As the gardeners were toiling hard in one of Asia’s largest tulip gardens in Kashmir, the novel coronavirus was taking root world over. Then the pestilence reared its ugly head and turned every sphere of life upside down. Kashmir was anticipating a promising start to the tourism season after whatever happened last year. In anticipation, 1.3 million Tulip and hyacinth flowers were planted in the garden, spread over 30 acres. However the signature springtime buzz has faded and in next week or so, the dainty flowers will wither too, leaving glooming garden and gardeners lamenting over the lost labour.
Located on the foothills of Zabarwan Mountains along the banks of the Dal Lake with over 55 varieties of red, yellow, pink tulips, the tulip garden is in bloom. Last year, the garden caught the eye of 2.58 lakh visitors, half of them outsiders.
“We were hopeful that the garden will give a fillip to tourism. However, Covid-19 wrecked havoc on our plans. The tulips have started withering and within the next week or by the end of this month, the flowers will fade away,” a senior government official said.
A senior tourism official said that Kashmir received 14805 domestic and 6432 foreign tourists in March last year. Similarly, he said, 53648 domestic and 8167 foreign tourists visited Kashmir in April last year. “We were expecting a good number of tourists this season,” the official. “However, the immediate prospect looks very bleak”.
The first half of tourist season last year was very reassuring for the tourist players and the tourism department. As many as 456525 to 428127 domestic and 28398 foreign sightseers visited the Valley till July last year. The arrival came to naught for the subsequent five months following the Government of India’s decision to do away with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution after more than 70 years. On August 3 last year, two days ahead of the annulling of Article 370, the government in an advisory asked all the tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to vacate Kashmir immediately. Thousands of tourists and pilgrims were evacuated followed by a massive security and communication clampdown, which has been eased since though not fully.
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