Tour operators set up helpline for tourists stranded in Kashmir

Tourists stuck in the snowbound valley are being provided accommodation, medical help, and even cash

From offering accommodation and medical help to hard cash, Kashmir-based tour and travel bodies, in a novel initiative, have set up helplines for tourists stranded in the heavy spell of snowfall over the past four days in the Valley, which has grounded both surface as well as air traffic.

Ten tour operators have joined hands for the initiative under the banner of the Tourism Trade Bodies Joint Forum. Around 10,000 tourists are stationed in the Valley, with most stranded in the far off hill stations of Gulmarg and Pahalgam in north and south Kashmir.

“We are sincerely with the stranded tourists. We are identifying tourists who are in difficulty and are short of hard cash. We will be glad to assist them and provide accommodation, transportation, etc.,” a spokesperson of the forum said.

Within 24 hours of starting the helpline, scores of tourists made distress calls. “The Tourism Department has already accommodated around 89 tourists. The forum has accommodated more than 150 tourists in private hotels,” Nasir Shah, chairman of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (J&K chapter), told The Hindu.

Dozens of flights have been cancelled in the past four days, leaving hundreds of tourists stranded. Anuj Kumar, a tourist from Delhi who was on his honeymoon, said he was stranded in Gulmarg but managed to reach Srinagar with the help of locals.

“For those who are trapped in locations out of bounds due to the snow, we are providing free transport too,” Mr. Shah said.

Hotels in Gulmarg and Pahalgam have also decided to extend bookings for the stranded tourists.

“We are ensuring that catering to tourists in snowbound places like Gulmarg and Pahalgam is not hampered,” Baseer Ahmad Khan, Advisor to the Lieutenant-Governor, said.

Farooq Kuthoo, president of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), said even medical assistance was being provided as part of the initiative. He said the gesture intended to keep up the legacy of hospitality that Kashmiris have been known for through centuries.

“We would not like to see our guests suffering. It’s our moral obligation to extend hand-holding to tourists who have come to see the paradise on earth,” he added.

The authorities said the Srinagar-Jammu highway, the main road link between Kashmir and the rest of the country, is unlikely to open for the next 24 hours. “We are hopeful to see the flights resume as skies clear up on Thursday,” an official said.

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