Srinagar: In the chirp of cicadas and the croak of frogs, the message at the moment is unmistakable. Kashmir’s golden yellow season, autumn is here. But, where are the tourists?
Trees laden with apples, pears and apricots, vineyards with drooping branches full of grapes, fields lush with melons and vegetables, and golden grain ripening in the countryside are nature’s bounties heralding the arrival of autumn in the Valley.
Autumnal nip in the morning and evening air has since times immemorial made this season irresistible for honeymooners, mountaineers, fun lovers and adventure seekers.
The bad news this year is that hotels and houseboats on the Dal and Nageen lakes in Srinagar city, as well as huts and hotels in the hill stations of Sonamarg, Gulmarg and Pahalgam are all shut.
The tourism blackout in Kashmir started after all visitors left the Valley ahead of the ongoing uncertainty that followed the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
This uncertainty has dealt the death blow to the local tourism industry as hoteliers, guest house and houseboat owners, taxi drivers, shikarawallas and tour and travel operators have all been thrown out of business.
“We had bookings for this autumn. Three Bollywood film units in addition to other tourists had booked with us. We had taken advances from travel operators for these bookings. All these have been cancelled for now.”
“We have shut operations till the next spring. How will we remain in circuit till we open up next year is beyond our comprehension?” said Mir Suhail, owner of a hotel in Sonamarg hill station.
Suhail’s story is repeated almost word for word by hotel owners in Pahalgam and Gulmarg. “We had guests even during the worst periods of turmoil in early and mid 1990s. This time, it looks like the doomsday for our profession,” said Altaf, manager of a hotel in Gulmarg ski resort.
Despite the mesmerising beauty of streams, meadows and mountains, the resorts in Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg wear a deserted look and no one has any idea when and how would the tourism industry regain its lost moorings in Kashmir.
Even though the government assures major steps to bring back the industry to its full glory when the next tourist seasons begins in the Valley.
“The Maharashtra government has offered to construct two major tourist resorts, one in Pahalgam and the other in Ladakh region.”
“A film city is also proposed to be set up to woo Bollywood back to its favourite locations in Kashmir. There are other big plans to ensure that tourism in Kashmir regains its lost glory,” said a top government official.
The severe blow taken by the tourism industry in the Valley has impacted hoteliers, travel operators and taxi owners in Jammu as well.
“We have virtually no work since the present uncertainty started. All our clients were those travelling to the Valley. But now with nobody interested in going to Kashmir this season anymore, we are facing a serious crisis,” said Ramesh Gupta, a tour and travel operator in Jammu city.
Kashmir without any tourist in autumn is unimaginable. And yet, it is the reality with which the locals might have to live till the snow of the ensuing winter melts during the next year’s spring.