JK Bank

On a hot afternoon, where the Dal Lake’s water shimmers in the sunlight, the busy lakeside road, which starts from the Dalgate, Srinagar, is deserted today. It has hardly been a day when the road had flashy cameras, capturing the posing tourists. “Now you will hardly see anyone walking by,” said Mukhtar Ahmad, 49, President of Shikara community, Ghat No. 7; he is agitated and so are other boatmen around him on the Ghat. All the tourists and Amarnath pilgrims are vacating the Kashmir valley following a government advisory, which cited the security threat, that asked them to “return as soon as possible”.

On the Boulevard Road, Srinagar, I could spot two Indian tourists, who were rushing to board a cab in hastiness. Mr. Ahmad, wearing a white kurta-pajama, with a looming face said, “Since morning we didn’t get a single tourist for a ride.” He added that this isn’t the first time when the shikara community lost the tourists to sudden political disruption in the Valley. “But, I’ve never seen such fear and panic among tourists.” 

Ghulam Hassan, 51, who sits on his houseboat near the Ghat No 8—frustrated and annoyed—searches for the customers on the deserted street. He didn’t find any since morning; he chaffs with his fellow boatman, who finally got a foreigner customer, asking to share the money later.

Today, Airport Authority of India’s report said that 6126 passengers reached Srinagar Airport to fly out of the valley. Out of this, 5829 passengers travelled by thirty-two scheduled flights, while the remaining 387 passengers accommodated in four Indian Air Force Aircrafts and were flown to destinations like Jammu, Pathankot, and Hindon.

Photograph by Quratulain Rehbar for The Kashmir Walla.

Talking about it, Mr. Hassan said, “All the tourists ate and left in panic.” With a curious face, he continued, “Central government is responsible for all this mess.” These conversations have taken over Kashmir, and the houseboat community, with all of them blaming their loss due to tourists’ sudden exit on central government.

For Bashir Ahmad, the vice-president of Dal Mohalla Committee, everything has shattered. On a normal day, he would earn roughly 8000 rupees from two-days booking in his houseboat, however, he left for home today—with an empty hand.

Reiterating that government’s advisory asking tourists and pilgrims to leave, Mr. Ahmad said, “Government is playing with us. Our economy will get affected by this; who will be responsible for it?”

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Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, 26, who is a manager at Zamrud Hotel, is sitting at reception since morning. The hotel had its eleven rooms booked the night before; now, only a non-local businessman, who was also planning to leave in the evening, was left. 

Just an hour ago, the J-K police’s tourist assistant guides had entered the hotel ordering to “tourists to check out”. A tourist assistant guide, who was wearing his blue uniform, wishing anonymity, said that they had orders to pass a message to tourists that there is a “security threat” in the Valley. “We are working on orders. However, we have no idea what is going around.”

Mr. Sofi felt bad while asking tourists to leave. He also got calls from his clients, who asked him to cancel the advance bookings. Sitting next to the manager, a 52-year-old security guard at the hotel, Syed Noor Ali, who daily travels from Tangdhar, north Kashmir’s Kupwara, is sitting despondently, unaware of what might come in Kashmir’s way. He fears that if the hotel loses tourists then he will lose his job too.

What changed after 2016:

According to a report by Economic Times , Kashmir’s tourism sector suffered a loss of around Rs 3,000 crore because of the sharp decline in tourist influx during 77-days of 2016 summer uprising.

“Everything was going well since the last two months,” said Niyaz Ahmad, 30, who owns the shop H. B. Shawls in Dalgate, Srinagar. “There were two months left of the tourist season, what business are we going to do now?”

Mr. Ahmad, who opened his shop at 8:30 in the morning, didn’t see any customer at his shop the whole day; although, he saw tourists rushing in anxiety after the order. He fears that the repercussions of this environment will unfold next year, “Tourists won’t come next year due to the fear.”

“We loved the hospitality”

Venkat Prahlad, 51, a tourist from Bangalore, Karnataka, who came to Kashmir after seventeen years, sat for a lunch with his wife and two sons at Shamyana Restaurant in Boulevard. The family arrived in Kashmir three-days ago and visited Dras, Sonamarg and Srinagar by now.

Without an anxious face, Mr. Prahlad praises the hospitality they got in Kashmir, and the beautiful moments they spent here. “Everything was normal for us in all these days,” he said. “But, the government orders caused a problem and I had to cancel my booking in Gulmarg.”

The family checked out from Kulan, Sonamarg, on the  night of 2 August, after they were asked to leave by the owner of the hotel where they were staying. It was the first time of Vidya Venkat, the wife of Mr. Prahlad, in Kashmir, which has always been her dream place. “I panicked after I heard about the government orders,” she said. Mr. Prahlad’s family wishes to stay in the Valley, “But, now we have no option other than leaving with the memories and a lot of warmth.”

“Altaf Bhai”

The Hotel Shamyana had patches of tourists, having lunch and waiting to leave for the Srinagar Airport. Half of the packing was done, while some were clicking a few more selfies before leaving Kashmir.

Amid tensions and confusions, a tourist from Uttar Pradesh, Dharam Pal Singh, is having a conversation with Mohammad Altaf, a houseboat owner, outside the hotel Shamyana, over snacks.

Both of them talk about random political issues and shrieks with laughter. After coming from Amarnath pilgrimage and as per plan, Mr. Singh went to Pahalgam; however, he was asked to evacuate the hotel “as soon as possible”.

His family travelled to Srinagar in panic, but after meeting Mr. Altaf merely five minutes ago, whom he calls Altaf Bhai now, Mr. Singh is relieved and hopeful. “Altaf Bhai told me that even if he had to keep my family and children in his own house, he will do that.” 

Both of them shares a beautiful gesture, continue to talk about politics and the beautiful moments Mr. Singh spent during Amarnath Yatra with his family.

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