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Anxiety replaces excitement in Ladakh a month after J&K bifurcation

Tourists are welcome, but the natives want to run their own affairs, Ladhakhis say

Tuesday September 10, 2019 8:42 PM, Rohan Agarwal, IANS

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Leh: Over a month after Ladakh got the Union Territory status, anxiety has replaced initial excitement. The fear of "outsiders" threatening the existence of locals has gripped the streets of Leh.

Craving for a separate identity from Jammu and Kashmir has always been there in Ladakh. But many are now apprehensive about the loss of special status, they enjoyed under the previous arrangement, which insulated them from external influences.

Over a period of time, the rugged and picturesque cold desert has grown into an attractive alternative to insurgency-hit pristine Kashmir Valley for tourists. Ladakh becomes a thriving tourist hotspot, especially in summer, boosting the local economy.

Tourists are welcome, but the natives want to run their own affairs.

"We are simple people. With whatever little knowledge we have of tourism, we try to earn in six months to survive for the whole year. But once big industrialists are allowed to buy land, we will be out of competition as we don't have the wealth and skill to match them," said Skalzanj Dadul, a taxi driver.

A shopkeeper in the main Leh market echoed the views and claimed Ladakh might soon turn into a Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand -- the two other hill states in the north that are battling rapid commercialisation.

"You will see Leh turning into Nainital or Shimla, which have lost their original lustre due to influx of investments. The locals merely turn into employees of outsiders," said Pim Pim Avezevdo, who sells pashmina silk mufflers to foreign tourists.

The people are trying to measure the impact of abrogation of Article 370 that gave special status to J&K, from which Ladakh was separated on August 5.

"All I know is that everyone was in celebratory mood when they announced a separate UT of Ladakh, but after 3-4 days my manager told me how absence of Article 370 would turn adverse for us and will allow migrated labourers to replace us," said a waiter at a small cafe, located deep inside Old Leh town.

Making the situation worse is the clampdown in J&K from where supplies come to Leh. Since Ladakh is mostly cold desert, the vegetables grown here are barely enough to feed the locals and the region has to depend on neighbouring Kashmir Valley to sustain tourism.

Because of the situation in the Valley, vegetables are being routed from Manali leading to price escalation, explained a restaurant owner.

However, the central government has been trying to clear air on various doubts and make sure that normalcy is brought back to the cold desert.

"I want to assure everyone living in Ladakh, we will not let any outsiders to eat up your share of land, profit or revenues. Outsiders will be allowed in the Valley with a single aim to help native," Union Tourism and Cultural Minister Prahlad Singh Patel had said in Leh while addressing a gathering.

(Rohan Agarwal can be contacted at Rohan.a@ians.in)

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