Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU: Kashmir’s 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 the huts and hotels, the high-end Khyber Resort and Spa at Gulmarg is fully sold out till the middle of January 2021. “For the last three days I have been shuttling between my office and Khyber in search of a room for Advisor Tourism (Baseer Ahmad Khan) 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 (Gulmarg) said.According to this officer of the Department of Tourism, 700 to 800 tourists do pour in Gulmarg every day. They include 200-300 domestic visitors from all over India, even as around 500 local visitors enjoy a trip every day.The recent snowfall has triggered a remarkable influx of the 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, including the trainees, have converged on Gulmarg.“The high-altitude phase of Gondola over the alpine slopes will operate around the next snowfall as we require minimum of 2 metre 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.“We are going to have a huge snow carnival here. Like March 2020, Khelo India national games of 2021 are also being held. 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 in 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 the Covid-19 is reasonably receding and the air traffic from New Delhi and other cities to Srinagar is remarkably increasing”.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 broken a jinx as Kashmir reeled under the Coronavirus for over seven months of Summer-2020. It began exactly when the Khelo India was underway with participation of hundreds of skiers at Gulmarg in March 2020. Prior to that, entire tourism had come to a grinding halt due to the restrictions imposed by the authorities for two months after abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019, followed by the three-month-long shutdown enforced by the separatists.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 handicrafts, are getting some business. The voters’ enthusiasm in the current District Development Council elections has added to the aura of festivity in the valley.The celebrities enjoying in the valley include actor Sana Khan who is here on honeymoon with husband Mufti Anas Sayeed. Her 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 30 November.According to the officials, no tourists visited the valley in April, May and June as the air traffic, along with the surface communication, remained closed. With the initial relaxations, 186 tourists reported in July and 284 in August 2020. In September, 848 tourists visited Kashmir. The inflow went up to 2,697 in October and 6,327 in November. The hoteliers are expecting arrival of over 10,000 in December and more than that 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.
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