Tourists throng snowbound Kashmir, as administration opens up more scenic places for swelling visitors
After two dismal summer seasons for tourism in Kashmir due to the pandemic, winter has brought cheer back to the valley
After two dismal summer seasons for tourism in Kashmir due to the pandemic, winter has brought cheer back to the valley. With peaks capped with snow early this year, tourists from across the country are arriving in droves, according to The Indian Express. With Gulmarg — the valley’s top draw during the winters — bursting at its seams with tourists, the Jammu and Kashmir administration is planning to open some more destinations like Sonamarg and Dodapathri to visitors.
Gulmarg, Kashmir's famed ski resort, is hosting thousands of tourists who have come from all across the country to celebrate “Winter Carnival”, a festival of Christmas and New Year eve that began Friday. With Gulmarg draped in a white blanket of snow, tourists are enjoying its snow-clad slopes. The carnival has been organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department.
Gulmarg in north Kashmir received fresh snowfall on Thursday, much to the delight of the tourists; on Friday too there was light snowfall. The nine-day Carnival will continue till January 1 capped with many events including skiing, snow biking, ice skating and gondola rides.
Rauf Tramboo, president, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, is basking in the warmth of a surge in tourist traffic. “We are upbeat that there is a buzz about Kashmir… There are around 3,000-4,000 arrivals every day. We are comfortable in a sense with such numbers,” he was quoted as saying.
Given the global restrictions due to Covid-19, the J&K administration toured the country to promote Kashmir in major Indian cities. “This year, we put special focus on publicity and held roadshows at major cities including Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Lucknow,” says Ghulam Nabi Itoo, director, Tourism, J&K.
The administration and the stakeholders, however, tried to capitalise on the relative value that Kashmir offers compared with Europe. They publicised the valley as an inexpensive destination but offering similar environs.
“The lack of connectivity to Europe due to the pandemic diverted adventure tourists to Kashmir. When they saw the slopes of Kashmir are as good as Europe, it helped us publicise Gulmarg as a good and affordable alternative to Europe,” Tramboo told The Indian Express.
While less than 100,000 tourists visited the valley during April-July, nearly three times that number have thronged in just the last three months. “Most hotels in Gulmarg are sold out till March; in some cases, they are booked till April,” said Tramboo.
As the huge tourist arrivals has put stress on the ecologically fragile Gulmarg health resort, the government is keen to offer other destinations such as Sonamarg. A 6.5-km tunnel that connects Sonamarg to Jammu & Kashmir capital Srinagar will make the former accessible for tourists, and help divert some tourist traffic from Gulmarg, officials feel.
“A decision has already been taken in this regard. We are keeping Sonamarg and Dodapathri open for tourism this winter,” Itoo said.
Sonamarg, once the gateway of the ancient Silk Road, is a very popular destination among bikers and hikers. Just 42 km from Srinagar, Dodapathri - not that well known - is known for its scenic beauty with carpet-like meadows and a flowing river which, as tourist brochures say, resounds with soft wind passing through the pine trees of the enclosures of the valley. It is also known as a Valley of Milk because the cattle grazing in the meadows of Doodpathri produces rich milk in large quantities (SAM)