Srinagar/Calcutta, May 31: The lost and almost-found Paradise on Earth turned into a purgatory for sightseers from Bengal as militants attacked two tour buses in quick succession in Kashmir today.
At least 24 people were injured in the grenade strike, the third on tourists in 15 days.
The condition of three is said to be serious. The three ' identified as Suman Datta, Lakshman Chander and P.K. Ghosh ' suffered multiple splinter injuries.
Most of the tourists were from either Calcutta or its outskirts and had left for Kashmir on May 22. The buses were part of trips organised by at least two operators from Bengal ' Rocky Travels in Barrackpore and Bidisha Tours and Travels in Belghoria.
One of the buses was returning from Sonamarg, a health resort in north Kashmir, when the militants hurled a grenade, which exploded inside the vehicle. The attack took place near the mountain-ringed Dal Lake.
Around 10 to 15 minutes later, a grenade was tossed into the second bus, coming from Gulmarg in north Kashmir.
“While I was explaining the grandeur of Dal Lake to my tourists, there was a blast,” said Surajit Ghatak of Rocky Travels, who was on the Sonamarg bus. “There were 35 tourists, many from Birati.”
The other bus had 32 tourists, said Paresh Mondal of Bidisha Tours. Eight to nine were injured.
Srinagar police issued a list of 23 injured but an unidentified patient was admitted to a hospital later. With most tourists unable to understand Hindi, communication was a big problem.
The police and officials, unfamiliar with Bengali despite a steady flow of tourists from the eastern state, found it difficult to draw up an authentic list of names.
Tourists from Bengal form a large chunk of domestic visitors to the Valley ever since the peace process with Pakistan nudged holidaymakers back to the most picturesque region of the country. Last year, Kashmir drew a record 600,000 tourists.
The tourist season is at its peak now. The militants are normally not known to attack tourists but ahead of and during the Prime Minister’s roundtable in Srinagar, sightseers were targeted. The attack during the roundtable killed five tourists from Gujarat, another state where Kashmir is a popular destination.
The Congress-led state government had made tourism a top priority, pitching the upswing as the most visible sign that normality is returning.
Officials fear that the militants have begun to attack tourism ' the nerve-centre of the local economy ' to foment disquiet and punish the populace that has shown some signs of defiance of extremists.
The concern may not be misplaced. “For the first time in five years, my loan repayments had become regular. God knows what will happen to my family now,” said Mohammad Shafi, a taxi driver in Srinagar.