Srinagar, Jan 16: As the dry spell continues in Kashmir in the Chilla-e-Kalaan, the 40-day harsh winter period, the snow-loving tourists, both foreign and domestic, have decided to stay away from the Valley. There is only 30 percent occupancy in houseboats in Srinagar which signifies how the dry spell has started to hit Kashmir’s tourism sector.
The majority of the foreign and domestic tourists have either put their Kashmir visit on hold or cancelled the same. As per the tour operators and stakeholders associated with the tourism, this was the time when tourists from South East Asia and other foreign countries would prefer to stay in Kashmir but dry weather has played a spoilsport.
“Majority of houseboat bookings have either been cancelled or put on hold by international and domestic guests,” said Manzoor Pakhtoo, President of the House Boat Owners Association (HBOA), Kashmir.
He said that 70 per cent houseboats in both Dal and Nigeen lakes are empty. “At present there is only 30 per cent occupancy which is lowest ever as far as winter tourism is concerned. Houseboats used to be abuzz with the Malaysian tourists besides domestic tourists in the months of January,” said Pakthoon. He expressed concern over the prolonged dry spell. “The tourists who would come in January were all adventure lovers and for adventure tourism, snow is the first requirement. I believe adventure tourism is in danger as there is no snow,” he said.
Last year, 55000 tourists visited J&K while total tourist arrivals were 2.12 Crore. This year, the administration is eyeing 3 crore tourists, but dry winter is posing a big threat to tourist arrivals.
Asked whether the dry spell has resulted in decrease in the water level in Dal and Nigeen lakes, Pakhtoon said that so far there is no major impact of dry weather on the water level in Dal and Nigeen. “But yes, if winter passes without snow, Dal lake would obviously face issues as well,” he said.
It may be recalled that houseboat owners are already facing huge challenges as there is a blanket ban on construction of new houseboats while repairing involves a lot of technical issues, which house boat owners don’t prefer. At present the number of houseboats have shrunk to just 750 from 1200 in 2013.
Majority of Dal dwellers say snow is must to keep Dal Lake with adequate water. “Godforbid, if winter passes without downpour and snow, the admin must start dredging of Dal Lake,” said Ali Muhammad, who lives in Nishat area of Srinagar.