Srinagar, Feb. 13: Nine of 21 rooms in Lateef Ahmad’s hotel in Srinagar’s city centre had been filled with tourists last Friday, a decent count for this wintry time of year.
But by morning the next day, they had all checked out and were on their way out of the Valley. The reason: news of Afzal Guru’s hanging in Tihar jail had begun to spread.
“We don’t get many tourists during winter. Most of those who were there chose to go back. They were perhaps frightened,” Ahmad said.
The tourism industry was expecting a great start this year after two successful years but that hasn’t happened.
Jammu and Kashmir tourism department officials said the tension on the LoC after the killing of two Indian soldiers by Pakistani troops and Afzal’s hanging had taken a toll on the industry.
“Only few tourists are present in Kashmir and they too are mostly those who had come for skiing at Gulmarg. While many tourists have left, there have been many cancellations too, roughly 40 per cent,” an official said.
An official of a hoteliers’ organisation said: “We normally get free individual travellers (those who are not part of guided tours) during February. The situation has certainly hit this section,” he said.
“The arrival of north Indian honeymooners and government employees on tour packages from March is also likely to be affected. If the protests continue, this can have long-term implications.”
Curfew was eased today in several parts of the Valley, under a virtual shutdown since Saturday. Newspapers hit the stands for the first time after Afzal’s execution but the block on television news channels and the Internet continued.
Kashmir received a record 13.5 lakh tourists, including 37,000 foreigners, last year.
A gravestone on an empty grave reserved by separatists for Afzal Guru today “disappeared” but was “back” within hours. The grave was reserved near one meant for J&K Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat in the “martyrs’ graveyard” in Srinagar. Bhat, hanged in 1984, was also buried in Tihar jail.
Locals claimed the epitaph disappeared after security forces visited the graveyard. But a police officer denied the reports. “These are all rumours spread by those who want trouble,” he said.