How Kashmir is losing its houseboat heritage
The houseboats in Kashmir valley are famous all around the world but they have been dying a slow death. The numbers have gone down from 5,000 houseboats to 900. And at this speed, it seems they might become history soon.
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 Kashmir valley. More than 40 per cent of houseboats have vanished in just three decades.
The reason people living on the lake say they are getting no permissions to repair the houseboats. 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. Four Places had the majority of these boats. 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 subsidised 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, otherwise 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 allege that injustice is being done to them by the government. They say that thousands of liters of sewage goes into Dal Lake every day, and less than two to three per cent pollution is caused by houseboats. But the whole 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 called it heritage. This is a very small thing of repairing the houseboats, an officer started a boatyard for the repairs and would you believe that not even a single houseboat was repaired there. The timber is banned for us, but people all across the city are using it but we have no access to it. The coming generation would blame us for not saving the heritage. '' said M Ashraf Badyari, Houseboat owner.
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 says they are working on a policy to keep the heritage alive.