Srinagar: Tourism of the Kashmir valley is going through a rough patch. According to one of the very important stakeholder, the houseboat owners, this is the worst time they have seen.
And they blame the Indian electronic media for ‘demonizing’ Kashmiris and making them an ‘enemy’.
“Electronic media has played the worst role. They present a very scary image of our valley. They present the locals as demons who are ready to pounce on all outsiders,” said a house boat owner on conditions of anonymity.
Hamid Wangnoo, a houseboat owner and the Secretary General of the House Boat Owners’ Association, endorsed his colleagues thoughts.
“They (electronic media) portray us as enemies. Why do they do that? Why do they hate us so much,” lamented Wangnoo.
He appeals to the government to stop this demonizing of the locals which is hurting everyone, especially the tourism industry.
“Even the Chief Minister has now said a couple of times that media should play a positive role. They should at least listen to her advice,” he added.
Wangnoo has another suggestion for the government which according to him will be a first in Kashmir and help tourism bloom. It would also reduce the house boat load in the Dal Lake.
“I had advised the department of tourism to make a tourism village for C & D class houseboats. It will save a huge chunk of space in the lake,” Wangnoo told Free Press Kashmir.
He added, “There are 48 C class and 114 D class houseboats in the Dal Lake, 8 and 18 in the Nigeen Lake, 18 and 24 in the Jhelum, and 6 and 20 in the Chinar Bagh respectively,” Wangnoo informed.
Taking about his concept of ‘Tourism Village’, Wangnoo said it would be free from any kind of pollution.
“It would be an eco-friendly, serene expanse of land located amid water canals, and connected by a river. It would have cycle and pedestrian tracks where cars and other forms of polluting transport will not be allowed. It won’t have roads at the first place,” Wangoo said.
He added, “Tourists must arrive on foot, cycle in, or come by boat.”
Wangnoo feels that the concept is worth a try.
“It is a the concept worth exploring and adapting for Kashmir where huge tourist inflows are considered the backbone of the economy, must necessarily exact prohibitive social and environmental costs that come with indiscriminate commercialisation,” he said.
According to Wangnoo, ‘The Village’ could take about 50 to 60 acres of land.
“Obviously, the total number of houseboats would get reduced, as would the heavy load on the water-bodies.”
Wangnoo believes that such villages could be ‘sanctuaries’ for nature lovers.
“The village will not only promote, but also redefine tourism in Jammu and Kashmir. If adapted, designed and evolved in tune with local cultures and landscapes, Tourist Villages could prove to be sanctuaries for nature lovers from across the world who seek genuine life experiences among people of varied civilisation and historical ethos,” Wangnoo said.
He also points out that it would provide livelihood to hundreds and help in conservation of the Dal.
“Besides, the practical aspect is self-evident, as in the case of Srinagar, where a Tourist Village would supplement Dal conservation efforts and the rehabilitation process for the lake’s dwellers, providing a means of livelihood for hundreds of families traditionally associated with the tourist trade but unable to cope due to various reasons,” Wangnoo said.
He added, “Imagine, if the government will allow a tourism village in Srinagar. It would be the best alternative to save the world famous Dal Lake and apparently tourism in Kashmir will get to flourish.”