SRINAGAR: The tourist season at Sonamarg has hit its peak with crowds coming in huge numbers to beat the heat of the plains. However, with the large number of tourists visiting Sonamarg on daily basis, the annual chaos in terms of mismanagement on various fronts remains unchecked.
Cashing in on the situation, the pony owners at Sonamarg are reportedly fleecing visitors especially tourists thereby tarnishing the image of valley’s prominent tourist destination. For 20-30 minute ride, the tourists are being charged between Rs 2500 to 8000.
“As soon as we entered Sonamarg, we were surrounded by ponywalas quoting unimaginably high amount to visit the glacier. We were asked to pay Rs 2500 per pony to visit Thajwas glacier from base and around 8000 Rs to visit zero point and fishing point by road,” said Ishita, a tourist from India’s northern city of Noida.
A group of tourists complain that the authorities concerned along with the bodies affiliated with Tourism industry have failed to address the concerns that have been raised on numerous occasions in the past.
“The fleecing by ponywalas continues despite complains in the past. There is no rational fare. 10 different ponywalas have 10 different rates. They do not maintain a regular rate list and charge at their own will,” a group of tourists from Maharashtra, a western state of India, told Kashmir Reader.
Adding to it, another group of tourists claimed of harassment by horse owners on complaining over the high rates.
“When we complained over the rates, all the ponywalas came together and literally pounced on us. They started arguing and calling names. We have ladies along. This is clear intimidation and shouldn’t be happening,” said Vikram from Bangalore.
Rouf Tramboo, President Adventure Tour Operators Association of Kashmir (ATOAK) displays helplessness over the issue. “It is a persistent problem the tourism industry is facing in general. Over the years the ponywalas of Gulmarg and Sonamarg are harassing the tourists on one pretext or other giving a bad name to Kashmir Tourism,” Tramboo told Kashmir Reader.
He said that nobody from the side of government is willing to solve to the problem. “The tourism fraternity has taken his matter with all those who run the affairs of tourism right from Director Tourism to Minister of Tourism. In fact, even Chief Minister was apprised about the issue but of no use,” added Tramboo.