Mushtaq A Hurra
EVERY year, the dawn of March ends the monotony of winter in Kashmir. March is synonymous to the inception of Spring in the valley of Kashmir. The spring air infuses a new lease of life into the virtually dead flora of the valley. Green sprouts and chromatic flowers make spring invigorating and enliven. The kaleidoscopic scenes allures people across the globe, and tourists throng the valley from different parts of the world through road and air. No doubt, winter also attracts a good number of tourists to the valley during the bone chilling months of December, January and February but spring has its own appeal and charm which is unparalleled.
The tourist season is believed to begin here in late March or early April. Ah ! that Spring seems to be annoyed with Kashmir and Kashmiris for many years, now. Though the ice has melt, icicles have vanished, warmth of sun has helped the earth to sprout the greenery from thousands of species of plants but the swallows of fortune and good omen have refused to come back to my land. The natural calamity called COVID19 has undoubtedly brought the whole world to a virtual deadlock but hospitality industry is the most effected sector of life because the lockdown and the social distancing has deeply wounded this industry. And we all are well aware about the importance and role of tourism sector in our economy.
Tourism is considered to be the backbone of our economy. But, this backbone has been bearing the brunt of political turmoil in the valley for the last three decades. The recent years witnessed the steep surge in political uncertainty and bandhs in the valley which have broken the backbone of our economy, and consequently, our economy is creeping and crawling by imperceptible degrees. After the deserted summer of 2016, the valley witnessed a Lull during 2017 and 2018 but 2019 again proved a disaster for our tourism industry. The icy land is yet to feel the warmth of Spring, since August 2019 though the mid-May dawn is already hotter and brighter. The last summer and the recent winter of our tourism industry fell prey to political instability in the valley. And 2020 fell to the rage of COVID19 pandemic. The world is under the lockdown for last two or three months but the valley of Kashmir is encompassed by the dreaded clouds for last ten months which has brought our hospitality sector to shambles.
After the gloomy summer of 2019, our tourism industry was yearning for a grand tourist season in 2020. Different stakeholders associated with it , had built lots of hopes , dreams and aspirations. They were expecting a bumper tourism season ahead. Shikarawalas, Taxi walas, hoteliers, houseboat owners, horse keepers, fine art artisans like shawl weavers, papier mache artists and others had almost pulled up their socks for a fresh and new beginning after the unpleasant summer of 2019, but, Almighty Allah had something else in store for the Kashmiris, particularly for the different stakeholders of tourism industry. No doubt, COVID 19 pandemic has brought the whole world to a standstill but it came like a shocker for our tourism sector because it has already gone through tough and difficult times. The COVID 19 pandemic razed the castle of hopes of our people into rubble.
Globally famous Dal lake is narrating the tale of its prolonged solitude. The empty houseboats seem to be stiffened in the thick ice cover of winter. The desperate faces of Shikarawalas, staring at the empty Boulevard road with a hope to get a tourist or two, to row their boats deep into the heart of the lake, are enough to wither the smiles of a soulful and sensitive person. Gulmarg, Pahalgam and other tourist attractions are exhibiting a state of desolation and wretchedness. The snow clad mountain peaks and the lush green velvety meadows are mourning the plight of their guardians and caretakers.
COVID 19 pandemic seems to stay with us for longer periods. No doubt, the lockdown has to be lifted, though gradually, but, will people dare to visit their favourite destinations again, that too in near future ? A big “No” seems to be the most probable answer, particularly for the coming months. The plight of tourism related People is sure to worsen. This summer seems no better than the previous one. And the coming summer is not looking somewhat pleasant or different. It is a big fight which the different stakeholders of our tourism industry have to win together. Government has a greater role to play. A Papier mache artist has to look for an alternate job when his art finds no customers, clients and buyers. So has a Shikarawala because his Shikaara is not synonymous to Alladin’s lamp of Arabian Nights’ tale which can rein a giant to provide him the necessities and comforts of life in a jiffy.
Now, the onus is on our Government. It should devise a comprehensive strategy to save the future of this industry. A big financial package should be announced for tourism industry because it is facing the heaviest brunt of the lockdown. This industry is in virtual shambles. Mere bucks can’t save it. It needs a hefty financial bonanza otherwise the different stakeholders associated with this sector will come on the streets with begging bowls in their hands. It will also effect our centuries old heritage and culture . Many things of past may vanish completely. If the lockdown is completely lifted yet I don’t see an European, an American or an Indian coming here to buy a Papier mache decorated box or jar. And we can’t stop an artist from switching to other money fetching jobs if it can’t satiate his belly. The logjam for the hospitality sector is sure to last for a year or more. The possibilities of exploring a vaccine for the pandemic seems ceasing with every passing day . Thus, the implications of the pandemic will last longer. So, to save our ancestral legacy, a big financial package is required.
Now, let me come to our individual and social obligations and responsibilities. Though big hoteliers don’t deserve our alms but the poor horse keepers, Shikarawalas, taxi drivers and others need to be identified and reached out to. Though the authorities have announced a paltry sum of one thousand rupees for three months to the different stakeholders of the industry viz Taxiwalas, Shikarawalas and others but it is not sufficient. Affluent and rich should extend their all possible help to such needy people. It is not easy to reach out to these needy people because their self-esteem resists their urge to extend their empty hands before others to extinguish the fire of their bellies. They prefer death to dishonour. So, we need to identify them, and reach out to them in a way that their self-esteem is not hurt.
Let our charitable acts not be confined to some particular groups of people. The lockdown has left many devoid of any earnings. All the daily wage earners are going through terrible times. People crave for a bowl of rice and two rotis. The message of Ramazan is loud and clear that we should spend on needy, poor and destitute to earn more for our here and hereafter. And this is the best time to spend on others because the reward is multiplied to seventy times.
- The Writer is a teacher and a columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]
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