Often referred to as ‘heaven on Earth’, Kashmir has always been a tourists’ favourite, especially among Delhi-ites. But, after the sudden turmoil that erupted in the valley after the Centre’s decision to revoke Article 370, residents of the city are now cancelling their vacation plans to the region. The panic that started with Amarnath yatris being called back out of the blue from the Valley by the Government, has now snowballed into widespread fear among tourists planning to head there in the upcoming months.
“58 out of our 70 Kashmir bookings have been cancelled or altered already,” informs Gaurav Chawla, the Director of a Delhi-based tour operator. Chawla explains, “August and September are the months when the number of Kashmir-headed tourists is at its peak, but the tourism sector has been badly affected by this situation.” He also states that there has been a rise in negative sentiments in not only Srinagar but also Leh and the rest of Ladakh.
Delhi-based visual designer, Rangeet Ghosh, who often travels to Ladakh or Kargil for work purposes, plans to take a direct flight to Leh instead of going via Kashmir. “Section 144 has been imposed in Kashmir currently and, hence, travelling is not possible at the moment. I might have to go to Ladakh for work soon and will try to avoid Kashmir till the situation gets better,” says Ghosh. He also recalls how random curfews and protests in Srinagar and neighbouring areas have dampened his travel experiences in the past, on multiple occasions. Biker and travel enthusiast Manish Bhaskar says, “Usually when situations like these arise, we bikers get stopped often by locals and they ask us questions like ‘Kahaan se aa rahe ho? Kahaan jaa rahe ho? Yahaan kyu aaye ho?’ (Where are you from? Where are you headed? What is your purpose for coming here)” According to Bhaskar, travellers are often heckled by partisans and abused to get some political reactions from them.
Bhaskar, who organises motorcycle trips all across the country and arranges for a Ladakh trip every August, plans to cancel his upcoming biking expedition to Kashmir and visit some other place like Lahaul and Spiti. “The entire region between the Jawahar tunnel and Zoji La pass is not safe at all for tourists. So, risking it might be dangerous,” concludes Bhaskar, from his previous trip experiences to the valley. Another Delhi-ite, Ashrit Vaidya, laments, “I was supposed to go to Srinagar for my best-friend’s brother’s wedding later this month. But, now the plan is uncertain and maybe the entire wedding will get postponed now.”
Even for their Diwali vacation plans, Delhi travellers are changing their intended destinations from Kashmir to other places. “Indians are not ready to travel to Kashmir now, even if we offer them heavy discounts. So, we are now pitching them travel plans for Goa as it is a peaceful place which tourists don’t mind revisiting,” explains Amit Jain, director of Rising Star Tours and Travels, a Delhi-based travel agency. He further adds that Indians have become very cautious now about their travel choices. “I haven’t faced such quick and massive cancellations in my 20 years of experience. People usually take a chance and go ahead with their travel plans on such occasions but, nowadays, Indians take a lot of precautions and then plan their trips to save their time and money.” Himachal, Uttarakhand, Kerala and Assam are some of the other tourist attractions that travellers from the city are now trying to tap.