Gulmarg hotels booked to brim as tourists return to Kashmir

By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
New Delhi, Dec 18 : Kashmirs famous tourist resorts and hill stations, particularly Gulmarg and Pahalgam, are receiving a huge rush of visitors this winter as almost all the huts and hotels have been booked for the next several weeks.

Like scores of huts and hotels, the high-end Khyber Resort and Spa at Gulmarg is fully sold out till the middle of January 2021. “I have been shuttling between my office and Khyber in search of a room for our tourism advisor who is scheduled to attend an important event here on 31 December. I have completely failed as they don’t have a single room unsold”, Dr Javed-ur-Rehman, Assistant Director Tourism said.

He said 700 to 800 tourists come into Gulmarg every day. They include 200-300 visitors from all over India while around 500 local visitors also enjoy a trip every day.

The recent snowfall has triggered a remarkable influx of visitors as hundreds are keen to fulfil their passion for skiing or a joyride on the famous ropeway called ‘Gulmarg Gondola’. The Jammu and Kashmir Cable Car Corporation is currently operating only the first phase of the ropeway as the skiing activity for now is limited to the lower end. A large number of common and amateur skiers have converged on
Gulmarg.

“The high-altitude phase of Gondola, between Kongdori and Afarwat, over the alpine slopes will operate around the next snowfall as we require a minimum of 2 metre thick snow for the professional skiers there”, Nisar Ahmad Wani, Director of Tourism, said. According to him, it was mainly due to Christmas and the New Year celebrations that all the huts and hotels had been booked in advance.

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“We are going to have a huge snow carnival here. Like March 2020, Khelo India national games of 2021 are also being held at Gulmarg. These will be scheduled for January 2021. We will be starting the professional skiing events from 1 January 2021 as our snow safety officer will be arriving from the US on 28 December. It will be a three-month-long event which is expected to be attended by hundreds of
celebrated skiers from all over the country and abroad”, Wani said.

“Fortunately the fear of Covid-19 is receding and the air traffic from New Delhi and other cities to Srinagar is increasing sharply.”

The Department of Tourism has already conducted ‘Jashn-e-Kashmir’, a winter cultural bonanza in October-November. A series of programmes, including a golf tournament, was organised at Pahalgam. Other programmes were held at Gulmarg and different places in Srinagar.

This all has brought a cheer to thousands of the Kashmiris associated with tourism after Kashmir reeled from the Coronavirus lockdown for seven months of Summer-2020 and remained jinxed for over a year. It began exactly when the Khelo India was underway with participation of hundreds of skiers at Gulmarg in March 2020. Prior to that, the entire tourism had come to a grinding halt due to the restrictions imposed by the authorities for two months after abrogation of Article 370 in August last year, followed by the three-month-long shutdown enforced by the separatists and the militants.

Commercial and academic activity resumed fully in the last week of February 2020 but it proved to be short-lived as the pandemic began within a month. Now it is after 16 months that the valley’s hotels and houseboats, and all others associated with tourism and handicraft, are getting some business. The voters’ enthusiasm in the current District Development Council elections has added to the aura of festivity in the valley.

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The celebrities enjoying in the valley include actor Sana Khan who is here on honeymoon with husband Mufti Anas Sayeed. The couple’s pictures and videos on Instagram have gone viral.

While 8,42,202 domestic and foreign tourists had visited Kashmir in 2018, the numbers plummeted to 4,99,582 as all visitors and pilgrims from across the country and abroad were advised to leave ahead of August 2019. With the improvement in the situation, notwithstanding the Covid-19 lockdown, 28,030 tourists have visited Kashmir this year till November 30.

According to officials, no tourists visited the valley in April, May and June 2020 as the air traffic, along with surface communication, remained closed due to the pandemic lockdown. With the initial relaxations, 186 tourists reported in July and 284 in August. In September, 848 tourists visited Kashmir. The inflow went up to 2,697 in October and 6,327 in November. The hoteliers are expecting the arrival of over 10,000 tourists in December and even more in January 2021.

“We have had no occupancy in the last 11 months. But, now we have started receiving orders for bookings. I have sold 10 rooms for March 2021,” Shaukat Ali Wani, the owner of Wani Hotel at the Boulevard in Srinagar said.

(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.

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