In Kashmir, some foreign tourists appreciate peace and tranquility

SRINAGAR/SONMARG: You wouldn't expect to find it right now. But if you walk to the floating houses moored in the picturesque Dal Lak, you will be surprised.

Scottish Steven Ballantine, 51, is sitting on the steps of a houseboat, playing the guitar. Upon request, it explodes in a song. You could go to church, sit on a bench, those humans who are not human, could be sitting next to you. John Prine's lyrics sound even more disturbing in the clear and clear air.

Ballantine, a science teacher, is one of the 928 foreign tourists who came to Srinagar International airport from August 5 to September 30, according to the records of the Foreigners Registration Office. And no, that does not include journalists on duty.

At 928, the number of foreign tourists who arrived at Srinagar International Airport from August 5 - the day Article 370 was nullified - to September 30 is down dramatically from 9,589 in the same period last year. But given the prevailing circumstances, it’s remarkable that even this number has come to the Valley.

Even on August 5 and 6, when there were zero domestic travelers, 24 and nine foreign tourists, respectively, flew into the Valley, according to Srinagar airport records.

The slump in foreign tourists is, in fact, less pronounced than the collapse in domestic tourism. A total of 4,167 domestic passengers arrived at Srinagar airport from August 5 to September 30, against almost 1.45 lakh in the same period last year.

So why did foreign tourists decide to come to Kashmir? Some said they believe the Valley will be safer now that it is under the direct government of the central government. Others welcome loneliness, the absence of tourist rush. Background fees (houseboat rates are Rs 2,500 to Rs 4,000 per night versus Rs 10,000 at peak times) and plane tickets (1,800-2500 one-way from Delhi and Mumbai) are also compelling reasons.

Barbara Strauss, a librarian in Germany, who has been staying in a houseboat ironically called Switzerland, says: No Kashmiri would harm a tourist. It is their livelihood. This is the best time to come here, as there is not much domestic fever and a significant fall in violence due to restrictions. I have often come to understand the culture and changes in lifestyle patterns. This time I came to train children in German, who can use these skills to grow tourism.

French carpenter Louis Luc Alexis, American architect Gray Robin and Belgian coach Hygyu Ben, who landed in Kashmir on September 23, say that conflict areas should have the opportunity to rebuild, explore and unearth talent. They add that artisans in cities and towns are available to interact with tourists like them and seek to promote their crafts throughout the world.

Malaysian travel agent Binti Shoun Nupre says that young academics in her country often flood her with requests to visit `` conflict-prone '' places like Jersusalem, Uighur camps and Kashmir.

This led her to visit the region to get a first-hand experience of staying in a houseboat and also understanding the situation.

Most tourists insist that fears about visiting Kashmir are very exaggerated, but admit that not having access to phones and the Internet has made traveling a complex task.