Only 400 Shikaras rowing in Dal lake, boat owners switch to other jobs, sell Shikaras

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Photograph by Vikar Syed for The Kashmir Walla

It has been more than 200 days since the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar had the tourist footfall anyway near to its glory days. The latest casualty of the knocked down tourism are the Shikara rowers – given less than ten per cent of them are at work. Out of 4,500 Shikaras, merely 400 are still afloat, claims Wali Muhammad, president of Shikara Owners Association Kashmir (SOAK).

On 3 August 2019, the administration issued an advisory asking all tourists, including Amarnath Pilgrims, to leave Kashmir Valley and “return as soon as possible”. On 5 August, the Central government clamped down and scrapped region’s special status.

The lockdown and subsequent steep-low in tourist footfall has severed the means of livelihood of nearly 2.5 lakh families, who were dependent on tourism sector, claims Mr. Mohammad. To meet the ends, many Shikara rowers have switched to alternative job roles including vegetable and fruit vendor or daily-wager.

Mr. Mohammad, the president of SOAK, has not been able to pay the electricity rent of his home in Srinagar for the past five months. “All of us have families,” Mr. Mohammad was quoted as saying by a local news-wire service, KNO. “You can imagine the nature of loses we have faced and the situation we are going through.”

After the clampdown, multiple Union Ministers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people in political rallies and media statements to visit Kashmir. But, the stats tell a different story. An RTI revealed in January 2020, reported by The Wire, that the cumulative figures for the August to December 2019 witnessed a fall of 86 per cent as compared to the same period in 2018 and a further dip to 96 per cent when compared to the same period in 2017.

While Mr. Mohammad claims that many have sold their Shikaras, the other few, who are still trying to meet ends by rowing, are offering nearly fifty per cent discount. “[But] we hardly see any tourist asking for a Shikara ride,” said Mr. Mohammad. “Despite discount or half rate, what we call it, there is no income.”

Though, Mr. Mohamamd hopes everything to go well and peaceful in the upcoming months; it might save the livelihood of about 2.5 lakhs families.

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