As the minimum temperatures rose notches above normal in most places in Kashmir recently, hoteliers and guesthouse owners have started facelifting their establishments to welcome visitors this year.
“Water taps have remained frozen for the last four months and just two days back, these taps are opening up. We have started facelifting of our hotel as we are expecting good number of visitors this year,” said Nazir Ahmad, a hotel owner in Sonamarg tourist resort.
As spring heralds melting of snows and blooming of flowers, locals are hopeful of peace and better tourism this year.
“After abrogation of 370, the pandemic hit our industry. 2019 was tense and after that there was no tourism in 2020. All our hopes are now pinned on this year.
“We have been assured by our partners outside J&K that they will be organising groups of tourists this year since many people have expressed their desire to visit Kashmir.
“Let us hope all goes well and 2021 becomes year of hope and revival for our industry, said Abdul Hamid, a tour and travel operator who has been associated with the hospitality industry for nearly four decades.
Even ordinary taxi drivers and Shikara owners on the Dal Lake are praying with folded hands that 2021 brings back smile on their faces.
“I am only praying that Allah should come to our rescue. We have suffered to such an extent that any further suffering would end our lives,” said Nisar Dar, a taxi driver in Srinagar.
Locals associated with handicrafts such as shawl weaving, wood carving, papier-macche, among other things, also complain that their expertise and hard labour have not given them any returns in the absence of tourism during the last many years.
“Local buyers are very few and far between when it comes to items of wood carving and papier-macche. These things are mostly bought by visitors as souvenirs of their visit to Kashmir.
“Unless tourism is revived in its real sense, we cannot keep the wolf away from our door for long,” said Naseer Ali, a papier-macche artisan living in Zadibal locality of old city Srinagar.
Although horticulture is still the biggest industry in Kashmir, it is confined only to orchard owners and fruit dealers.
It is the tourist industry that concerns the lives of thousands of local artisans, taxi operators, Shikara and houseboat owners, hotel and guest house operators, tour and travel operators, Ponywallahs, furriers, pavement sellers etc.
Better tourism has always brought smile on the faces of Kashmiris whose hospitality is famous all over the world.
What Kashmir awaits today is a chance to play host to its traditional guests associated with tourism, Bollywood, adventure sports and honeymooners.