In autumn, holidaymakers keep date with Kashmir

Despite concern among Kashmir-based tour operators about recent in tourist footfalls, the popular tourist destinations across Kashmir continue to be abuzz with holidaymakers.
GK Photo
GK Photo

Despite concern among Kashmir-based tour operators about recent drop in tourist footfalls, the popular tourist destinations across Kashmir continue to be abuzz with holidaymakers. 

Mughal Gardens, Dal Lake, Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg maintain the favourite spots tag for tourists and even local tour operators expect days to come will make these places more abuzz as they hope for better situation in coming times. 

Tourists from various states such as West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and even visitors from Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand said autumn is one of the best times to be in Kashmir.

A duo of foreigners, Seeateena and Charles from Italy and Australia respectively who are on their Kashmir visit are all praises for the natural beauty of the scenic valley. The duo, while taking a stroll in the gardens at the Pari Mahal, overlooking the picturesque Dal Lake say they would be keen to visit Kashmir once again.  

"I cannot stop clicking pictures here as each view is breathtaking. Apart from the natural beauty we love the art and culture of Kashmir. No doubt there is an ongoing conflict here but that doesn't stop locals from being hospitable towards visitors," says Charles.

Busy clicking selfies at the picturesque Cheshmashahi Garden, Sonal Mehrotra, a tourist from Delhi, says her present visit to the valley is despite the "negative" portrayal of Kashmir by the national media.

"I have been visiting Kashmir for last three decades. It is not the portrayal of the valley by national media that influences me but rather it is the kind of beautiful Kashmir that Bollywood films in 1970s and 80s showed," Mehrotra said.

Sitting in the shade of Chinar trees at the Cheshmashahi garden, a local Kashmiri family is busy interacting with a Muslim Bohra family from Mumbai. These are the kind of scenes most health resorts of the valley witness nowadays.

Farooq Ahmad, a waiter at a JKTDC-owned restaurant, says although the rush of tourists is not "overwhelming" but says that the autumn season has heralded a new hope for Kashmir tourism for the forthcoming winter.     

"Tourism has its ups and downs but nowadays the rush is much better. Tourists from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are coming here in large numbers. We feel happy with this," says Ahmad.

Many tourism players also expressed optimism about tour bookings. Nasir Shah, a popular tour operator says a certain improvement in situation in last two or three months has lifted the mood for tourism here.

"The travel inquires have picked up and bookings have improved. We are hoping to be witnessing a repeat of March in this October and pray that autumn is as fruitful for Kashmir tourism as the Tulip season was," Shah said.  As per official figures, more than 1.8 lakh people witnessed the "riot of colour" at the Tulip Garden overlooking Dal Lake in the summer capital between March-May this year. However, a drop in tourists from various states visiting the Valley was witnessed due to the death of a Chennai tourist in stone pelting at Narbal on Srinagar outskirts on May 8,2017 .

Another tour operator-cum-hotelier said he has just returned back from Thailand adding that "people back there are looking forward to visit Kashmir,"

"On October 11, I would be hosting a group of almost 50 tourists from Thailand. Instead of just cribbing about the poor tourist response, there is a need for local tourism players to go out and promote the valley," said the operator.

"Promotional campaigns of Kashmir's tourism department have not been that successful as the situation in the Valley has been fragile. There has to be certain peace on the ground for tourists to visit the valley," said Gulzar a shikarawala. Since 2016 unrest, tourist arrivals had witnessed a sharp dip in Kashmir as many tourists preferred alternative destinations such as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.    

The 64th Travel Agents Association of India convention in the Valley in March this year had attracted tour operators to the Valley from across the world. The tourist influx which had picked up, took a nosedive after incidents of stone pelting on tourists were reported by some sections of the national media. Several back to back encounters, restrictions and shutdowns had also put the tourism sector in dire straits which the tourism players now hope would end soon.

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