At Times, Tourists Duped By Auto Rickshaw Drivers

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At Times, Tourists Duped By Auto Rickshaw Drivers

 

Such behaviour must be checked in keeping with our high tradition of hospitality

 

 

Sheikh Sameer

 

 

 

Kashmir is globally known for its warm hospitality. For centuries, Kashmiris have been hosting tourists from across the world. The beauty of Kashmir lies not only in its gushing waters, snow clad mountains or the fragrance of every produce from its soil. The beauty of Kashmir is also in lighting up in the hearts of people while welcoming and serving tourists, and every Kashmiri is proud of our culture of hospitality.

I remember that in the harsh times of Kashmir in 2008, 2010, 2011, the floods of 2014, and further in 2016 and 2019, Kashmiris posted messages on their social media handles, providing space and food to those who were stuck in crisis. Not only the social activists, but people individually helped the tourists who may have got stuck due to violence, curfews, bandhcalls and street protests. We Kashmiri welcomed people and we stood by them in hours of need, providing logistics for movement and survival in difficult times.

The funds generated by the tourists visiting Kashmir are the main source of income for a large number of families, who are directly or indirectly dependent on the tourism sector. Helping tourists explore more about the Valley, providing assistance after accidents, addressing their problems during law and order situation or in sickness, that too for no rewards. This speaks of the true hospitality of Kashmir.

One Two Ka Four

Since the last couple of years, some notorious auto rickshaw drivers of Srinagar city have been giving a bad name to our glorious tradition of hospitality. For making some quick money, they lead both domestic and foreign tourists astray. Shockingly, they indulge in the same misconduct with Kashmiris who are from the other parts of the Valley.

If anybody from a faraway village or town comes to Srinagar to visit SKIIMS, the  University of Kashmir or any other centres, the visitor usually engages an auto rickshaw from Dal Gate, Jahangir Chowk or Batamaloo. The fare charges are fixed at the time of boarding the auto.

But a negative pattern has been observed. In a shockingly large number of cases, the complaint is that the auto rickshaw driver drops the person at some other place. He tells the visitor – this is where I had to drop you. When the visitor makes enquiries locally, he or she is left at a loose end. Then it becomes essential for that person to take another auto rickshaw to reach the destination.

This way, the visitor ends up paying double for each ride. Many times, complaints have been received that auto rickshaw drivers start fighting with the passengers who come to know of the way they have been duped.

Rampant Misconduct – How An Autorickshaw Driver Harassed Me

I got duped by an auto rickshaw driver on August 1, when I had to go to the Sangarmal Complex in a hurry to meet a senior colleague. I stopped an auto rickshaw outside my office premises in Jawahar Nagar and told the driver to drop me at Sangarmal Complex. The driver asked me where I lived. I told him that I am from Anantnag. The driver fixed some fare, and I agreed to travel with him.

At the Jawahar Nagar Chowk, the driver took U-turn. He said that there is no crossing for the other side, so we will go through this route. I said okay. As soon as he approached Jahangir Chowk, he took a right turn and said that Sangarmal Complex is here. I got perplexed at his telling me that Sangarmal Complex is at Jahangir Chowk.

In the meantime, he hurriedly said, “Quickly give me the money. The policeman is coming. I cannot wait here.” I gave him the money and he left me standing by the road.

I was baffled about what to do next. I started enquiring from the local shopkeepers about Sangarmal Complex. They told me that the nearest shopping mall was Aqsa Mall. I had to hire another auto rickshaw to travel to Sangarmal Complex. This way, I ended up paying double fare.

Tourists Headed to Railway Station Face Tough Time

On August 14, a video which was making rounds on social media highlighted a similar complaint. The video was recorded by a group of tourists who had came Kashmir for a tour. The group had planned to return via train to Banihal.

Someone told them that if they boarded the train at the NowgamSrinagar Railway Station, they would not get a seat due to huge rush of travelers at that point. The person advised the group to go to Budgam railway station to board the train there, get seats and reach Banihal comfortably. This would be better for them, since they had luggage too.

The group hired three auto rickshaws to reach Budgam railway station. But the three drivers dropped the tourists at NowgamSrinagar railway station. When the tourists reached there, they got confused. They said to the drivers that we had told you to drop us at Budgam railway station. Why have you come here?

In the video, the tourists complained that on this, the auto drivers began to argue with them that this was Budgam railway station. They told the tourists that Budgam and Srinagar have a common railway station.

The tourist who recorded the video seemed to be helpless before the auto drivers. The locals gathered, watching the fight between the tourists and the auto drivers. The video was circulated by many netizens.

Faux Pas

A social media user named Ashraf Khan spoke up in favour of the auto rickshaw drivers. He claimed that the drivers thought it would be costly for the tourists to go to Budgam railway station. Hence they brought the tourists to the Srinagar railway station. This way, they could travel to the Budgam railway station in just 15-20 rupees.

Ashraf Khan was outraged that the tourists were spoiling the name of Kashmir for nothing. He further stated that we Kashmiris are also cheated hundreds of times outside Kashmir. We have not posted any video of any misbehavior with us. Why are these people posting these little things on social media to ruin our reputation of hospitality?

A Wrong Lesson For Our Children

One cannot get away with whataboutery in this case – that if Kashmiris are harassed outside, what is wrong if some tourists face some trouble here? This attitude is not right. If more people start thinking this way, it shall hurt our image as a tourism centre. A very large number of Kashmiris are directly or indirectly dependent on the tourism potential of Kashmir. Our tourism sector has flourished because of our personal warmth and our helpful attitude. Incidents of wrong behaviour with the tourists shall not serve us well in the wrong run.

Action Needed

The major stakeholders of the tourism sector and the UT administration must address such complaints of misbehaviour. The unions of auto rickshaw drivers must address this issue with responsibility, so that nobody is cheated or harassed for petty interests.

Speaking to KASHMIR CENTRAL, a senior auto driver said, “A bad fish spoils the whole pond. There may be some drivers who choose shortcuts to earn more. The drivers who have cheated you or the tourists are the black sheep among us.”

He said that if we cheat innocent passengers, ultimately we shall suffer. The Almighty is watching our actions and He always doles out justice. The senior auto driver said that many times, people forget their bags or expensive stuff in the auto rickshaw. There have been multiple incidents when the auto driver returns the bag to the passenger. He said that only a few days ago, someone left a bag in his auto rickshaw which contained a good amount of money. He said that he searched in the bag and somehow found some number, through which he contacted the owner of the bag and returned it to him.

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