In absence of tourists, only 400 Shikaras out of 4500 rowing in famous Dal Lake

Many boat owners switched over to other jobs, dozens sold their Shikaras, trying hard to meet both ends, 2.5 lakh people dependent on Shikara business, says President SOAK Wali Muhammad
Srinagar, Feb 21 : In the world famous Dal Lake, only 400 Shikaras are rowing out of total 4500 as tourists continue to stay away from Kashmir since past over six months. Almost zero flow of tourists, both domestic and foreign have badly hit the livelihood of Shikara owners leaving them with the no choice other than to switch to other jobs like selling vegetables, fruit or going for a day-long labour to make both ends meet.

According to the wire service—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), ever since the Government of India issued the advisory on August 3, last year, asking all tourists and pilgrims to leave Kashmir immediately, the tourism industry has faced the brunt of clampdown first and then the worry of less tourist arrival.

In Kashmir there are almost 4500 Shikaras that would row in Dal, Nigeen, river Jehlum and other areas. But at present, only 400 Shikaras are rowing in Dal Lake that too against the 50 per cent discount rate.

“Despite discount or half rate, what we call it, there is no income. We hardly see any tourist asking for a Shikara ride,” said Wali Muhammad, president of Shikara Owners Association Kashmir (SOAK). He said more than 2.5 lakh people are dependent on the Shikara business but since past six months there is hardly any income.

“There is no tourist arrival. Tourism has been hit badly,” said Wali. He said that many Shikara owners have sold their boats and many have switched over to other businesses. “Many of us are selling vegetables, fruit and dozens of us are going for daily labour to sustain their living,” he said. “All of us have families. I have myself not been able to pay electricity duty of past five months. You can imagine the nature of loses we have faced and the situation we are going through.” Wali hoped that in the coming months, if all goes well and if peace prevails, tourist foot-fall is expected to increase.

There has been a slump in tourism since August 5 even though the GoI rolled back the harsh advisory and asked tourists to visit Kashmir again without any worry. However, tourist arrival according to tour operators is almost zero. “Hotels, houseboats and lodges are empty. Very few tourists are present in Kashmir at present,” a tour operator told KNO, wishing not to be named.