- Tourism Led Gentrification: A case study of Dal Lake in Kashmir
- Tutor: Kaija Luisa, Keiti Kljavin & Sean Tyler
The dissertation explores tourism-led gentrification, its causes and the impact on the communities living in and around the ecologically-sensitive region of Dal Lake in Kashmir. The dissertation employs methodological triangulation using interviews, survey and policy document analysis, as methods. The policy document in question is the Srinagar Master Plan 2035 issued by the Srinagar Development Authority. Analysing the correlation between tourism and gentrification in a conflict-torn region and using displacement as a conceptual lens, the thesis maps the socio-cultural and economic aspects of touristification especially in relation to the everyday lives of the communities. The dissertation employs a two-pronged analytical approach by using two categories – land milieu and water milieu – to foreground the patterns and impact of gentrification in and around the lake. The analysis of the land milieu concerns itself with a detailed exploration into Boulevard, the long promenade along the lake’s periphery. It further discusses holiday rentals and issues of mobility and maps the city’s land-use patterns particularly in relation to expansion along the lake’s periphery. The study of the water milieu, on the other hand, is an exploration into the historical houseboats of Kashmir and the local hanji (or haenz) community; foregrounding the issues concerning policies of renovation and relocation of houseboats. The dissertation also delves into the government’s land use and tourism-driven development plans around the lake, especially post abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution that gave ‘special status’ to the region.
Keywords: Dal Lake, Kashmir, Article 370, tourism, gentrification, displacement, houseboats, holiday rentals, overtourism, Srinagar Master Plan 2035
The Kashmir region conveys a spectrum of meanings to people worldwide. It has existed as Cashmere in the colonial times during which it was introduced to the British public through its most celebrated commodity, the Kashmiri shawl. It has been exoticised as the ‘Venice of the East’ and extolled as a ‘paradise on Earth’ by the Mughal emperors. It also exists as a site of contestation since India and Pakistan became two nations after British colonialism ended in 1947. It continues to exist as the world’s highest militarised region and at the same time a ‘tourist-heaven’.
While the dynamics of the region tend to evolve, it continues to receive higher tourist footfall every year; the recent years – owing to the Covid-19 pandemic – has been an exception. This influx of tourists provides vibrance and colour to the politically induced bleak palette of the Valley because of the continuous and stimulating economic activity around the region. One of Kashmir trip’s integral and inevitable parts is a must stay at Dal Lake. Known both for its picturesque views of shikharas (special wooden boats in Kashmir) and the narrow streets lined with cafes and restaurants, areas around Dal Lake make it a popular destination both for tourists and locals. However, with the revocation of Article 370 and the subsequent mass influx of non-residents buying properties in the region, the traditional neighbourhoods around Dal Lake have been transformed to suit the needs of affluent residents, while locals are pushed out of the neighbourhoods, and the prices of property have risen. This process, otherwise known as gentrification, has raised many socio-economic questions pertaining to the locals’ culture and commerce. In this context, the introductory chapter provides an overview of Kashmir, its historical background, its geographical orientation, and its ecological value. Additionally, it outlines the nature of tourism in Kashmir, the people linked to it, and the implication of perpetual displacement of locals. This chapter also identifies research gaps and questions, provides a broad overview of the study’s methodology, and sets the tone of the Study.
The dissertation – through primary and secondary data collection – employs methodological triangulation using interviews, survey and policy document analysis, as major methods. Phone interviews were conducted with a cross-section of people from different socio-economic backgrounds living and working within and around Dal Lake. The research participants – including members of the local community, vendors, cafe and bakery owners, houseboat owners, restaurateurs and shikarawallas (boat rowers) – were asked a similar set of questions pertaining to the social, economic, cultural, and environmental impacts of gentrification. Moreover, interviews were also conducted with the tourists and experts such as municipality officials and architects. All the interviews were summarised keeping in mind the research objectives of the thesis. In order to study the impact of gentrification quantitatively, a general survey was further conducted for a sample size of 100 people divided between the locals living both in the lake as well as outside of the lake. Furthermore, in addition to studying newspaper articles and research papers, a policy document analysis was conducted for the Srinagar Master Plan 2035 issued by the Srinagar Development Authority of the Jammu and Kashmir government.
Tourism driven Gentrification:
This thesis explores the conceptual valences of gentrification and the complex issues marking tourism-driven gentrification. These complexities add a multitude of variables – social, economic, environmental, cultural and political – where gentrification is concerned. The thesis further delves into the work of Agustin Cocola-Gant, an urban studies scholar, whose research lies at the intersection of urban and tourism studies and pays particular attention to the short-term rental market, gentrification, and tourism-led displacement. Cocola-Gant also talks about the role of gentrification in peripheral economies where the consumption power of the middle classes is smaller than in advanced economies, and interrogates how tourism supplants the lack of local demand. These arguments lend an apt framework for understanding tourism-led displacement in and around Kashmir’s Dal Lake. The chapter also provides a brief outline of rent bubbles around holiday rentals and housing situations in the cities of Barcelona and Majorca and tries to understand the concept of over-tourism associated with tourism-led gentrification. Since the theories of gentrification are dominantly Euro-centric, this thesis attempts to add to the scholarship on gentrification by focussing on gentrification in the global south using Dal Lake as a case study. Using a bottom-up approach, the interviews conducted with members of the local communities, vendors, cafe and bakery owners, houseboat owners, restaurateurs and shikarawallas (ferrymen/ferrywomen), entrepreneurs, local municipality officials and architects, foreground a grassroots understanding of tourism-led gentrification.
The dissertation employs a two-pronged analytical approach by using two categories – land milieu and water milieu – to foreground the patterns and impact of gentrification in and around the lake. The analysis of the land milieu concerns itself with a detailed exploration into Boulevard, the long promenade along the lake’s periphery. It further discusses holiday rentals and issues of mobility and maps the city’s land-use patterns particularly in relation to expansion along the lake’s periphery. The study of the water milieu, on the other hand, is an exploration into the historical houseboats of Kashmir and the local hanji community; foregrounding the issues concerning policies of renovation and relocation of houseboats.
The Land Milieu:
Dal Lake is very significant for bringing tourism within the city in addition to being a source of food to the local population. Because of the many tourist attractions around the lake, the lake edge is vibrant, attracting both the locals and tourists.The land milieu under discussion in this thesis, starts from the southern end where Dalgate region connects the lake to the city centre. This lake edge stretching from the south until the east is 12.19 kilometres long and is known as the Boulevard road. Fom Dalgate, a long stretch of Boulevard road connects to the Gupkar Road, a prestigious area hosting residences for government officials, making it a high security zone. Further north, Boulevard road connects to the Mughal gardens situated at the foothills of Zabarwan Hills. The Boulevard road, with its Mughal-era gardens, hotels, restaurants, street food kiosks and markets, bustles with activities attracting a lot of tourists. The several eating joints along the road offer food enthusiasts and tourists authentic Kashmiri wazwan, kebabs and kehwa. The markets offer opportunities to see and buy the local Kashmiri handicrafts and textiles such as pashmina, papier-mâché, woodwork, wickerwork and carpets. The Boulevard road, therefore, promotes and acts as a gateway to the rich culture of Kashmir.
From the Nishat garden, the 5.2 kilometres long stretch of the Foreshore road starts along the lake’s edge changing the characteristics of the region drastically. This region is comparatively sombre if compared to the vibrant Boulevard road. At the north-eastern end of the lake is Hazratbal Mosque which is of a great religious significance, along with the prestigious Kashmir University . The drastic contrast of development between these two roads is reflected on the lives of the locals living in this region. Both regions have their own challenges and issues. The Foreshore road, owing to less tourist attractions, has been ignored in the past in relation to development. The Boulevard road, on the contrary, faces high tourist influx due to rapid tourist-oriented development.
The Water Milieu:
Dal Lake plays an important role in shaping the lives of people within and outside the lake. It supports tourism and activities such as farming and recreation. Floating gardens and markets and annual boating races are a unique attraction for locals and tourists alike. The lake is home to more than 50,000 people mostly belonging to the hanji community. Dal Lake also features houseboats or floating dwellings distinct to Kashmir. Small wooden boats called shikharas, act as means of transport, to commute to and fro between the houseboat and the lake shores. The hanji community has been living on the banks of Dal Lake for a long time. They earn their livelihood from the lake by engaging in various activities, such as fishing, growing green leafy vegetables including lotus stems, and ferrying tourists in shikaras.
Moreover, they have also been protecting the lake for generations.
This section of the dissertation, firstly, foregrounds a discussion
on the environmental, social, economic and cultural aspects of the lake. Secondly, it brings to light a historical perspective of the houseboats and traces the origin story of the hanji community. It also looks, through an ethnographic lens, closely at the hanji community and traces the dynamics of their lives and livelihood in and around the lake. Finally, through an analysis of the policies charted out in the Srinagar Master Plan 2035 – aimed at developing the lake more sustainably – this section, at length, discusses houseboat renovations and their proposed relocation, scheduled to to be completed by 2025. Moreover, the section, discusses the impact of the relocation on the hanji community which sees it as forceful eviction in the name of lake conservation.