Kashmir unrest drives away tourists, but many vow to return to 'paradise on earth'
Despite the militant attacks and unrest, Kashmir had been a big draw for visitors from across the country. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy with over a 100,000 people directly dependent on it for livelihood in the state renowned for its ski resorts, lakes, meadows and mountain slopes
The unrest in Kashmir has dealt a huge blow to the state's tourism.
Thousands of tourists who were caught up in the turmoil in the Valley have left, dealing huge blows to the leisure and hospitality industry. But some of the tourists said they would be back.
On Saturday, the ninth day of unrest in the Valley following the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani, the otherwise busy markets and roads in the Dal Lake area were devoid of people.
Shikaras or Kashmir's houseboats are moored on the banks. Hotels which otherwise are full during this time of the year -- the peak tourist season -- are devoid of guests.
The hotels on the boulevard are also without guests.
The visitors who were here when the trouble erupted have left the Kashmir Valley, many without touring tourist hotspots like Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other cites.
"Most tourists have left by now," moans Mehmood Shah, Director of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department.
"The hotels are vacant. More than 90 per cent tourists have left. There are no incoming tourists as well. We made arrangements for those who were stranded here," Shah said.
In Srinagar, where major areas are under curfew, those dependent on tourism, have been hit hard.
"This is the best time of our business. We have no hope of making any profit now. We have cancelled at least 30-35 bookings till August," Sarmad Khan, a hotelier said.
"Many who were here left even without visiting any other place. This is a big loss to the industry," he added.
Despite the militant attacks and unrest, Kashmir had been a big draw for tourists from across the country. Over a 100,000 people are estimated to be directly dependent on tourism for their livelihood in the Himalayan state renowned for its ski resorts, lakes, meadows and mountain slopes.
As the violence sparked by Wani's killing escalated, tourists were seen rushing to the Srinagar Airport to catch flights.
Some tourists can, however, still be seen strolling in the parks that dot the Dal Lake.
"We were stranded for four days. We came to Srinagar on Tuesday as we had bookings. We took the risk and came," a tourist said.
Another tourist volunteered: "We did not see anything but curfew as well as violence. That's why we are leaving."
Shopkeeper Mohammad Ashraf said that July-September were the best time for anyone to visit the Kashmir Valley because of favourable weather.
"It is very sad that we lost many people during the last six days. How can we open our shops when our own children are dying?" Ashraf said.
Surprisingly, the tourists are not taking back only bad memories: curfews, shutdowns and violence.
"The best part about the last six days has been the way locals treated us here," Arun Chatterjee from Kolkata said.
"My family and I were on a houseboat with locals. They were so good and sympathetic to us that I feel our trip is complete," he said.
"We will always want to come back and enjoy the scenic beauty apart from its Kashmiriyat," Chatterjee added. "We pray for peace here."