Srinagar: The contrast in the vibrancy of the streets along the Dal Lake, lit by classical Victorian lamps can be seen even now that the tourist season is upon us. What once used to be a to-go market for every tourist in Kashmir, barely attracts enough tourists to keep the vendors busy.
At a distance of three kilometres from the heart of the city is a serene commercial ecosystem, imbibed with breezy winds and a picturesque ambiance, are the banks of Lake Dal, locally known as the Boulevard Road in Kashmir.
Along the boulevard, and on the other side of the street are a chain of famous hotels, shops with appealing jewelery and handicrafts, papier machie and traditional embroidery, local clothing, and restaurants. Post dusk, a long queue of houseboats, or the floating houses, reflecting the colourful lights in the Dal Lake, add more colour to the amusement of the visitors here.
Visitors from within and outside the state enjoy the serene ambiance on the banks of the lake. They revel in the tranquil image of dusk and then post dusk, indulge in window shopping. There are more than fifty vendors who run their daily business here.
But this year is different. The evening vendors of Boulevard seem gloomy, even worried about their business. Some are fidgeting with their merchandise, arranging and rearranging it.
Since the uprising in the valley, the traders have been worried. They are in a state of apprehension, worrying about the condition of their businesses. The scenario is contrary to the past where every day was a good business day.
“We would receive an excellent customer crowd two years ago, but presently our days are going slow and gloomy. We are empty. We were solely dependent on this business,” said Riaz Ahmad, who owns a street jewellery stall.
“In the past, we would sell our assets to tourists on satisfactory rates but presently they (tourists) don’t buy our things now even on reasonable rates,” said Fayaz Ahmad , a vendor who sells embroidered shawls.
The vendors hold the ‘Indian’ electronic media responsible for their situation. And it was not just them. Even tourists believe that the electronic media is presenting a ‘negative and a gory’ image of the otherwise ‘beautiful’ Kashmir.
He further points out, “They want to buy our products at a very low price because they think we are conflict-ridden and are dependent on the Indian economy only.”
The evening vendors of boulevard do a seasonal job, starting from April and ending in September.
Since two years, the business has been very low and is only getting worse.
According to a report by Economic Times, Kashmir has seen a sharp decline in the influx of tourists this year owing to the turbulent political situation, with just about 20 percent occupancy in hotels, and very few advance bookings, even as the peak season has arrived.
Further, The Economic Times writes “The political statements from the government further create fear and confusion among potential tourists.”
In 2016, Kashmir had suffered a 55 per cent decline over the previous year.
“We don’t want to witness bloodshed every day. We want to run our business smoothly. We want this chaos to end somewhere and live peacefully,” said Hussain Bashir, who sells Papier Machie products.
A tourist from Madhya Pradesh, Anil Jaswal, says, “I love Kashmir. I love every part of it. I love window shopping in Kashmir on late evenings get variety of choices in products on very cheap rates and discounts.”
He quickly adds, “But what hinders us to visit here is the electronic media.”
They (media) are portraying a gory and a negative image of Kashmir. That stops us from coming here. Otherwise Kashmir is beautiful in every sense.”
“I would earn more than 5000 rupees a day, now I hardly earn 500 rupees. What should we do? May Almighty save us from further fall. May we find some permanent solution to our beloved Kashmir”, says Basit Ali, who sells skull caps among other handmade things.
Another local vendor said, “I know there are very low chances to earn good bucks these days due to the present scenario in Kashmir. Now I come here for fun and spend the rest of my time here.”
Abdul Qadeer, another vendor feels that the electronic media portrays us (Kashmiris) as the ‘enemy’.
“Electronic media has spoiled our image and name. We would receive a good crowd and had created a good trust among our clients across and outside, but they treat us as their enemy,” Qadeer believes.
He added, “Kashmir has lost its charm, that hospitality and attraction has lost by what Indian national media is doing. They(media) have spoiled our name and fame.”