COVID-19 fallout: No tourists in peak season, Pahalgam deserted

By: Afaq Bhat

Pahalgam: Eerie calm is prevailing in this famous health resort in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district as the COVID-19 is threatening to ruin yet another tourist season.

Markets in Pahalgam that used to be full during this time of the year are deserted and most hotels and huts are vacant. “Before the second wave of COVID-19 arrived in April, we had advance bookings till October but after the virus raised its ugly head again all the bookings were canceled, “said, an hotelier.

He said, “For more than the past two years, we have suffered immensely as the COVID-19 has broken our back. We were hoping that this year we will witness a bumper tourism season but the COVID second wave and prediction about the third possible wave of the virus have once again left us in lurch.”

Pahalgam also is the base camp for the annual Amarnath Yatra. The pilgrimage was cancelled last year and this year also the government seems indecisive about conducting the pilgrimage. “Before Yatra many tourists used to arrive here but this year it seems that we may witness a repeat of 2020. Tourism season is not picking up and there doesn’t seem to be any possibility of things becoming better in the coming days. The pandemic has to end before the semblance of normalcy is restored,” said an owner of a restaurant.

He said, “Hotels and restaurants used to provide jobs to hundreds of people but for the past 2-years these employment opportunities have dried up.  No jobs can be created till the business improves and tourists return. We are witnessing terrible times.”

A businessman said, “We had taken huge loans from banks and other financial institutions to set up hotels and restaurants in Pahalgam. We have not been able to pay the installments regularly. Interest on our loan amounts has accumulated during all these years. The government needs to at least announce interest waiver on the loans that we had taken to build the infrastructure.”

He said, “We are still waiting for the special package that was announced for the tourism stakeholders. There needs to be a bailout plan to pull us out of the trouble and mess we are in.”

“The entire economy of Pahalgam is dependent on the tourist inflow. If the third wave of COVID-19 arrives, possibilities about economic activities getting revived in this South Kashmir resort look bleak. We have no other option other than to wait and watch,” the businessman added.

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