Kashmir tourism boom: Thriving homestays empower rural communities

Srinagar: As Kashmir breaks tourist arrival records, a desire among travelers to immerse themselves in the authentic culture and lifestyle of the region is driving local families to open up their homes to tourists, recognising the opportunity to supplement their income.

While so far choices for accommodation were limited to hotels and resorts in the main cities and towns, the homestays, ranging from humble dwellings in remote villages to quaint cottages overlooking the Dal Lake, offer travelers a unique glimpse into the heart and soul of Kashmir.

The people staying in picturesque valleys and remote villages of Kashmir are converting their residential properties into homestays, boosting rural tourism and generating employment. The impact of the homestay boom has extended far beyond just the tourism sector.

In rural areas, where employment opportunities are scarce, the influx of visitors has breathed a new life into local economies. From handicrafts and organic produce to guided treks and cultural performances, a vibrant ecosystem of rural tourism has begun to take shape.

Director Tourism, Kashmir, Raja Yaqoob Farooq revealed that 12,000 homestay beds are registered with the department in the Valley.

“Our focus on creating homestays is more in border areas including Keran, Tangdar, Bangus Valley, Tulail, Gurez, Dawar and Uri. We are getting good feedback from the tourists who have been to the homestays in these destinations during the past two years,” he said.

But perhaps the most profound effect of the homestay boom has been the sense of camaraderie and understanding it has fostered between visitors and locals. With their warm hospitality, they welcome travelers into their abodes, offering a glimpse into the authentic way of life.

One such family is Bhat’s of the Bangus valley of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Hailing from a lone line of farmers, the Bhat’s opened their ancestral home to visitors, transforming it into a cozy homestay.

“Most of the bookings I get are from references who stayed with us previously. It is like sort of a family relation now and we exchange gifts as well,” Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, owner of the homestay, told DH.

“The tourists not only experience nature’s wilderness through homestays but also enjoy the local food, culture, traditions, and warm hospitality. Visitors are drawn not only by the opportunity to live like locals but also by the warmth and hospitality of their hosts,” he added.

The concept of homestays took shape in J&K in 2022 when a record number of tourists visited the Himalayan region, followed by a ceasefire between Indo-Pak armies and peace along the Line of Control (LoC).

To increase the strength of homestays in remote and border areas of J&K, the government under its ambitious programme Mission Youth provides Rs 50,000 special financial assistance to youth willing to set up a homestay unit in J&K.

The story of the tourism flow that sparked a homestay boom was not just one of economic growth; it is clear that the true beauty of Kashmir lies not just in its mountains and meadows but in the warmth and hospitality of its people.

(Published 31 March 2024, 05:24 IST)

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