As the world’s attention turns to Kashmir Valley, the famed houseboats that have dotted the landscape are being phased out one by one. The number of houseboats has decreased from 5000 to only 900 since the beginning of the decade. At this rate, it is feared that they will be relegated to the annals of history.
The rich heritage of houseboats on Kashmir Valley’s water bodies has always been a major tourist attraction, and this is no exception. It has always been referred to as the “Jewel of the Kashmir Valley’s Tourism Industry” by the various stakeholders. However, over the last three decades, more than 40% of the world’s houseboats have disappeared.
People who live on the lake claim that they are unable to repair their houseboats because they do not have permission to do so. They claim that a large number of repair requests for these houseboats are currently pending with the government, and that the interminable waiting period has resulted in a decrease in the number of these houseboats on the water.
Many thousands of houseboats dotted the landscape of Srinagar, including the Dal Lake, Jhelum River, Chinar Bagh, and Nigeen. There were dungas, houseboats, and ‘bahachs’ to be found. Due to a failure to obtain permission in a timely manner, we are unable to obtain timber. We have been requesting government assistance in the form of subsidised timber due to the decline in Kashmir tourism. Before 1989, we never had to ask for assistance from the government because we had a thriving business; however, now that we don’t have a thriving business, we must turn to the government for assistance. The government should step forward to assist the community because there are only 900 houseboats left, and many of them require repair and maintenance from the government. Otherwise, there would be no houseboats available in the coming days,” Tariq Patloo, a houseboat owner, explained.
The houseboat owners claim that they have been subjected to injustice by the federal government. They claimed that thousands of litres of sewage flow into Dal Lake every day, and that houseboats are responsible for less than two to three percent of the pollution, yet they are singled out for all of the blame.
In a few generations, our grandchildren will be reading about houseboats in books, because they will no longer exist. If there are houseboats in Kashmir, it means that the tourism industry is still alive and well. Our technique for manoeuvring an oar while riding on the watercraft is what allows us to keep the water clean. You should look at old photographs of Chinar Bagh to see how many houseboats there were in those days. Dal Lake has 600 houseboats, Nigeen has 195, Chinar Bagh has 40, and the river will have 70, according to the latest estimates. Slowly but steadily, the number of people is declining, and the day it ends, tourism will come to an end as well. They come to enjoy the Shikara and houseboats on the river. We take great pride in the fact that we own houseboats. The government is aware of this and has even referred to it as “heritage.” “The future generation will hold us responsible for not preserving the heritage,” M Ashraf Badyari stated.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court had banned the repair and renovation of houseboats in 2009 after the government informed the court that houseboats were the primary source of pollution in Srinagar’s water bodies, according to the government. The government has stated that they are developing a policy to preserve the nation’s heritage.