Kashmir: Like the houseboats, their makers are also fading into the fog of time

Houseboats have been a major attraction for tourists for decades in Kashmir but are now struggling due to a dearth of artisans. Photo: iStock

For nearly 43 long years, Apollo Eleven silently witnessed Kashmir’s transition from being a Bollywood’s favourite shooting destination to a violent conflict zone and also its journey from being a state to its downgrading to a Union Territory. As Kashmir and its people endured violence interspersed with phases of deceptive calm when tourists flocked to it, Apollo Eleven, a houseboat, carved out a space for itself in the long line of houseboats in Dal Lake that have come to characterise Kashmir's tourism.

Having braved warping and other degradation challenges posed by the harsh winters and rains and the continuous standing in water, Apollo Eleven faced its worst crisis in the winter this year as an accidental fire engulfed the legacy boat. As Zahoor Ahmad stood and watched the houseboat go up in flames and fire tenders make a desperate bid to save whatever was possible to salvage, Ahmad wasn’t just counting his losses. He was also worried about how he would get the boat up and running again.

“I was ready to invest Rs 2.5 crore to rebuild my legacy houseboat, but there was hardly any worker in sight,” recalls Zahoor. “From a business point of view, it was not a good idea to invest so much money, but I had to resurrect my forefathers’ heritage.”

To rebuild the boat, Zahoor needed the finest craftsmen but the only thing which has come to be more elusive in Kashmir than an assured flow of tourists, amid regular instances of violence and resultant curfews, is craftsmen to build, repair or renovate houseboats. Zahoor finally managed to get Ghulam Rasool Najar and Nazir Ahmad Kawdari to do the work.

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