Visitor’s Chronicle

I saw poor traffic cops managing the muddled congestion and struggling to make free passage on narrow roads
Visitor’s Chronicle
File Photo: Mubashir Khan/GK

Flying over the dense clouds pierced by the peaks of mighty snow-clad mountains, I found myself traversing the dreamland of my kindergarten books. I felt the soft warmth of the overhead sun that was shining so bright. My wings were cruising through the tantalizing skies till a sweet voice brought me back into the world around, “Passengers are requested to fasten their seat belts as we will be shortly landing at International Airport, Srinagar. The weather outside is pleasant. Thanks for travelling with us. Have a nice stay”.

Stepping out, I had to exert hard to get covid-tested and registered at the immigration counter for foreigners. The luggage belts were messy and a midget arrival hall was swarming with moving heads. After collecting my luggage, I sneaked through the crowd to freshen up in the washroom. To my surprise, none of the facilities there met the minimum international standards! Anyhow, Hameed, my driver who was assigned by my travel agent for guiding me to different places, was kind enough to make me feel comfortable in his cab. He drove me straight to the houseboat. On way, I saw poor traffic cops managing the muddled congestion and struggling to make free passage on narrow and conked out roads. The unstructured and unplanned constructions of huge houses, shopping plazas, and unfinished flyovers and roads dotted my sight through the city cruise. The dust was fast settling on the window shields.

My imagination regarding Kashmir started showing a mixed response. I wasn’t that excited about my first encounter with Kashmir. Yet I maintained my optimism and thought it was too early to pass any judgment.

No sooner I finished my dinner, I dosed down in a bed. I was actually told by Hameed that we need to leave for Gulmarg early in the morning. I had a wonderful sleep, so much so that Hameed came to wake me up and set out for Gulmarg. He could speak somewhat broken English and make me understand whatever he wanted to convey. Starting from Boulevard, he drove through the dilapidated roads of the old city to reach a place called Parimpora. We had to face constant traffic jams before we could reach the destination. It was surprising for me to see a huge cavalcade of armed vehicles throughout, moving inside the city and everywhere. Though it was taxing to reach Gulmarg, its scenic landscape eased my tension. Nonetheless, I was disheartened to see numerous commercial edifices coming up in the famous hill station. The place also gave a scene of a fortified battlefront with a range of army bunkers and installations mapping the locale.

On our way back, it took Hameed almost half an hour to locate a place as I had to stop for a restroom. Nature’s call seemed a curse, with no public toilets and rest places, build anywhere along the highway. At some other place, Hameed boarded down to see the cause of the traffic jam, and once he came back he said, “Sir, more time, road blocked, public protest, no power…I mean electricity”. Dog-tired, I returned to the houseboat and told Hameed to take me to some near place tomorrow.

The next day, Hameed shoved me through the interiors of Dal Lake in a motorboat. As the motorboat churned waves on the surface of the lake, the true picture of Dal was getting bare. The weeded journey amidst stinky and soiled waters revealed the pathetic situation of a famed water body. I could not bear it, the smell as well as the sight, and decided to go for city sightseeing.

I told Hameed to drive me through the courts and other central offices in the heart of the city. But he turned down, saying that the central office and a part of the city centre would be under ‘siege’ as there is a shootout going on since early morning. I was sad but confused. The grandiose announcements of the government about promoting tourism at this place did not correspond with the problems inherent to the people here. I thought there is some gross miscalculation about the two aspects of this reality.

My stay, with each passing day, was fetching me more disappointing experiences. The ‘miscalculation’ was turning to be deliberate and daring. I was taken aback to read in local English daily about the lack of emergency and life support in this part of the world. How can anyone risk the lives of so many tourists when they don’t possess a basic life support mechanism for their own people, and that too in a place which is facing law and order and accident-related incidents?

What a place, I thought! They invite people to their place without providing basic amenities of standard life—from simple public toilets to mere lighting bulbs—to their local populace, not to speak of ‘extending rank of international hospitality’ to their tourists. What a place!

I was getting jittery. I wanted to leave. It was sickening to bear this sham of a tourist destination. Tourism here is not an actual industry; it has become a slogan, filled with symbolism of ‘prosperity’. As an international visitor here, I felt disconsolate and duped. I lamented to myself. My understanding of international tourism was to visit some place for leisure where adequate facilities/infrastructure met the needs of the tourist. To me, this meant that many developments in that place as a result of tourism will be available for use by the locals also. But nothing of this sort seemed in place.

I felt like in a hell-hole. The place seemed to bloat and about to burst. Not only because of overburdened roads and overcrowded hotels but also of war-like operation on the anvil. The place was getting garrisoned by ‘tourists’—both in civvies and uniform.

The next morning, when the dusty city was preparing to perk up, Hameed bid me adieu at the airport. He was good and a simpleton. Unlike his compatriots, he sounded apologetic for the things that were not his creation.

I carried back only Hameed’s image. Rest was not worth memory; not even fit for trash bin of history.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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