'Pains to See How Houseboat Business is Sinking in My Kashmir Post Lockdown'
For 3 years in a row, Kashmir has seen miserably low tourist count, making difficult for houseboats to stay afloat.
Video Producer: Maaz Hasan
Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj
The mention of Kashmir would always be incomplete without its colourful houseboats and shikaras. Dal lake is not only the prime attraction for the tourists coming from all over the world to Srinagar, but it is also a proud heritage of our culture.
I don’t have a count of the number of rides, I have taken on the shikaras or the number of days I have spent on the exotic houseboats lined up one after another on the Dal Lake, adjacent to the Boulevard Road. As a Kashmiri, I have been able to avail the luxury with ease but I am not sure for how long as the houseboats and shikaras continue to face an existential crisis.
With the dip in tourism, Kashmir’s 800-year-old heritage is struggling to stay afloat. For the last three years, there has been an absolute lul in the business which was already going through a very tough decade.
Definitely, COVID-19 gave a huge blow to the businesses in 2020 but for Kashmiris, tourism, a sector on which the economy of the region heavily relies on, was already in a poor state in 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. 2021 has given little to no hope to the Houseboat and shikara owners.
“I have been in this business for at least 30 years. There has been no development and work is simply reducing day by day. The reputation of houseboats is also degrading. Ever since the 2014 flood (in Srinagar), its value is just depleting. We are now considering leaving the business and planning to work as labourers because there is no benefit in this business. We are worried about our children’s education and managing our house expenses.”Mohammad Yusuf, Houseboat Owner
“The problem is that we don’t have enough tourists. The business has suffered a lot due to COVID. Tourists aren’t paying the rates that they should and the commodities in the market are also expensive,” says Noor Mohammad, another houseboat owner.
The conditions of the shikara owners are very much the same. With little to no tourists coming to the valley, they too are unable to make their ends meet.
“We used to get a lot of tourists and used to do a lot of rides daily. We used to earn at least Rs 1,500 to 2,000 per day, from which one could easily manage household and personal expenses. Because of COVID we don't get much work on a daily basis and we hardly earn around Rs 500 daily. And also the living expenses have increased. Green peas cost Rs 100 per kg. We cannot manage our household expenses now. We are 6-7 people at home. The cooking oil cans which used to cost around Rs 500 are as high as Rs 1,000-1,100 now."Ghulam Rasool Jan, Shikara Owner
Just to keep a houseboat afloat, owners need to spend over a lakh rupees per year on maintenance and with no money for repair, many owners are risking their lives and businesses by continuing with damaged boats. They are looking at the government for help.
“Look at the condition of the (Dal) Lake. You will find all kinds of garbage here. Electricity, a small issue, we haven’t used for three years. We are asked to pay the bill along with the interests. At least that should have been reduced. At many places they are waiving off taxes and some are getting loan waivers too. Why aren’t we getting waivers? If the government continues to turn a blind eye towards us a day will come when they will read to their children in story books that houseboats were a thing that existed here. Children will ask, “Papa, what is a houseboat?” Such a day would come.”Mohammad Yusuf, Houseboat Owner
People of Srinagar, and overall in Jammu and Kashmir, are dependent on tourism and generally winter witnesses a peak in the number of tourists. With reports of another season of low footfall, houseboat and shikara owners find themselves in dire conditions.
“If houseboats vanish from Dal Lake, then Srinagar will lose its prominence because it is renowned for the lake and the lake is known for houseboats. They are all connected with each other. If they die, then God knows what will happen to Kashmir,” says Mohammad Yusuf
(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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