SRINAGAR, India – Habib Wangnoo gazed out across the silver lake from the deck of his now-vacant floating hotel, remembering when he helped Mick Jagger out of a canoe during the rock star visit to Kashmir in 1981.
Jagger spent most of the next two weeks on the ship’s upper deck, Wangnoo recalled with a smile. He played his black guitar and jammed with Kashmiri folk musicians as they watched the moonlight dance across the Himalayas.
Today Nagin Lake is so desolate and silent as a grave. There are no tourists, no money, and no much hope. “In Kashmir, money from the tourism industry goes into every pocket from arrival to departure, everyone lives off it,” said Wangnoo. “And now, there is nothing.”
Kashmir is the only Muslim majority region in India. Shrine to Mir Syed Ali Hamadani. Photo: Showkat Nanda / The New York Times.
Kashmir, the rugged and beautiful region in the shadow of the Himalayas long trapped between India and Pakistan, has fallen into a state of suspended animation. The schools are closed. Confinements have been imposed, lifted and reimposed.
Once a resort, Kashmir has been in decline for more than a year. First, India deployed security forces. Then came the coronavirus. The streets are full of soldiers. On the highways, soldiers stop vehicles and verify identity cards.
The scene, exposed during a visit by The New York Times organized by the Indian government, he remembered the 1990s when an armed insurgency broke out and the Indian government deployed hundreds of thousands of troops.
The conflict in Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region in India, has been going on for decades. There is an armed insurgency in the area that has long sought to establish an autonomous government.
Tens of thousands of rebels, civilians and security forces have died since 1990. India and Pakistan went to war twice for the territory, which is divided between the two, but is claimed in its entirety by the two countries. Now even calling it a disputed region is an act of sedition, according to Indian officials.
Wangnoo’s family had been afloat during the darkest days of the conflict. During it all, visiting dignitaries, young adventure seekers and Bollywood stars flocked to sunbathe on the upper deck, amidst the floating lotus flower gardens.
Now him seven-generation business is at risk. The owners of other floating hotels have fared even worse. The ships date back to the British colonial era, as an alternative solution to foreign land ownership restrictions.
But the intricately carved cedar boats are badly damaged and many are in the process of sinking. Many say that the political paralysis is the worst in the 30 years of conflict and that the suffocation has subdued the people.
Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, stripped the region of its autonomy and statehood in August 2019, vowing that the move – which canceled Kashmiris’ land and employment inheritance rights – would unleash a deluge of new investment. and opportunity for the region.
Half a million soldiers arrived, not the money. People say they are more scared than ever.
The Kashmir economy is on the brink of collapse. In the past, even as armed clashes between security forces and militiamen became widespread, international tourists continued to fill Kashmir’s ski slopes, houseboats and artisan shops.
Since the Indian forces moved on this occasion, virtually no visitors have arrived.
Save for a handful of Indian tourists, Wangnoo hasn’t had any guests in over a year. He estimates that in less than six months he could lose the business and, with it, the dream of passing it on to the eighth generation, his sons Ibrahim and Akram, both in their twenties.
“We have worked hard over these generations, we have built up our reputation,” Wangnoo said. “At the end of the day, it was all gone.”
Showkat Nanda contributed reports to this article.
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