SRINAGAR, India (Reuters Life!) - The global economic crisis is threatening to unravel Indian Kashmir's popular carpet industry, which was largely unaffected by a bloody 20-year rebellion, officials and traders say.
"There are no buyers now. The export of carpets has been adversely affected by the global financial crisis," Nasir Ahmad Shah, a leading carpet dealer in Kashmir said.
At least 200,000 weavers in nearly 30,000 handlooms across the region create expensive silk and woolen carpets for buyers in Europe, the United States and West Asia.
Last year, exports were down to $135 million compared with $174 million in 2006, officials said, as demand declined and importers canceled orders. This year, officials at the government's handloom department expect sales to reach a maximum of 2 billion rupees ($39 million).
"The industry which survived two decades of war is spinning into decline in peace times," Shah added, referring to the armed revolt that broke out in the region in 1989.
Violence has declined significantly in Kashmir after India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule it in parts, started a slow-moving peace process in 2004.
The mountainous region dotted with rolling meadows, gushing streams and beautiful lakes, is a popular tourist destination, with visitors often picking up carpets as souvenirs.
But as people cut back on travel due to the economic situation, sales to foreigners have dropped significantly, and traders in the 700-year-old industry fear many would be without jobs soon.
"We used to sell five to six carpets a day, but during the past 15 days we have sold only two," said Tariq Ahmad Mir, who runs a carpet showroom. "Buyers are offering us very low rates, and if we agree we will incur huge loss."
Mostly poor, war-weary carpet weavers, who complain of exploitation by traders have urged authorities to buy carpets from them to save their families from financial collapse.
"If government does not come to our rescue, our children will starve," said 54-year-old carpet weaver Mohideen Ahmad, hunched over the wooden loom weaving the intricate knots on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital.
Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Miral Fahmy