Apparently situation looks normal but we can’t ignore the advisory.”
Many Kashmiris reached out to tourists and yatris with their mobile numbers on social media in case they need any help.
“Any outside tourist, pilgrim, traveller, commoner etc in Kashmir in case need any help, is most welcome & will be highly obliged to help without any thoroughfare...,” Jalal Jeelani, a Kashmiri environmental filmmaker, wrote on Facebook and posted his contact number.
Chairman of the Houseboat Owners Association Abdul Hameed said the Dal Lake had been emptied of tourists.
“Police came in Shikaras asking us to tell tourists to leave. We even brought back visitors who were trekking on slopes. Yaha par ab sannata hai,” (there is silence here now), he said.
NIT students leave
The Jammu and Kashmir government on Saturday evacuated non-local students from National Institute of Technology Srinagar (NIT). Around 1,400 students left the Valley in special buses which were arranged by the administration.
The evacuation of non-Kashmiri students from the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Srinagar followed a notice by the institute’s administration Friday evening saying classes were being suspended till further orders, has sparked a controversy with the district administration denying that it had ordered a closure.
“The above notice stands issued in accordance with instructions received from the district administration, Srinagar,” the NIT notice had said.
Srinagar’s deputy commissioner Shahid Choudhary however, said the administration did not ask the NIT to close. “We asked them to take precautions. The NIT has withdrawn its order from the website.” He said some 900 school in Srinagar are open. “Colleges are closed for summer vacations since August 1.”
Around 2400 students are enrolled in the NIT more than half of the students are from different states of the country.
Director NIT, Piyare Lal Sapru told Hindustan Times that 1400 students left for their native places in the buses. “As the process of new admission was going on we decided to suspend the classes for the time being. The students left in buses up to Jammu.’’
Students waited since early morning for the buses. “We were informed to leave the Valley. Now we are waiting for the buses,” said a student from Uttar Pradesh.
The administration’s evacuation notice for outsiders has riled locals, including Srinagar’s mayor Junaid Azim Mattu.
“Tourists being asked to vacate houseboats in Dal Lake, Yatris asked to leave, non-local students being evacuated from NIT, Srinagar —- what “security advisory” could possibly merit this mass evacuation of everyone but local Kashmiris? How is this being passed as normal?’’ Mattu said.