Jammu and Kashmir tourist season off to a brisk start but uncertainty looms
Kashmiris are all too familiar with the cycle. The Valley has been rocked by violent protests periodically since the July 2016 encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.india Updated: Apr 14, 2018 23:24 IST
Travellers have braved gunfights between forces and militants, and the civilian protests they trigger, to get the tourist season in Kashmir off to a brisk start this balmy spring. Yet, no one is expecting visitors to keep coming to the Valley in the rest of the season if the situation turns any worse.
At Srinagar’s Dal Lake, its turquoise waters dotted by shikaras, the traditional Kashmiri boats, Bashir Ahmed explained why the tourism industry is despondent.
“Today (Thursday) is a shutdown because of yesterday’s civilian killings,” the shikara operator said. “Tomorrow it will be open. Then again perhaps a day or two later, there will be more civilian deaths and again a shutdown will be called. We are caught in this unending cycle of violence. Tourists would not like to visit such a place,” Ahmed said.
Kashmiris are all too familiar with the cycle. The Valley has been rocked by violent protests periodically since the July 2016 encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
The law and order situation in the Valley remains tenuous. Since April 1, 29 people including militants, security personnel and civilians have been killed in Kashmir. Security forces say they will be pursuing the militants but will be careful in dealing with civilian protesters.
Government officials say the tourist season has got off to a strong start. “As of now, we have had good arrivals. It’s much better than last year,” said Mehmood Shah, director of Valley’s tourism department. He added that over 2,000 people are visiting the ski resort of Gulmarg almost daily and 120,000 have visited Srinagar’s Tulip Gardens since its opening on March 25.
“Everything is going good. We are in a transition period from winter to spring. Seventy-five percent of our hotels are occupied and tourism was not much affected due to the unfortunate incidents,” said Ifham Shah, assistant director of the tourism department in Gulmarg.
Domestic arrivals are expected to increase in the second half of April and then peak in May, said Ashfaq Sidiq , president of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir. “But the only criteria is that the situation should not deteriorate,” he said.
Kashmir’s tourism department is doing its bit to attract visitors by laying on new attractions. “We are preparing for a light and sound show at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre on a daily basis from next month. Railways is introducing glass-coach trains for tourists in Kashmir,” said Shah.