Kashmir True State Post Article 370 Removal through horses mouth

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 A Shark-Infested Heaven on Earth 

After having served multiple tenures in J&K, we, a group of three veterans, decided to 
revisit the pristine Kashmir valley with our wives to experience the post Art 370-abolition environment. It was an eight-day tour from 21 to 28 March 24. We stayed in local 3/4-
star hotels and had a dedicated Innova Crysta for travel. Kashmir is witnessing an unprecedented rush of tourists. Every single hotel is fully booked.  All tourist spots are teeming with hordes of tourists. At some places, even walking is 
difficult. Surprisingly, most of the tourists were of higher age groups. Apparently, every 
Indian is keen to get a first-hand experience of the changed environment. All were happy to observe that J&K had been rescued from the abyss in which it had been sliding. CRPF 
personnel are doing an admirable job through regular patrolling to instil confidence in the 
populace. The natural beauty of the valley is unparalleled. It is truly a heaven on earth. But then…
Whereas the Centre has made immense efforts to promote tourism, the local 
administration has failed miserably. It appears to have washed its hands off all the responsibilities. During our complete visit, we did not come across a single state official or 
policeman at the tourist places. Local trade unions rule the roost and swindle the helpless tourists. Extortion by the local thugs is rampant and tourists are left to fend for themselves.
It is a well-organised mafia operation.All reputed tour operators issue an advisory to the Kashmir-bound tourists to caution them,
"Be very careful while negotiating. Be very clear and certain what you commit and what 
they commit. Do not get into arguments with them, they can be rude as well. Also beware  of vendors like photographers, guides, ponywalas and cab drivers. Remember to take decisions yourself. Do not believe anyone, not even us or the driver or the hotel manager." Fearing reprisals by the local goons, the tour operators ask the tourists not to tell anyone 
about the cautionary advice. They beseech, "For any help, call us separately, not in front of anyone, driver, guide, vendors, etc." Can there be a more damning proof of the dreadful state of affairs in Kashmir, wherein even the tour organisers are scared of the mafia? *The Mughal Gardens* Most of them are under renovation. Sadly, their upkeep and maintenance are not up to 
the mark. At many places the steps need urgent attention. There are no railings. Toilets 
are too far away and poorly kept. There is always a local goon demanding money for their use. There are no garbage bins. At one garden, security staff at the entry gate was 
retaining the entry tickets for recycling, thereby pocketing the ill-gotten money.
Although an excellent tarred road exits, taxies are stopped 2 km short of the tourist spot 
(Shaliganga river site) and the tourists are asked to get down. They are given three options 
to reach the site – walk both-ways in high-altitude area (8957 feet); or hire a pony by 
paying the demanded charges; or ride an ATV (a four wheeled all-terrain vehicle) for a fee 
of Rs 1,000-1,500 per person. With a single pillion rider straddled behind the driver, it is 
no option for the ladies. Moreover, an ATV ride is an adventure and only the young can 
dare. As all the three options are unviable for most tourists, especially the elderly, they 
never reach the river site. The State government is guilty of succumbing to the local 
hoodlums and thereby depriving the tourists of reaching Doodhpathari – shameful indeed. 
Tarmacked Road to Doodhpathri but Tourists are Forbidden to Use Vehicles and 
are Forced to Hire Ponies or ATV: Exploitation at its Worst
It was a lesson in human ingenuity to mint money at the cost of others' helplessness. The 
area was teeming with thousands of tourists. Heavy snowfall had covered the ground with 
a thick white blanket and the tourists were enjoying playing in the snow. However, lack of 
basic facilities made the visit a nightmare for most. There were no toilets at all. A few 
enterprising hotels had erected a tent in their backyard with a solitary pot, common for 
men and women. Even the path to the tent was terribly slippery as it had not been cleared 
of snow. Users had to pay Rs 10 each. As it was freezing cold, the queues were long and 
the wait unbearable for some. 
A Common Extortion Racket: Asking a Hapless Lady Tourist to Pay Rs 2,000 for 
Using Toilet
I have personally witnessed an owner of a third-rate hotel (photo above) declining to let 
a lady use the toilet unless she hired a room for one hour for Rs 2,000. The hapless lady 
had tears in her eyes. She paid. It is an open loot of the tourists in connivance with the 
officials. It defies logic as to why the local authorities cannot build adequate toilet facilities. 
It is around 90 kms from Srinagar. Srinagar taxies are not allowed to take tourists to Aru 
Valley, Betaab Valley and Chandanwari. They have to hire a local taxi-union cab for Rs 
2,700. Thus, the tourists end up paying for two taxies – one, that they had brought from 
Srinagar (lying idle in Pahalgam) and the second one from the local union.
Although the whole circuit is scheduled to take about 4-5 hrs, the local union drivers keep 
hurrying up the tourists to save time for the second trip. Worse, they never take the 
tourists to Chandanwari, stopping 6 km short and turning back. It is outright cheating.
They charge for Chandanwari but go just one Km beyond Betaab Valley. There are no 
officials or policemen to help. The local drivers unite to act as bullies.
Betaab Valley: A Picturesque Tourist Spot where Boulders Provide Privacy for 
Toilet – Shame on the Government
All through the above trip we did not come across a single toilet or a garbage bin or 
parking areas. It is chaos all around.
It is around 60 kms from Srinagar. It is a beautiful place, famous for its gondola and the 
ski slopes. On reaching the place, one is attacked by hordes of guides, ponywalas and 
other vendors. Once again, to visit Bhutaphatri and the Maharaja Palace, one has to hire 
a local union taxi for Rs 3,500 as Srinagar taxies are not allowed to go there. 
Gondola tickets are sold on line. Mysteriously, they get sold out within minutes of the 
opening of sale. According to the local guides, there is a thriving black market in gondola 
tickets. A ride in gondola is an experience of a lifetime. One is mesmerised by the sheer 
expanse of the glaciers. Incidentally, gondola hosted over a million riders in FY 2023-24.
We saw long queues for gondola, entailing wait for up to three hours. There were no 
shelters or benches for the tourists. Even the snow had not been cleared. Tourists had to 
hold hands to prevent slipping and falls. One is amazed at the callousness of the 
organisers. They are minting millions but make no effort to ensure safety and comfort of 
the tourists.
As J&K has recently emerged from the decades-long turmoil, it enjoys high curiosity 
quotient. Understandably, tourists are rushing to Kashmir in lakhs. Once the novelty wears 
off and the current euphoria abates, people will become aware of the real ground situation. 
Then, Kashmir will be hard pressed to remain a favourite tourist destination.
Air-fairs are sky-high. Srinagar-Delhi air-ticket is more than Delhi-Dubai. Hotels are 
charging exorbitant rentals. A young couple was frank enough to state that Thailand, Dubai 
and Malaysia were far better organised tourist destinations.
All tourist places in Kashmir are in mountainous/high-altitude areas where the weather 
remains unpredictable. Bright sun-shine can suddenly turn into heavy rains or snowfall, 
and even blizzards. Not one place has any shelter or benches for such eventualities. There 
are no rescue teams or medical aid posts. It appears that the government has abdicated 
its responsibility totally and will wake up from its slumber only after a major tragedy.
On the morning of our departure, our houseboat caretaker casually asked for the mobiles 
of two guests. Without their permission, he cleverly sent feedback on their behalf, grading 
every aspect as 'excellent'. Never seen such deviousness.
Despite all my patriotic feelings, I do not recommend a visit to Kashmir as yet. It is ill organised and ill-prepared to receive the rush of tourists. It lacks elementary 
infrastructure, basic amenities and essential facilities at present. Worse, the tourists are 
always at the mercy of the local mafia. They have to remain on guard at every step. Let 
the government get its act together and make sure that the tourists are not used as easy 
prey by the sharks that infest the tourism milieu in the much acclaimed 'Heaven on Earth'.

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