Bandipora: Two brothers from Zurimanz village along the banks of Wular Lake who came up with the idea of introducing Shikara rides in the lake for attracting more tourists and helping improve their means of livelihood have helped increase the tourist footprint to this decrepit village.
Firdous Ahmad Bhat, 42, and Ghulam Hassan, 40, are originally fishermen and would depend on the lake’s produce of water chestnuts and fish to help run their family.
However, after introducing Shikaras on Wular Lake, the family is making an extra income and also helping attract more tourists to their village.
Seeing their success, more families from the village are now trying to get associated with the Shikara business.
They anticipate it would help them come out of penury and uplift their socioeconomic status.
“When Wular was being demarcated, some officials used to visit our village for a boat ride. At the time we could only manage to ferry them in our ‘dungas’. Sometimes, some stray tourists use to visit the village and request to explore the vast expanse of the lake. However, we were not able to provide them a nice experience,” Firdous said. “An idea struck us and we thought of making the experience of the tourists memorable. We decided to work on a Shikara to provide the tourists the best experience possible.”
Firdous’s brother Ghulam Hassan said that they invested Rs 2 lakh in the construction of the Shikara.
Four months later they started giving tourists Shikara rides.
“Since then, hardly has a day passed without the tourists asking us to explore the lake’s beauty,” he said.
In contrast to the ‘dungas’, the Shikaras with furnished furniture, outboard engines, and taglines ‘You are in Asia's largest freshwater lake’ greet the tourists.
“The local tourists as well as from outside Kashmir are finding their way to the village. They look out for a Shikara to explore the lake’s beauty. However, there is still scope for improvement. The government should put more effort into restoring the lake’s lost glory and work on its development,” Hassan said.
He said that the tourists from outside also started arriving in the village after people took note of them on social media.
“It all followed after some tourists started promoting our Shikaras on their social media platforms a few months ago,” Firdous said.
So far, the Shikara business has not caught among more families in the village as only three families have managed to operate Shikaras in the lake’s waters.
“Many aren’t able to afford wood or money in getting Shikaras constructed,” Firdous said.
“To be honest it's not something to boast about yet since it hasn't developed to the scale that one would say it is a lucrative business. There is still a lot to be done by the government to make it a successful profession,” the Bhat brothers said. “We have to depend on the lake’s produce to make our ends meet.”
The Bhat brothers said that the pollution destroying aquatic life also needs to be checked.
They also called for providing basic amenities to the villages around the lake to make these villages tourist friendly.