Srinagar: The 14th meeting of the goods and services tax (GST) Council has attracted the national media in search of headlines and cooler climes. This has resulted in a full house at R.K. Sarovar Portico, the hotel of choice for visiting journos.
But then the finance ministers of India’s 32 states and Union territories have been bussed to the swanky interiors of the Taj Vivanta—from where you can get a breathtaking view of the city and of course its centrepiece, the Dal lake.
With the temperature around 25 degrees centigrade, the modest Sarovar hotel located near the United Nations base on Gupkar road still offers a treat, surrounded by Maple and cottonwood trees.
Understandably, all rooms are occupied. A rarity at a time when disruptions and terror threats have all but killed the normal rush of tourists to this city. The boulevard located next to the lake wears an abandoned look; normally tourists would be jostling for space.
“All hotels are sold out today including Taj, Lalit and Sarovar because of the GST meet. A lot of media has turned out to cover it and hence the 100% bookings that we have," said Imran Wani, sales and marketing manager at the coveted property.
The meeting also provides an opportunity to feature Srinagar and the state of Kashmir in a refreshingly new light in the national media.
“Normally in public policy we don’t look beyond Delhi; at best to Mumbai. So we have this commercial capital looking at market regulations, rules. We have never stepped outside these cities to decide on issues of such significance. A lot of importance must be given to the choice of venue, quite apart from the fact that Srinagar is a much smaller city and doesn’t have that kind of national presence. Yet it has its own significance in a political way. To that extent it is a very important event for us to host," said Haseeb Drabu, the finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in an interview to Mint.
The signs are already there starting from the welcome party at Srinagar’s Sheikh Ul Alam airport to the number of smartphones advertisements staring down from the billboards. The promise of a revival of tourist interest in this one-time land of bliss is reflected by OYO Rooms boards and a new Sheraton being built to cater to tourists. Urban art also features on the streets with the newly constructed highway providing a canvas to the new narrative.
“Last year we had 100% occupancy during the peak season of May and June. However, after Burhan’s death, there have been few tourists," added Wani, who works at the 52-room property.
The situation in the state has been tense after Mujahideen terror group’s Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter in July 2016. This was followed by a cycle of violence which has been unprecedented in recent times.