This winter after a long time, Kashmir has experienced successive heavy snowfall which has thrown life out of gear: electricity has been erratic, traffic movement has been affected, more so along Jammu-Srinagar highway and the flights have recurrently been grounded. This winter snow has been iconic in its fury, in line with the popular recollection of the ruthless old Kashmir winters. It is back to endlessly white vistas, frozen glassy streets and the deep, leaden skies with a teeth-chattering chill to boot.
But this has hardly helped bring the tourists back. At least, not to the extent, people were expecting. At 8,960 feet, Gulmarg, Kashmir’s wonderland of snow, has fewer tourists to serve. According to the tourism department, the occupancy of the hotels in the famous hill resort has steeply fallen, a rarity in this season. The absence of tourists in the winter is put down to the still unfolding fallout of the scrapping on August 5 of Article 370 which granted J&K its semi-autonomous status under constitution. However, the hoteliers are still upbeat, so is the tourism department. Snowfall is a boon for the tourism. They hope to receive more tourists as the exorbitant cost of air tickets to Valley comes down. Snow is important for its novelty for the ninety-nine percent of more than a billion Indians, so they look forward to visit Kashmir in winter.
Similarly, for the local people while the snowfall brings with it many hardships, it is also a time for celebration. The heavy snow this winter has brought back the memory of the forgotten old winters, when raconteurs would narrate the fairy tales during the night. A staple winter’s tale would be about Heemal and Nagrai, Kashmir ’s own mythical star-crossed lovers, Gul Raze, a Kashmiri epic of love or about the Valley’s own variant of witches and ghosts lurking along dark snow covered streets. In fact, Kashmir has a tradition of folk tales going back nine hundred years when Kathasaritasagar (ocean of tales) was composed by Somadev.
So like our distinct culture, the harsh snow-bound winter with all its hardships and joys is a part of our identity. While people take the season’s difficulties in their stride, it is the successive state governments which have yet to adapt to its challenges and ensure that the basic services like power are restored at the earliest whenever heavy snowfall plunges Valley into a blackout. We hope this winter is the last when people have to put up indefinitely with the suspended public services whenever snowfall takes place.