It has been two and half months since the last tourist left hastily from Abdul Rehman’s houseboat in the world famous Dal Lake here, and since then pervasive silence has engulfed the area.
As July was ending, thousands of additional troops were being rushed to the Valley creating panic among the locals. And on August 2, the government issued an advisory for all the tourists and Amarnath pilgrims, asking them to leave immediately. This was something that happened for the first time in the turbulent history of Kashmir.
By August 5, everything appeared desolate with usually abuzz Dal Lake, the tourist hub of Kashmir, turning ghostly. Since then no one has visited Rehman’s houseboat and hundreds other houseboats spread in columns facing the banks of the lake.
Last Thursday when the government lifted travel advisory, it could generate little hope among the people, who earn their bread through tourism. “Eight days is not that long time, but as the things are shaping up, it seems tourists won’t turn up this year to Kashmir,” Rehman said.
Sitting on the porch of his houseboat against the finely-hewed walnut wood expanse, he has a reason to believe that tourists won’t return to Kashmir.
“When the government issued the advisory, they claimed that there was a threat of terror attacks in Kashmir. More than two months later when the advisory was lifted, in the same statement government again said the threat of terror attacks still exists. How will tourists return when according to the government there is terror attack threat,” Rehman, who is the third generation in his family working in the tourism sector, asked.
His views were echoed by Abdul Rasheed Malla, a shikhara (arched boat) operator in the Lake. “The travel advisory has done so much damage that can’t be reversed immediately. The uncertainty is deepening in Kashmir day-by-day and the government instead of trying to retrieve the situation gives contradictory statements every now and then. On one hand, they lifted travel advisory, while on the other they claim terrorist will strikes in Kashmir,” Malla said.
According to official figures, over five lakh tourists had arrived in Kashmir till July 31, while in the last two-and-half months, not even a single tourist has visited the Valley.
The officials in the state tourism department and people associated with the tourism sector feel that it will take a lot of time to get their business restored to normal. Like the previous years, the tourism department is going to promote Kashmir by organising road shows and putting up advertisements outside the state and the country, but the question everyone is asking is: Will that work?
Not many are hopeful given the turbulent and shaky situation of Kashmir. “Anytime, anything can happen in Kashmir. A single unpleasant incident ruins all our hard work,” an official of tourism department told DH wishing anonymity.