In previous years, the months from April to mid-June would be the peak tourist season in Kashmir. But with unrest in the Valley, all the popular tourist hotspots wear a deserted look.
This is the second year that tourism numbers in Kashmir have been hit, with the decline beginning in July 2016 after the curfew and protests following militant commander Burhan Wani's death.
“This year, only 10 per cent of the expected tourists have come to Kashmir. This is our peak season and we are without any tourists. The last 10 months have been horrific for us. And this time, there is absolutely no business.,” Shikara Owners’ Association president Wali Mohammad was quoted by Indian Express as saying.
Those in the tourism business say they will be forced to look for alternatives if the situation does not improve.
“The situation is going from bad to worse. We have just 15-20 per cent occupancy, down from 70-80 per cent a year ago. The political uncertainty and continued violence leaves no scope for this sector,” Javed Burza, president of Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Owners Federation, told the Economic Times.
The sentiment is that 'negative portrayals' of Kashmir dissuade tourists from visiting the Valley. ET reports that in 2016, Kashmir had suffered a 55 per cent decline in tourism over the previous year.
Photos by Javeed Shah
Yaseen Ali, a taxi driver, fishes in Dal Lake. He says there is no work, and he's never seen such a bad season before. Kashmir has seen a decline in tourists this season due to the political situation, with just about 10 percent occupancy in hotels and very few advance bookings even though this is the peak season.
Water scooters lying idle in Dal Lake, Srinagar.
The deserted Boulevard Road. Usually at this time of the year, you see a flood of tourists roaming around Srinagar.
Rare visitors can be seen buying tickets at the entry counter for one of the famous Mughal gardens (Nishat Garden) in Srinagar on the banks of the Dal Lake. At this time in previous years, there would have been long queues of tourists waiting for their turn to purchase tickets.
Nishat Garden in Srinagar, on the banks of the Dal Lake, has very few visitors this season. Kashmir has seen its tourism take a nosedive due to the political situation in the Valley. Hotels have reported just about 10 percent occupancy rates and very few advance bookings in the midst of what is supposed to be the peak season.
The heart of Srinagar city — Lal Chowk — has mostly locals, and not too many out-of-towners.
There are no customers at this dry fruit shop at Kukar Bazar, Lal Chowk. When I was looking to take some photos at this market, the shopkeeper called out to me and asked if I’m a tourist and if I need to buy some dry fruits. When I replied I was a local, and only shooting photos, he told me, "Normally we would not call out to tourists to buy stuff, we don’t get time to, as we're packed with customers. But this season has been the worst work-wise and it's all because of the political situation and the media, which projects Kashmir as a dangerous place to visit. That's why tourists have stopped visiting the Valley".
In the heart of Srinagar city, Lal Chowk, the forces have spread barbed wire around their bunkers. It's yet another reminder — if one were needed — about the tensions in Kashmir.
Riyaz Ahmed, a Kashmiri handicrafts dealer at Polo View in Srinagar, says there is no work this season. Even air tickets to Srinagar are cheap this season as there is very little demand from tourists. Kashmir wears a bare look at what is the height of its peak tourism season.
Nazir Ahmed Punjabhi, a Kashmiri craft dealer at Polo View, Srinagar, says 2016's hartal days were better, as at least the money on electricity, phone and other bills was saved. He termed this year a disaster, and said he'd hardly met any customers this season. In previous years, they could not close the shop for lunch or at namaz time, as the customer flow used to be so high. This season, the story is entirely different, and they close the shop when they go for lunch and namaz — since there are such few customers.
A shopkeeper waiting for customers outside his shop in downtown Srinagar.
Barbed wire is dumped in the middle of the road near Khanyar in downtown Srinagar. Kashmir has seen its tourism nosedive due to the political situation in the Valley. In previous years, this is what would have been peak tourist season.
With few tourists, an empty look hangs around one of Srinagar's busiest markets near Dal Lake.
A deserted shikara stand and boatmen waiting for customers at Dal Lake in Srinagar. Kashmir has seen a steep decline in tourist numbers this year with the ongoing tense political situation.
A sight-seeing bus for tourists on Boulevard Road runs empty.
Anil from Jharkhand waits for customers near Dal Lake. He has been coming to Kashmir every year since 2001. Usually, he would earn Rs 400-500 per day during peak tourist season. This year, he barely makes Rs 50-60 and is thinking of returning to Jharkhand. Anil says he doesn’t know why there are no tourists this season, even locals don’t buy the snacks he is selling.