SRINAGAR: Kashmir has been immortalised in medieval Persian poetry as “paradise on Earth”.
But tourists are staying away from the region because of long-running protests against Indian rule.
The violence since last summer, largely in the form of Indian troops firing on civilian crowds with shotguns after protesters throw stones, has left 84 civilians dead and more than 12,000 civilians and security force personnel wounded.
The houseboats on Dal Lake in Srinagar, capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, are empty. This time last year, occupancy was 100 percent. Now it has gone down to five percent.
[Tourism] is our bread and butter, it’s our mode of survival,” Manzoor Pakhtoon, a houseboat owner, told Al Jazeera.
“The unrest in the state affects us. We are the first victims and our recovery comes last.”
Earlier this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the youth of Kashmir to choose tourism and development over terrorism, shortly after inaugurating a INR37.2bn ($574m) highway tunnel in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“While on the one hand youth in Kashmir were busy pelting stones, on the other some youth were breaking stones to carve out this tunnel,” he said, referring to unrest in the state that followed a security force raid that killed rebel fighter Burhan Wani last July.
Tourism officials in Kashmir say convincing tourists to come to the region following violence is a “Herculean task”.
“We have seen these ups and downs and it’s been a rollercoaster ride,” Director of Tourism in Kashmir, Mahmoud Ahmed Shah, said.
“We are left with no other choice than to go on constant promotion.”
Neighbours India and Pakistan claim divided Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts. Two of the three wars they have fought since independence from Britain in 1947 have been over Kashmir.
Last September, tension escalated as armed men killed 19 Indian soldiers at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based fighters.
India accuses Pakistan of backing separatist fighters in the Himalayan region, a charge Pakistan denies. __Al Jazeera