SRINAGAR — Amid an unprecedented government advisory dealing a blow to the already fledgling tourism industry, cops on Saturday morning rushed to houseboats and hotels in the Dalgate area here to ask tourists to leave Kashmir as soon as possible.
Many panic-stricken tourists were seen leaving their accommodations as Kashmir grappled with yet another day of uncertainty and speculations amid a slew of controversial advisories and orders by the administration.
“I had a group of tourists from Kerala staying in the houseboat, cops from tourism police came early in the morning and told them to leave Kashmir as something is going to happen,” Mohammad Subhan, a houseboat owner told Kashmir Observer.
“I literally begged them not to leave and assured them that they will be protected but they were so scared and began to pack up their bags,” said Subhan.
Shikara walas were seen sitting idle in their boats while as most houseboats and hotels wore a deserted look .
Mushtaq Ahmad said his houseboat was booked for six days by Japanese tourists but they all left this morning following the advisory.
“My houseboat was booked till the month of September, but now all the bookings have been canceled,” Mushtaq said.
Farooq Ahmad Kathoo, General Secretary, Travel Agents and Tour operators of Kashmir (TAAK) said, there was 100 percent cancellation of tourist bookings since last night.
“We have suffered huge losses but the government seems to be least bothered,” he said.
Who is going to take care of the “26 lakh people directly associated with the tourism industry?” he asked.
Chairman of the Kashmir Houseboats Owners Association (KHBOA) Abdul Hamid Wangnoo said this was the first time that tourists had been asked to leave Kashmir.
“Even during the Kargil war, tourists would come to Kashmir. I don’t know what is going on,” Wangnoo said.
Wangnoo said it’s unfortunate that tourist police “forced the tourists to vacate houseboats and hotels.”
“This is the season when tourism is at its peak,” he said.
Speaking to Kashmir Observer, SP Tourism, Tajinder Singh, said the cops were only doing their duty.
“We didn’t force anyone. It was our duty to inform them that they have to follow government advisory and vacate the Valley,” he said.
Tajinder further said that “if anybody wants to stay in Kashmir, they can stay on their own.”
Earlier, tourists were evacuated from Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other tourists’ destinations following the government advisory.
On Friday, an order issued by Principal Secretary Home, Shaleen Kabra advised the tourists and Amarnath yatris in the state to “curtail their stay in the valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible”.
SRTC buses were put in service and aviation regulator DGCA directed airlines to remain ready to operate additional flights from the Srinagar airport to evacuate the tourists if need be.
The order and subsequent measures led to unprecedented panic in Kashmir which has remained tense for the past more than a week after New Delhi rushed additional troops to the valley.