Srinagar: Srinagar’s postcard perfect Dal Lake has been drawing a large number of tourists in the past few weeks for shikara rides while the lights on ornately carved houseboats are shimmering again as the Kashmir Valley has witnessed a huge tourism influx in recent months.
Hotels dotting the historic Boulevard Road skirting the Dal Lake, and those situated at other prime locations, are seeing nearly full occupancy with travellers coming from Delhi and cities as far as Surat and Kolkata.
Uncertainties emerging post the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019 that ended the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, and two most difficult years of the coronavirus pandemic that followed, had broken the back of tourism in J&K, but amid a recovery in the sector along with the COVID-19 vaccination exercise, Kashmir is welcoming visitors again with open arms.
Flights landing at the Srinagar international airport have been bringing tourists from all parts of the country, and hoteliers, houseboat owners, taxi and shikara operators, and restauranteurs are pleased to see this increased flow of tourism that has boosted their revenues.
Surat-based businessman Suresh Hemnani, who recently travelled along with 15 other family members for a leisure trip to Kashmir for the first time, said they had bought flight tickets in advance and booked hotels several months ago.
“People are flocking to Kashmir like never before now, especially after many Covid restrictions have been lifted, and vaccination has boosted the confidence of travellers and others too.
“Glad, we booked everything in advance as getting a hotel room in Srinagar is so hard now. We will see Srinagar, Pehalgam, Sonmarg and we are also excited about seeing snow and taking gondola ride at Gulmarg,” he told PTI here.
Hordes of tourists from Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal, and other states, are also travelling to the Valley as the ‘Heaven on Earth’ — a sobriquet given to Kashmir for its ethereal beauty and vibrant cultural heritage — is seeing tangible signs of return to normalcy.
Top Army officials in Kashmir have said that among other factors, also after the ceasefire understanding reached between India and Pakistan in February 2021, “a lot of parameters are showing signs of normalcy” and the “huge influx” of tourists this year is a “great positive” among these parameters.
A record over 1.62 crore tourists have visited Jammu and Kashmir this year, which is the highest since independence, a J&K official had said last month, adding that it testified the overall development and change the Union Territory has witnessed.
The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was bifurcated into Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh after the revocation of its special status, and both officially came into being on October 31, 2019.
After three decades, Kashmir is attracting lakhs of tourists which tourism players say is the return of golden era of Kashmir tourism, the official has said.
Sameer Ahmad, manager of the nearly 50-year-old Hotel Paradise on Boulevard Road, said, “All our rooms are booked till next week right now.” “The rush in Srinagar will continue till the onset of harsh winters. However, many people come just to see snowfall, and Gulmarg resorts get totally sold out once snowfall begins. So if prior booking is not done, one won’t be able to get a room there,” he told PTI.
Gulmarg in Baramulla district is located about 50 km from Srinagar, and is known for its picturesque snow-clad landscape, skiing resorts and gondola ride. Ahmad says owners of hotels in Kashmir are really happy to see this revival of tourism.
At Dal Lake, tourists take shikara rides all day long, but the rush increases at evening time when they come to see sunset from the middle of the lake.
Saqib Shah, 23, a shikara operator, proudly showcases his neatly dressed yellow shikara ‘World Queen’ at the banks of the lake, and beckons customers to take a ride.
“We have seen a very bad phase after the lockdown in Valley in 2019 post abrogation of Article 370, when all the hotels had become empty suddenly and Dal Lake stood deserted. Then tourism was heavily impacted due to Covid for two years. But, in 2022, especially in the last few months, there has been a surge in tourism. We are happy to see tourists again,” he said.
In a major intervention for the upliftment of the tourism sector in J-K, the Union government had made a record allocation of Rs 786 crore in the budget for the tourism sector there, which was Rs 509 crore higher than the last budgetary allocation, officials in Srinagar had said in February 2022.