Tourists are making a beeline to Kashmir. The famed twin resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam are witnessing a heavy inflow 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 steady operations of international flights suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, travellers from across the country have set their sights on the Kashmir valley which appears to be better placed with regards 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 may be an attracting factor as the famed ski-resort of Gulmarg in north Kashmir is hosting around 700-800 visitors, including locals, day by day.
Amidst the snow-capped mountains, white-carpet meadows and eye-catching icicles, the resort offers a variety of winter activities like skiing which are an added virtue to the delight of experiencing snow.
The tourist resort at an altitude of 8,000 feet, 50 km north of the summer capital Srinagar, has practically been sold out with lots of the hotels registering cent per cent bookings for approximately the first two weeks of January – some even for the whole month.
Incessantly described as the ‘heartland of winter sports in India’, Gulmarg will play host to a lot of activities in the days ahead much to the joy of holiday makers – a lot of whom are already camping in one of best ski-destinations of the world — braving sub-zero temperatures.
The Tourism Branch is going an additional mile to make the beginning of the New Year a memorable one for the visitors and has lined up a lot of activities.
“We have a lot of programmes deliberate for New Year eve. We can have a musical evening which will be followed by a firecracker show to welcome the New Year. There can be night skiing – torch skiing,” Assistant Director Tourism, Gulmarg, Javed-ur-Rehman told PTI.
He said seven sporting events can be held on the following day.
The official said the ski-resort used to be 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 Branch did not reveal this year’s figures, saying they were being compiled.
On the other hand, sources said while no tourist visited the valley in April, May and June 2020 on account 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 day by day for the previous few days.
The inflow 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 because of the pandemic.
“The arrival of tourists is a great signal and bodes polite for Kashmir. We are hopeful of having a good season whether all goes polite,” 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 because the union territory has been in a position to contain the virus spread reasonably successfully than other states, the tourists are taking a look at no other place.
“It is after a long, long time that we’ve got trade 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 affect the overall situation and economy in the Kashmir valley.
“Tourists not only help the tourism sector, but other sectors as polite. The trade here gets fillip, it helps native produce and arts and crafts to grow. Tourism also promotes people to people contact,” Burza said.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)
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