Srinagar: As the sun
sank behind the picturesque Dal Lake leaving the Sringar skyline
crimson, Abdur Rehman, a boatman, counted his day's earnings and
thanked god for ensuring another "peaceful day" in the troubled
The boatman in wrinkled but neat traditional dress counted Rs.300
and kept aside Rs.13 to be given to a Muslim shrine to ensure that
the new-found peace stays in the valley after three summers of
deadly street protests had forced visitors to retreat.
"This is for Makhdoom Sahib (a 16th century Srinagar saint) whose
blessings bring peace and good business for us," Rehman, in his
late fifties, told a visiting IANS correspondent, pointing towards
the hillock shrine at a distance from where he docked his taxi
boat - the only source of his income.
Amid fervent hopes for a bumper tourist season in the valley this
year, Rehman is apprehensive that the shadows of violence may
repeat, because "peace looks too fragile" in the valley that has
seen over two decades of armed separatist campaign backed by
His fears are not unfounded even as India and Pakistan are
revisiting the peace process to solve all issues including the
territorial dispute over Kashmir.
Tourism is the valley's second biggest money spinner after the
Rs.2,000-crore horticulture sector. Like in the past three
seasons, tourists are rushing to the valley that is witnessing 100
percent occupancy in hotels and houseboats. But even a slight
trigger-off of violence can dash the hopes of those who rely on
the tourist trade.
That is what happened in 2008 when a controversial deal allotting
swathes of forest land to a Hindu shrine triggered violent street
protests forcing cancellation of hotel bookings and tourists fled
the valley. That year over 60 people were killed.
In 2009, the season was lost again to street violence triggered by
the mysterious killings of two women in a south Kashmir village.
Some 30 people were killed in the months of violence.
The 2010 summer was more violent than the previous years. The
cycle of civilian killings and stone-pelting protests that started
in June lasted for over three months, leaving some 110 civilians
dead mostly in firing by security forces.
But Rehman and others associated with the trade want to forget
"No. Not this year, please. Let us make some money. We have to
survive. We have to feed our kids. We have to educate them," said
Abdus Samad, another boatman.
The boatmen said they were encouraged after separatist leaders
issued statements declaring tourists as honoured guests and
efforts were made by the tourism department to welcome visitors to
a peaceful valley.
Separatists like Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin
Malik have declared that they would desist from prolonged
shutdowns to ensure a peaceful tourist season - a statement that
was welcomed by Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora.
The valley has so far hosted close to 500,000 tourists since
January this year. This includes over 13,000 foreigners.
On the Srinagar streets, peace indeed looks round the corner. The
evenings leave Boulevard Road along the Dal Lake chock-a-block.
Traffic jams on the necklace-shaped road brings smiles on
everyone's face. Even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah loves the sight
of long queues of cars on the road on the Zabarwan foothills.
"I would rather be stuck in a traffic jam than be confronted with
deserted roads," Abdullah said at a recent Srinagar get-together
after his cavalcade was stuck for some time on the Boulevard.
Lateef Ahmed, president of the Kashmir Hoteliers and Restaurants
Federation, said the trends of the tourist season have shown
"positive signs" so far.
"It all depends on how we treat our guests. How peaceful we make
them feel. After all, they are here to get peace of mind from the
mundane routines of their daily lives," Ahmed told IANS.
(Sarwar Kashani can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)