The long road along the Dal Lake is silent. Only a few cars with special permission are seen on the road along the Dal Lake of Kashmir. Only a few horns of the vehicles are heard. The tourists both from within India and other countries had stopped coming to Kashmir after the outbreak of Coronavirus.
The houseboats in the Dal Lake are totally empty. The houseboat owners are struggling to earn a single penny for the livelihood. The boat shops that were earlier used to be full of customers are now seen empty. The people of Kashmir are unhappy as there are no tourists due to Covid-19.
The prominent tourism industry in the valley is getting weak day that is visible in the emptiness of Dal lake. A few days before abolition of discriminatory Article 370 that provided special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the government ordered all the tourists who had visited Kashmir to leave the state as soon as possible. The shutdown in the valley severely affected the business in the Dal Lake. Some shopkeepers open their shops while most of the shops are closed now due to the pandemic.
45-year-old Imityaz Ahmad Punjabi told a valley based news organization The Kashmir Walla that business in Dal lake has vanished. We haven’t seen tourists that we used to see before the abrogation of 370. He said that his houseboat worth Rs 35 lakh is becoming uninhabitable for the guests. The water is entering through the cracks on the bottom of the houseboat.
He said that the boat has to be repaired every alternate year and it cost around Rs 2 lakh but he didn’t have enough money to repair his boat. Ahmad also said that earlier they used to charge around Rs 1500 per day from their guests but now with fewer customers, they are not ready to pay more than Rs 500.
The abrogation of 370 and Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the houseboat owners, the Shikhara owners, the photographers, the fast-food kiosks, and the handicraft and handloom shops in the lake. While talking to another houseboat owner Bashir Ahmad Kuchay said that when the news of the abrogation of 370 spread the tourist got scared and started leaving Kashmir. He said that four people were staying on his houseboat but when they heard the news they all got scared and wanted to run away from Kashmir as soon as possible. He also said that the government doesn’t care how we are surviving. “The government doesn’t bother whether we live or die” he said.
Few Non-government organizations from the past few months have been helping a few houseboats owners who are unable to make their livelihoods. Others are struggling with their business which completely depends on tourism. The government has announced a three-month package of Rs 1000 for Shikara and houseboat owners but most of them have refused to accept the money. “Nothing can be changed with this money” say Bashir Ahmad.
“The government has stopped tourism and now they think that this small money can make our lives easier”, complained many houseboats owners.
According to the houseboat owner, currently, there are around 500 houseboats in Dal Lake, and each houseboat owner used to earn around Rs 2 lakh rupees per year but this year they didn’t even earn one-fourth of it. “If the situation continued like this then we will not be able to see houseboats in the next ten years, one houseboat owner said” said Imtiaz, another houseboat owner.
Another Shikara owner Mohammad Akbar three months after the abrogation of article 370 parked his Shikara at one end of the lake and started selling vegetables to make his livelihood. He said that after the abrogation “I am earning Rs 100 per day and how can I feed my family with such a small amount”. He said that he had to borrow money to feed his family and to pay his children’s school fees. One time he borrowed Rs 35,000 and another time he borrowed Rs 15,000. He said that if he had not started selling vegetables then he and his family would have starved to death.
Not only businesses in Dal lake have been affected but also the shops in the handicraft market which now rarely opens have also been affected by the shutdown. The clothes are covered with the dust and the mannequins wearing traditional Kashmiri dresses go unnoticed in the absence of tourists. But even with all this, the people of Valley are still in hope that one day the tourism sector will return to its original position. Tourists from the country and foreign land will once again return to Kashmir and their business will be back on track, people in valley believe.