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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 July 2006, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Violent blow to Kashmir tourism
By Altaf Hussain
BBC News, Srinagar

The beauties of Indian-administered Kashmir should make it a tourist haven

Mohammad Shafi rows a shikara, or pleasure boat, on the fresh water Dal Lake in Srinagar, summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

But he has not earned a penny for three days.

That is because there are hardly any tourists left in the Kashmir Valley after Tuesday's series of blasts in Srinagar in which eight people were killed and 30 wounded.

"I come every morning to the ghat [boat terminal]. But every evening I go back home empty handed. I have to support a family of eight," Mr Shafi said.

Fake stalagmite

A house-boat owner, Abdul Rashid Dangola, said that the influx of Indian tourists had been reduced by half following reports that the ice image of the Hindu God, Lord Shiva, had failed to materialise in the holy caves of Amarnath.

The authorities have ordered an inquiry into malpractice allegations at the caves - one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu faith.

There is fear lurking in our minds
Murli Dutt, tourist in Srinagar

Hindu pilgrims complained last month that a fake ice stalagmite had been installed at the site because the existing one is too small.

The ice stalagmite is revered by Hindus as a symbol of Shiva. The authorities say that the stalagmite has not appeared because of a shortage of snow combined with the wrong temperatures.

"The Amarnath row combined with the latest blasts have pushed tourism numbers down to nought," Mr Dangola said.

The manager of the Hotel Zamrud in Srinagar says that all bookings from Mumbai (Bombay) have been cancelled since the blasts.

Boy sleeps in his boat in Srinagar's Dal Lake
For some, business is quiet

"We had a few guests staying in our hotel. They would have been with us for three more days. But they flew out on the very next flight after the blasts."

The hotel took bookings for five rooms on Friday but only one couple turned up - the rest telephoned to cancel.

It is the same story at Hotel Imperial.

"All bookings have been cancelled. The hotel is empty," said front desk clerk, Tanveer Ahmed.

A handful of tourists are still around.

Among them is Murli Dutt of Nagpur in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

Daredevil optimism

He returned from a pilgrimage to Amarnath on Friday.

"There is a lurking fear in our minds," he said, "we just want to get out of here safely."

But another tourist, Sanjay Vohra, has no fears.

He has been in Srinagar for the past 12 days.

"I'll stay for another week," he said, "after all, Kashmir is not the only place where there is violence, there have been blasts in Mumbai as well."

House boats in Srinagar
Only the bravest of tourists have remained

Meanwhile a Dutch tourist - in Srinagar with his wife and children - also says he will stay for another three weeks.

"My children have no idea of the blasts. Only me and my wife know," he said.

"There are lots of people in Srinagar. We live in a house-boat. Nothing will happen, we hope."

But few people share such daredevil optimism.

Most of the houseboat owners and hoteliers fear that industry will not pick up again.

The Chief Minister of Indian administered Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said that he was anguished at the cancellation of bookings by tourists.

But officials of the tourism department nevertheless put on a brave face.

The Managing Director of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation (JKTDC), GN Kasba, said that there had been record numbers of tourists until the middle of July.

The lean season for tourism begins on 15 June, he said.

Even then, he said, he was only aware of two cancellations over the past five days.

"There has been a massive effort to promote tourism this year," he said.

"There may be a few minor hiccups, but a large number of tourists remain keen to visit Kashmir."


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