Hotels in Kashmir empty or closed as tourist restrictions lifted

SRINAGAR: India lifted on Thursday restrictions on tourists visiting Kashmir, but for hotels around the picturesque lake in Srinagar two months into a lockdown it was still far from business as usual.
Authorities in early August had told holidaymakers to leave “immediately” over “terror threats” to a major Hindu pilgrimage, sending thousands scrambling for places on planes and buses.
A few days later on August 5 New Delhi scrapped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, sent in tens of thousands of extra troops and imposed a lockdown.
More than two months later the internet and mobile phones remain cut off in most areas and fixed-line phone lines are unreliable, crippling many businesses — including in tourism.
“Lifting the restrictions on tourists coming will not help until communications are restored,” Vishal Sharma, general manager of the five-star Taj Vivanta hotel said.
“We haven’t had a single direct call (on the phone) for a booking,” he said, all 83 rooms at the hotel empty. “The last two months were the worst ever.”
It was a similar story at the luxury Lalit Grand Palace where a senior member of staff, preferring to stay anonymous, said occupancy in the 113 rooms was “very low”.
Most other hotels around the lake were shuttered, as were travel agents, while Srinagar’s famous houseboats, usually full at this time of the year, looked mostly empty.
India says that most people in its part of Kashmir support its August 5 move, and that fighters are cowering businesses into not cooperating.
It says that communications remain snapped to prevent these “terrorists” organising attacks. Authorities say they have killed several militants in gun battles and intercepted weapons.
Authorities also released three low-ranking politicians who along with hundreds of
other local lawmakers, activists and others have been detained since August 5. — AFP