Despite Sunny Days, Tourism In A Freeze In Kashmir Valley

19 June 2015
The Hindu
Zahid Rafiq

Srinagar: While the new government in Jammu and Kashmir has been pitching for boosting tourism since it came to power in March, the State recorded fewer tourist arrivals than last year's. Tour operators say the numbers do not seem to be picking up. The Tourism Department says the number of tourists during the January-May period fell from 3.7 lakh in 2014 to 2.87 lakh now. 'There are several reasons for the decline, the most important being the flood scare in March and the consistent political uncertainty here,' Rouf Tramboo, a tour operator, says. 'We have done only around 40 per cent business in these six months compared with the corresponding period last year.' Tourism Department sources say from 1.2 lakh visitors in the first two weeks of last June, the number fell to 84,000 this time. Tour operators say most bookings for the year have been cancelled, and tourists visiting now are those who make 'instant bookings'. 'Tourism here has become a situational trade. Something or the other happens here all the time. This week, there are two shutdowns in the Valley, and uncertainty hangs over things political, and that is not at all good for tourism,' Mr. Tramboo says. Department sources say that when Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed decided to keep the Tourism portfolio with him, they were hopeful of some big changes, but 'nothing has changed at all'. 'The fact that there is no Minister for Tourism is actually working against the department as we have not yet met the Chief Minister and not discussed any plans or a movement forward in tourism. By this time last year, we had spent half our funds meant for tourism promotion and publicity, but this year, we haven't even begun spending,' a senior Tourism Ministry official told The Hindu . However, tourists are happy visiting the Valley, spending time in the meadows of Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonmarg and the Mughal Gardens and Dal Lake here, away from the heat in the plains. 'We were planning to come last October, but because of the floods, we had to change our plans and we finally arrived yesterday [Wednesday]. Though there is still news of killings coming out from here, things are much better now than earlier,' Anuj Thakar from Delhi says. Mr. Thakar, who had come alone before, has brought his wife and two daughters this time. Sunil Prabhat from Mumbai, who has come with his family, says he feels nervous every time a killing or blast is reported. 'I have to confirm the routes and places, because there is always something getting blown up or someone getting killed here. Though all of it happens in far-off places where we don't have to go as tourists, but it is still scary as we have our families with us,' Mr. Prabhat says.