As tourism in Kashmir stays stunted owing to the prolonged shut down, now on its 103rd day, the sustenance of families hasn’t been grimmer. Young entrepreneurs from the valley are however stepping up in midst of the decade-long conflict, punctuated only rarely by peace.
An approximate of 98 pc hotels meet a zero-occupancy situation. Civilians, whose daily income depends on tourism, find it difficult to sustain their families. Education has found itself at the blind spot of the conflict. The idea of shrouding Kashmir in a situation of stagnation and fatigue has come with the gruesome cost of 90 dead, thousands injured and at least a thousand people with pellet-caused eye injuries.
While the Jammu and Kashmir High Court rejected the plea seeking a ban on the use of pellet guns, the Indian government is now attempting to help the situation by relaxing permits for foreigners for travelling to places in Leh and Ladakh that were previously not as accessible even to Indian nationals owing to their proximity to the Chinese border. The extent of the repair that initiatives like these would lead to are seemingly insignificant.
The situation that has persisted since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani left the valley in deep mourning. Young entrepreneurs from Kashmir who established their ventures with the purpose of uplifting the valley from the doldrums are still clinging on to their dreams with determination, even on the face of the massive violation of human rights.
Winterfell Café – An exemplification of perseverance
Game of Thrones (GoT), an American fantasy drama television series , inspired Kamran Nisar, an upcoming entrepreneur in his late 20s, to create a hub for cultural exchanges that would cater to travellers and locals alike. Located in the Boulevard road of Srinagar, Kashmir, this café even during the strife, managed to cater to its customers. One would occasionally find writers like Basharat Peer jotting down footnotes for his upcoming book, in a corner of the café. For ideas to brew, art to be created, and respite to be found, a snug café, that aims to serve the best quality food and beverages at humblest prices, seems indispensable.
On being asked about how the delicate balance of the preservation of tradition, the ambition of change and the challenges of conflict can be met, Nisar revealed, “Owing to the diversity in Kashmir’s culture, preserving it comes with its own set of challenges. Establishing a café in a volatile region comes with risks, but not without surprise help. The reception of the café was obviously predetermined since it is Kashmir’s first theme-based café that found its inspiration in a television series that is already a phenomenon, but what was surprising was how every visitor reacted with fascination and support. We would always have to go an extra mile while establishing the café – be it doing up the kitchen, or getting our supplies, they would all have to come from a third party. However, the perks of setting up your own team, finally having the power to give to the people, hope that other youngsters find their footing to give shape to their dreams, this drives us to work around all the obstacles.”
The legendary hospitality of the people of the valley is one that is unparalleled even when pitched against locations in the world which are known for being home to people who go out of their ways to extend warmth to their guests, as confirmed by a majority of visitors. The loss of goodwill stemming from the mainstream media clashes and the general feeling of the lack of safety lurks on the minds of hesitant prospective tourists. In Kamran Nisar’s words, “The recent turmoil is one of the longest that I can note. However, the attachment to our values and the love for our valley form the very essence of Kashmiriyat and it won’t be long before it overcomes violence.” When asked about his reflection on the popular dialogue, “Winter is coming”, from the Game of Thrones which symbolizes the coming of dark days of turmoil, Nisar quipped with a chuckle, “And all men must dine!”