BUDGAM: On a hot Sunday afternoon, Shakeela Bano, a makeshift tea stall owner at the famous tourist destination of Doodhpathri, is busy serving crispy maize flour tortillas and famed Noon Chai (salted tea) to her customers.
It is a job she has been doing for the past six years, but this year she is over busy due to the huge influx of local and national tourists to this scenic tourist destination.
Shakeela is not the only woman running a stall at Doodhpathri. There are around 60 such stalls, among which women run more than forty.
Donning typical Kashmiri attire, these women work hard daily to earn a livelihood for themselves and their families.
“Selling tea here has helped us to earn our livelihood. It also empowers us,” Shakeela says.
She adds that there are nearly 60 tea stalls in the Doodpathri, among which only women run more than 40 stalls. “At the rest of the tea stalls, women help their husbands. Which, in a way, means that it is an all-women show here,” she says.
Bano said besides Makai roti (maize flour tortillas) and Noon Chai (salted tea), they offer Kashmiri pickles, Kashmiri Saffron Kehwa, and plain Kehwa, cornbread, dry fruits, etc to the tourists.
Keeping the area's fragile ecology in mind, these women have set up zero-waste stalls. “ You won’t find trash here as we follow a zero-waste strategy. We don’t offer tea or Kehwa in disposable cups or glasses. We are aware of the ecology here," she adds.
Shakeela states that the customers feel happy when they see so many women working at Doodhpathri. “The customers encourage us and prefer to have a cup of tea with roti at our stalls.”
As the economy of these women and their families improved due to good business in the past few years, they have now focussed on improving the lives of their dependents.
“Since I started selling tea here, I am earning a good amount of money. Now, I am in a position to provide better educational opportunities to my children. It wasn’t possible before,” Naseema Bano, another tea stall owner at Doodhpathri, says.
My children are getting good quality education now, she adds.
She says another woman who runs a stall in Doodhpathri had lost her husband. “By setting up a tea stall here, she is now taking care of her two children independently.”
Male tea stall owners are happy with the presence of these women there.
Bashir Ahmad, a male tea seller, says that the presence of so many women tea sellers is very unique to that place, and it also attracts tourists in good numbers.
"The women's participation is very high compared to the males. Isn’t this a very good and unique thing? So many women are earning their livelihood here," Bashir says.