Congress wants Kashmir solution to
suit all three regions
The Congress Saturday said Jammu and Kashmir
separatists should join other parties in talks with New Delhi to
find a solution that respects the aspirations of all three regions
of the state - Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir.
shadows of violence still linger but the hills and meadows, lakes
and valleys beckon, and tourists are once again flocking to
Kashmir. It's summer and time for brisk business again as the peak
season sets in with the fervent hope that the months will pass off
As hotels, houseboats and guest houses in the Kashmir Valley get
packed with tourists and everyone, from taxi drivers to handicraft
sellers, reports good sales, Jammu and Kashmir's tourism industry
is praying that there will be no repeat of the violence that
singed the last three summers.
According to official figures, around 210,000 tourists, including
10,000 foreigners, have arrived in the Valley so far this year.
"We are so deeply impressed by the attitude of the local people.
Not only those who own hotels, taxis or houseboats here but
ordinary people who have no connection with our visit go out of
the way to help us. Kashmir is a great place," said Sanjay Kumar,
27, who is here on his honeymoon.
The sheer visual beauty in this conflict zone have won over
legions of fans over the decades. And they do this year too.
Scores of buses carrying groups of tourists reach north Kashmir's
Sonamarg resort each morning, from where groups move uphill for a
glimpse of the Thajwas Glacier.
"It is a slow moving mass of frozen snow...what a majestic sight",
said Sunil Sharma, 48.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah maintains that tourist inflow into
the Valley should not in any manner be linked with the political
or the law and order situation.
"Let them come silently and go back silently," Omar tweeted
The state tourism department too is enthused by the inflow and is
eager to offer additional activities like adventure tourism.
"We provide technical support and expertise to rafters who come
here to enjoy the thrill of rafting in the fast waters of the
Sindh stream," said an official of the department in Sonamarg.
Most locals and those connected with the tourism industry are
hopeful that the situation will remain peaceful this year.
"We have seen the worst times during the last three years... We
have nothing to do with politics. All we demand is that we be
allowed to earn an honest living to support our families," said
54-year-old hotelier Noor Muhammad.
Previous summers had started off peacefully, but events soon
spiralled out of control in this conflict zone.
In 2008, the streets had erupted in protest against the government
decision to divert 100 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine
Board for providing facilities to the pilgrims.
While protests erupted in the Valley in 2009 after the alleged
rape and murder of two women in Shopian, clashes between unruly
mobs and security forces in 2010 left around 110 people dead.
Violence during the peak tourism seasons hit the industry hard.
"We have huge bank loans to repay, besides maintaining an
establishment. It is a well-known fact that a good hotel must at
least have 30 percent occupancy to afford the running costs. The
last three summers saw us literally living with our doors shut,"
said Rafi Ganai, a hotel owner in south Kashmir's Pahalgam hill
Taxi drivers suffered as well.
I have an Innova Toyota taxi and my monthly bank instalment is
Rs.10,000. This has to be paid irrespective of whether I earn
anything or not," said Zahoor Ahmad, a taxi driver in Srinagar.
Porters, 'ponywallahs', who give tourists rides on horses, and
roadside tea-stall owners depend entirely on the tourist and
pilgrim inflow for their annual sustenance.
"I must earn for myself and my family during four months and save
enough to live for the rest of the year. Four months of no work
means starvation for me and my family," said Wali Muhammad, 45, a
ponywallah in north Kashmir's Gulmarg tourist resort.
"Although we had 270,000 tourists here last year up to this
period, yet the turmoil that followed put a complete stop on their
inflow," said an official of the department.
Fingers are crossed that the peace this summer is here to stay.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be
contacted at email@example.com)