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Pollution Threatens Houseboat Owners' Way of Life in Kashmir

  • Rebecca Byerly

Kashmir Houseboats

Kashmir Houseboats

Houseboat business dating from the days of the British Raj important economic contributor to Himalayan region

A centuries-old way of life for boat people living on once pristine Himalayan lakes is threatened by pollution in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Every morning for nearly seven decades Azim Tuman has looked out over Nagin Lake in Indian-controlled Kashmir. He and his family operate houseboats and cater to tourists from around the world.

"My family has been one of the pioneers among the four families who started tourism here," he said. "We have a record from 1880."

These delicately carved houseboats have been moored along the tranquil waters of Dal Lake and Nagin Lake of Srinagar since British colonial days. The boat business fell off in recent years because of the conflict between India and Pakistan over Control of Kashmir.

"These 19 years have broken our backs," Tuman stated.

Now, there's relative peace along the lakes and tourists are starting to return. Still, houseboat operators say their livelihood is threatened.

Sewage from more than a million people dumps directly into the lakes. And springs that feed them are blocked by trash and human waste.

In the last three decades the lakes have shrunk to less than half of their original size. India's central government has pumped tens of millions of dollars to have the lakes cleaned. Most of the money was spent of dredging equipment. But Tuman and others who live on the water say these machines rarely work and have not helped with the pollution problem.

Houseboats also contribute to the lake's pollution and the development authority says they should install small sewage systems. Azim Tuman's son, Yaseen, agrees, but he says some boat owners can't afford it.

Yaseen and his father disagree on the future of the houseboat industry.

"My calculation for the houseboat industry is for another 25 years," Tuman said.

His son is more hopeful. "The future of the industry is very much connected to the future of the lakes. The more we get our lakes cleaner we leave them secure for the future generations the future of the houseboats is good," he said.