Srinagar: The houseboats in the Kashmir valley that are famous all over the world are slowly fading away. The numbers have gone down from 5000 houseboats to just 900. At this rate, it is being feared that they might soon become history.
The rich heritage of houseboats on water bodies of Kashmir Valley has always been a big tourist attraction. The stakeholders have always called it the ‘Jewel of Tourism Industry’ in the Kashmir Valley. But, more than 40 per cent of houseboats have vanished in the last three decades.
The reason people living on the lake say is that they do not get permission to repair the houseboats. They say that a huge number of repair requests are pending with the government for the restoration of these houseboats and the unending wait has led to a decrease in the numbers of these houseboats.
”There were thousands of houseboats across Srinagar in Dal Lake, Jhelum river, Chinar Bagh, and Nigeen. There was ‘dunga’, houseboats and ‘bahach’. The reason is that we don’t get permission on time, we don’t get timber. We have been asking the government for subsidized timber because Kashmir tourism was hit. Before 1989, we never used to ask anything from the government because we had business and now since we don’t have much business we are asking for their help. Government should come forward to help the community, there are only 900 houseboats left and many need repair and attention from the government. Otherwise, in the coming days there would be no houseboats,” said Tariq Patloo, a houseboat owner.
The houseboat owners said they are being subjected to injustice by the government. They said that thousands of liters of sewage goes into Dal Lake every day, and less than two to three per cent of pollution is caused by houseboats, but the entire blame is put on them.
”There will be a time when our grandchildren will read about the houseboats in books, as none would exist. If there are houseboats in Kashmir, the tourism industry is alive. The way we move the oar while riding a ‘shikara’ is how we keep the water clean. You should see the old pictures of Chinar Bagh and see how many houseboats there were. Dal Lake has 600 houseboats, Nigeen has 195 and Chinar Bagh has 40 while the river will have 70. Slowly numbers are going down and the day it finishes, tourism will finish too. They come here for Shikara and houseboats. We say with pride that we own houseboats. The government knows and even called it heritage. The future generation would blame us for not saving the heritage,” said M Ashraf Badyari.
In 2009, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had banned the repair and renovation of houseboats after the government told the court that houseboats were the main cause of pollution of water bodies in Srinagar. The government had said they are working on a policy to keep the heritage alive.