Srinagar, Apr 5: “My only concern was safety of tourists. I didn’t care about my life and rushed to save lives of tourists putting up in my houseboats,” said Abdul Rashid Badyari whose chain of houseboats were gutted in Nigeen Lake on Monday night.
“I heard hue and cry in one of my houseboats. I rushed to the spot and saw one of my houseboats engulfed in flames around 2 am. At that time, 12 tourists including women and children were sleeping in a houseboat. I could see my lifelong savings in shape of houseboats in flames but I was worried about the safety of my guests,” said Badyari.
Badayri said he along with his family members and staff braved the flames to save tourists trapped in his houseboat ‘Indian Palace’ where the fire had started.
“The flames had engulfed exit points of the houseboat and I had to break burning doors to make way for trapped tourists. Eventually, it took us over 40 minutes to save the tourists from all the houseboats,” he said.
During the rescue, Badyari received injuries on his arm and also had some burn injuries on his body. My primary focus was to keep the guests safe who had arrived at my houseboat earlier that day,” he said.
‘These scars will heal and hopefully, we will rebuild from scratch. But if any tourist would have been injured or died that would have been a bigger scar on our tourism industry. We always prioritise the safety of our tourists and we did everything that we could to save them,” Badyari said while showing his injuries.
The houseboat owners said that on the fateful day over two dozen tourists had arrived at multiple houseboats in the Nigeen Lake. They said that all the houseboat owners got together when they saw tourists in danger. They said that emergency services, police, and locals did their best in rescue operation.
“Houseboats owners of Nigeen displayed exemplary courage amid the blaze to save lives of tourists. We salute their courage. They displayed hospitality of Kashmiris in real sense,” said Chairman Nigeen Tourist Traders Association (NTTA) Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo. “We have to do something practically to help the affected houseboat owners,” Wangnoo added.
“We watched houseboats that are worth crores of rupees turn into ashes, but we cared more about the safety of our guests. This is indeed the right thing to do. For decades we have prioritised the safety of our guests over our own lives and this day was not any different. Till the emergency service arrived, houseboat owners and their staff had put their own lives in danger to make sure that no tourist is in harm’s way,” said Habib Khankashi, another houseboat owner.
The officials said that as the news of the fire incident reached them, they did everything to control the fire. They said that the tourists were moved to the adjacent Nigeen Club for safety amid the fire.
“Every official was personally on spot to ensure that fire is bought under control and also tourists are rescued. Houseboat owners did everything to help in the rescue and everyone cooperated with the police and emergency service. As the tourists were rescued we brought them into Nigeen club and from there, officials took them to other safe places,” said Shaista Khan, incharge Nigeen Club.
On the intervening night of Sunday and Monday, the blaze at Nigeen Lake gutted seven houseboats inflicting losses worth millions of rupees.