SRINAGAR, — With the Covid-19 situation in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir showing an improvement, its administration is organizing a capacity-building program for shikara (houseboat) operators of Dal to revive tourism in Kashmir.

“We are trying to train traders, including these shikara owners, to follow proper standard operating procedures,” said Sarmad Hafeez, the secretary of the Department of Tourism of Jammu and Kashmir.

The program is not limited only to Dal; all traders at every tourist destination in the Union Territory are being trained as well.”

“The program is aimed at spreading a message across the world that Kashmir is safe and that the tourism bodies are now ready to welcome tourists,” he said.

“Such programs should be conducted regularly, and the tourism of the Union Territory should be promoted further,” said Wali Mohamad, the president of the Shikara Owners Association.

He said that all the Shikara and houseboat owners have now been vaccinated and that Dal is completely safe for tourists to visit.

“The program is a very good initiative; it does not only remind us time and again of the essence of wearing a mask but also helps us understand how tourism in the new normal will be like,” he said.

Dal, the lake, is one of Srinagar’s prime attractions. It attracts thousands of tourists from across the world every year. Tourists visiting the lake love shikara rides and the opportunity to spend a few days in these unique houseboats.

“We have cleaned Dal, too, to ensure that the tourists experience a slice of heaven, without having to worry about the hygiene and safety here,” said Mohamad Yaqoob Dar, a shikara owner.

During the capacity-building program, organized by the department of tourism in the middle of Dal, the local artists performed a number of skits and musical activities in front of the officials.

More than 250 shikara owners also attended the program.

“During the program, all activities were based on increasing awareness regarding the Covid protocols so that everyone, including the tourists and dwellers, feels safe and comfortable,” Dar said.

“This year, during winter, and after that in the month of March, when the government organizes the tulip show, the tourism season was at its peak,” said Ghulam Ahmad Kalloo, a houseboat owner.

“Tourism players including the tour and travel operators, Shikara, and houseboat owners were very happy. But unfortunately, due to the second wave of Covid-19, most of the bookings for summer got canceled, and the tourism sector was hit again badly.”

Kalloo hopes that the upcoming tourist season is a good one for them.

“Now that the situation is improving and the cases are declining day by day, we are hoping for better business.”

He also mentioned that with the help of the government’s sustained efforts, all the Shikara and houseboat owners were vaccinated and are conscious of protecting themselves from the infection.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Anindita Ghosh and Nikita Nikhil. Map by Urvashi Makwana)

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