4 young men and women are carving out a billion dollar dream in Kashmir


If you are in Kashmir your first preference would be to look for a government job most of which have dried up. Then there are those who look at options of travelling to other parts in the country and finding work there. But there are those who brave all the fears that the rest of the world has and start something on their own knowing how hard it is to do something new in Kashmir. and not just fall into the trap of the time-tested and traditional family business.

These four startup founders decided to break the shackles and started something unconventional in Kashmir. They came out of their comfort zones to take a shot at entrepreneurship. Their effort is remarkable. Here is a brief about two men and two women, all youth which makes for an inspirational read.

Saba Shafi: She was born in the Seelu village in Sopore, 57 km from Srinagar in north Kashmir, Shafi graduated from Zakir Husain College in Delhi and did an MBA from Jagan Institute of Management Studies, Rohini in Delhi.

Pic Courtesy: Facebook Page
Pic Courtesy: Facebook Page

After completing her MBA, she worked in an MNC for a while but she didn’t like the work culture as she always desire to be the boss. in 2011, she left the tiring job and decided that it was time to do something new.  She was good with fashion and make up which was her hobby since childhood. She was travelling to visit her sister in London, when the idea of converting her hobby into profession came struck her.

While in London, she got enrolled in four courses in makeup art at the London School of Make Up and the Illamasqua School of Makeup Art, amongst other institutes. She wanted be perfect in her profession.

Her ideas for promotion was the word of mouth at the marriage functions of her cousins and friends. People started contacting her on social media and finally in the summer of 2013 she started taking formal bookings. “Since then I never looked back,” says Shafi, who now operates out of Kashmir and Delhi.

In Kashmir, Shafi charges Rs 15,000 for each bridal makeup and twice that amount in Dehi. For destination weddings, she charges between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh. “In Delhi I also hold workshops and hire teams on a project basis. In Kashmir I may train girls in future,” says Shafi, whose success has encouraged many other women in the Valley to enter this field. “Every bride is a celebrity for me and I want to live in prayers and memories of people,” she says.

Fahad Jeelani: He was originally an IT professional with an engineering degree from Dehradun Institute of Technology. Like Saba, he also worked at an MNC in Bengaluru. But then in 2011, he came back to his hometown, Srinagar with a vision to create new possibility here. His family business was of traditional handicraft shops but he wasn’t to eager to join that either.

Pic Courtesy: Economic Times

Instead of that, he obtained a contractor’s licence and did some construction projects for the government, but Jeelani got bored from that too and came up with an idea of opening first of its kind, mobile restaurant, called Meals on Wheels.

Since in Kashmir eating is the only recreation. So, he redesigned his Tata 407 truck to accommodate a kitchen early this year. One can find Meals on Wheels in the Residency Road in Lal Chowk

“On an average 100 customers visit us every day,” says Jeelani. Jeelani wanted to transform the idea into a chain of restaurants, if the people of Kashmir adopted the idea. His family members weren’t too thrilled by his idea but he did not care and is in fact getting a second truck retrofitted to cater to demand from the educational institutes of the Valley.

Also, one of his customers has set up a food truck in another part of the city but Jeelani doesn’t see him as a competition but instead he is very happy being someone’s inspiration.

Beenish Bhat: Beenish also like the above two worked in a bank for two years. But then in 2012, she quit and started a premium boutique in Srinagar branded Panache.

Pic Courtesy: Economic Times

She never studied any sort of designing but she was creative and that helped her growing of her business.

It took three years for this business administration postgraduate from Kashmir University to carve out a niche in a place like Kashmir.  Her business acumen doesn’t ask for many customers. “I never believed that one needs to have hordes of customers to be a successful business enterprise.”, she said.

At Panache, a customised suite price ranges from anywhere between Rs 2,500 to Rs 25,000. “Whenever they complain of my high prices, I ask my visitors to survey the market and then come to me for shopping,” says Bhat, whose mantra for success is a modern packaging of “honesty, quality and style”.

Beenish is now a mother of two kids. She owes her success to husband for offering her space at his family-owned factory and father to allow her to explore business initiative contrary to tradition. Besides running her boutique, Bhat also participates in fashion exhibitions across India to gain experience and knowledge about the fast-changing industry. Her plan is to launch her own fashion brand in a few years.

“I want to bring the best to Kashmir,” says Bhat, whose designs are already popular in bridal circles of Kashmir.

Suhail Rashid Shah: He hails from town Bijbehara nearly 50 km from Srinagar in south Kashmir. During his MBA in UK, he toured London several times in an open-roof bus. These tour were not only just see sighting but which opened his eyes to the city but to a business opportunity.

Again, he also worked in opened his eyes to the city but to a business opportunity but then came back to home with an idea to run an openroof, hop-on, hop-off bus service here which would otherwise be a distant dream for the people here.

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Suhail started working on his dream project in 2013 in partnership with one of his friends Arshid Mehraj Khan. Finally, earlier this year, he succeeded in getting a 50-seater ‘Kashmir Hop On Hop Off’ buses on the roads of Srinagar. Now, by the end of year, there are two such buses plying on the roads of Srinagar.

The two buses ply on the 16.5 km stretch of the picturesque Boulevard, Foreshore road on the banks of the Dal Lake and the foothills of the Zabarvan mountains in Srinagar, passing on the way a botanical garden and the famous Nishat Bagh. Suhail claims that more than 2,500 tourists and locals have used the service in the last three months.

“Business is picking up and next year we expect footfalls of tourists as well as locals to increase,” says Shah.

In winters, the buses will also ply on the route of the world famous skiing resort of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.


The story of these budding Entrepreneurs first featured on The Economic Times