SRINAGAR: Come autumn, Kashmir is bursting at the seams with tourists.
Hotels by Dal Lake and other prime locations are fully sold out. Tourists mostly from Delhi, Surat, and Kolkata are making a beeline to Kashmir to enjoy a walk through the crimson-red leaves of bare-brown Chinars that carpeted Kashmir.
Three back-to-back lockdowns had hit the tourism sector hard. Tourism honchos worked hard to sell Kashmir anew and it paid off. More than 2.2 million tourists including Amarnath Yatris have visited Kashmir this year. It is for the first time that tourists have arrived in all four seasons. Earlier bulk of the tourists used to visit during summer to beat the heat. This year, tourists visited in spring, autumn, and winter too
Flights landing at the Srinagar international airport have been bringing tourists from all parts of the country, and hoteliers, houseboat owners, taxi and shikara operators, and restauranteurs are pleased to see this increased flow of tourism that has boosted their revenues.
Surat-based businessman Suresh Hemnani, who recently traveled along with 15 other family members for a leisure trip to Kashmir for the first time, said they had bought flight tickets in advance and booked hotels several months ago.
“People are flocking to Kashmir like never before now, especially after many Covid restrictions have been lifted, and vaccination has boosted the confidence of travelers and others too.
“Glad, we booked everything in advance as getting a hotel room in Srinagar is so hard now. We will see Srinagar, Pahalgam, Sonmarg and we are also excited about seeing snow and taking a gondola ride at Gulmarg,” he told a news agency.
Hordes of tourists from Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal, and other states, are also traveling to the Valley as the ‘Heaven on Earth’ — a sobriquet given to Kashmir for its ethereal beauty and vibrant cultural heritage — is seeing tangible signs of a return to normalcy.
Sameer Ahmad, manager of the nearly 50-year-old Hotel Paradise on Boulevard Road, said, “All our rooms are booked till next week right now.” “The rush in Srinagar will continue till the onset of harsh winters. However, many people come just to see snowfall, and Gulmarg resorts get sold out once snowfall begins. So if the prior booking is not done, one won’t be able to get a room there,” he said.
At Dal Lake, tourists take shikara rides all day long, but the rush increases in the evening time when they come to see the sunset from the middle of the lake.
Saqib Shah, 23, a shikara operator, proudly showcases his neatly dressed yellow shikara ‘World Queen’ at the banks of the lake, and beckons customers to take a ride.
“Tourism was heavily impacted due to Covid for two years. But, in 2022, especially in the last few months, there has been a surge in tourism. We are happy to see tourists again,” he said.
Jammu and Kashmir government has allocated Rs 786 crore in the budget for the tourism sector. which is Rs 509 crore higher than the last budgetary allocation. (With agency inputs)