Snowfall in Kashmir valley brings in hordes of visitors seeking break from pandemic gloom

Tourists are making a beeline to Kashmir. The famous twin resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam are witnessing a heavy influx of New Year revellers and most hotels are booked for weeks ahead, with the battered industry rejoicing over the return of the “good old days”.
With regular operations of international flights suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, travellers from across the country have set their sights on the Kashmir valley which seems to be better placed when it comes to dealing with the spread of the virus.
The union territory has been witnessing an average of new 250-300 cases per day – much lesser than other states in the country.
The recent heavy snowfall in the higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir is also an attracting factor as the famous ski-resort of Gulmarg in north Kashmir is hosting around 700-800 visitors, including locals, daily.
Amidst the snow-capped mountains, white-carpet meadows and eye-catching icicles, the resort offers a wide range of winter activities like skiing which are an added advantage to the joy of experiencing snow.
The tourist resort at an altitude of 8,000 feet, 50 km north of the summer capital Srinagar, has virtually been sold out with most of the hotels registering cent per cent bookings for about the first two weeks of January – some even for the whole month.
Often described as the ”heartland of winter sports in India”, Gulmarg will play host to a number of activities in the days ahead much to the delight of holiday makers – a number of whom are already camping in one of best ski-destinations of the world — braving sub-zero temperatures.
The Tourism Department is going an extra mile to make the beginning of the New Year a memorable one for the visitors and has lined up a number of activities.
“We have a number of programmes planned for New Year eve. We will have a musical evening which will be followed by a firecracker show to welcome the New Year. There will also be night skiing – torch skiing,” Assistant Director Tourism, Gulmarg, Javed-ur-Rehman told PTI.
He said seven sporting events will also be held on the next day.
The official said the ski-resort was packed with tourists and the hotels were sold out for the first two weeks of January.
While 8,41,202 domestic and foreign tourists visited the Kashmir valley in 2018, the numbers went down to 4,99,584 in 2019.
The Tourism Department did not reveal this year’s figures, saying they were being compiled.
However, sources said while no tourist visited the valley in April, May and June 2020 because of the lockdown, the arrivals started in the month of July and gradually picked up in September.
The arrivals picked up pace in November and December with over a thousand tourists arriving daily for the last few days.
The influx of tourists has brought cheer to the thousands of Kashmiris associated with the tourism sector. The sector has reeled under twin lockdowns for over a year now – first in the aftermath of the revocation of Article 370 and then due to the pandemic.
“The arrival of tourists is a good sign and bodes well for Kashmir. We are hopeful of having a good season if all goes well,” Asif Burza, a hotelier who has properties in Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg with some having a tie-up with ITC Hotels, told PTI here.
His hotels in the twin resorts are fully packed for the New Year’s eve.
Burza said Kashmir is a preferred destination for tourists and as the union territory has been able to contain the virus spread rather successfully than other states, the tourists are looking at no other place.
“It is after a long, long time that we have business like this on the New Year’s eve. We have film-makers coming here in good numbers for shooting movies or web-series. It looks like the good-old-days of tourism are back,” he said.
The hotelier said tourism has a force-multiplier effect and good arrivals have an effect on the overall situation and economy in the Kashmir valley.
“Tourists not only help the tourism sector, but other sectors as well. The business here gets fillip, it helps local produce and arts and crafts to grow. Tourism also promotes people to people contact,” Burza said.