A South African couple's plan to celebrate their 38th marriage anniversary in Kashmir ended in disappointment due to the security clampdown but they are hopeful of returning to the Valley when the situation improves.
Neil Storm and his wife Merrill had arrived in the Valley on August 2, a day after visiting Taj Mahal, to observe the special day of their life and had chalked out a plan to celebrate the rest of the week in Kashmir. “We are leaving disappointed...We had planned a trek in the mountains but it could not materialise as the forces have blocked everything,” Storm, a retired Army personnel, said minutes before leaving for Delhi.
However, he said they will return to the valley once the situation improves here.
“We will like to come back any other time because our hosts were so beautiful and nice. We liked this place and it is time to keep in touch with our hosts to know the exact situation so that we can plan our trip accordingly without any disturbance or wasting so much money,” he said.
He said though he has a six-month Indian visa, establishing contact with the Kashmiri host to get an advice is not possible because of snapping of communication lines at the moment.
"We will be happy if we return to the Valley...sooner the best," he said. Curfew-like restrictions are in force in most parts of Kashmir Valley with mobile, landline and Internet services snapped to scuttle any protest over scrapping of provisions of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories by the government earlier this week.
The restrictions under prohibitory orders were eased in some parts of Civil Lines area and Dal Lake on Thursday.
The couple was staying in a house boat in Nigeen Lake near Hazratbal on the outskirts of the city and had visited Mughal Gardens along the Dal Lake.
“The lakes here are very beautiful and so are the house boats. I have never seen such a thing in my life even as we have been travelling to different countries over the past 20 years. The house boats are in fact unbelievable,” he said.
The foreign tourist said barring the lakes and the Mughal Gardens in the city, they have not seen any other tourist place due to strict restrictions.
“I have served the Army in my country and I know what the forces are up to. They only follow orders from the government. My experience tells me that it is not a good idea to curb the people,” he said.
Majority of the tourists left the valley soon after the state government issued an advisory asking them and the Amarnath pilgrims to curtail their visit and return as soon as possible.
“It is disappointing to see such things (security clampdown) still happening on the planet in the present day. It is time for change and time for love rather than putting other human beings to trouble,” Storm said.
The Dal Lake the star attraction for tourists visiting the valley - wore a deserted look on Thursday with almost all tourists having left the valley, leaving the 'shikarawalas' (boatmen) without sustenance.
The government advisory to tourists came as a shock and whatever has left was completed by the Centre's move on Monday. We do not see tourism revival in the near future as the threat of large-scale protests and violence is lurking, Abdul Gani, a resident of Abikarpora in interior Dal Lake, said.
Gani, who works as a shikarawala, said the tourism season was on peak after picking up late following the killing of 40 CRPF personnel in Pulwama in February, following by strict security restrictions on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and Parliamentary elections.
We were expecting a good season but everything is now gone with a single stroke which has also snatched our identity, he said.