Srinagar- The Jammu & Kashmir Administration has decided to shift Kashmir’s winter tourism beyond the famous skiing destination of North Kashmir’s Gulmarg to other places of the valley, in an attempt to promote tourism in the snow-bound areas that remain inaccessible during winter months due to power shortages, landslides and road blockade.
As per the officials in the Tourism department, the administration is keen to keep open many tourist destinations in the coming winter including Sonmarg and several off-beat destinations near Line of Control (LOC) including Gurez in Bandipora and Karnah in Kupwara. However, the government is also exploring opportunities to keep Doodhpathri and Pahalgam open in the winter months to ensure a vibrant winter tourism season in the valley.
Even though Gulmarg has been attracting tourists during winter, the rest of the places witness relatively fewer tourists and so they lag behind on their potential. Not only that, the closure of these tourist places is also a loss for hoteliers and others who are associated with the tourism business.
However, it will be for the first time in several decades that places like Sonmarg, Karnah and Gurez will remain open for tourists in the winter months.
The government is also planning to include adventure sports and other activities in these areas to attract visitors. The new ski slopes are likely to be developed in these snow-bound areas.
Pertinently, every year during winters these snowy paradises remain closed for traffic movement due to the heavy snowfall and avalanches at several places along the main roads, which usually remains closed for nearly two to three months during winters. However, due to various strategies devised by the J&K administration, these sought-after tourist destinations will remain open this winter.
Speaking with Kashmir Observer, President Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), Farooq Kuthoo said that it’s a step in the right direction.
“The Government’s decision to keep these places parallely open to Gulmarg during winter months is a positive development. During winters, Gulmarg is usually sold out and choked. If this winter, the administration keeps Sonmarg and other places open, it’ll be a great deal for local stakeholders,” he said.
Farooq further added that last year, the administration had said that Sonmarg will remain open for selective traffic in winter. “However, nothing happened. We understand that these things take time but we hope things will be different this year.” says Kuthoo, adding that the administration’s primary focus should be to enhance the infrastructure of these places.
Notably, this year Kashmir, especially places near the border have remained abuzz with tourists. From this year onwards the government has also decided to start special helicopter services to these areas for tourists.
“Promoting winter tourism in the length and breadth of Kashmir would create more employment avenues for the locals and tourism players who can add these destinations to their itineraries and sell Kashmir, not only as a summer destination but also as a winter tourist destination,” says Sajad Malik, a Srinagar based hotelier.
It is pertinent to mention here that this year Kashmir’s tourism remained uninterrupted in the summer season and emerged as a strategic asset for stakeholders in Kashmir as more than two million arrivals till ending August have changed the way tourism was looked at in the previous years.
“The biggest boon for Kashmir’s tourism is the snow which draws lakhs of tourists to the Valley. However, until last year, only Gulmarg was accommodating these tourists. But this year, we’ve added four more destinations on the winter tourism map. The government has now geared up,” says a senior official from the Tourism Department.
The official further said that all necessary arrangements including uninterrupted electricity supply and water supply have been put in place.
“Most of the hotels in Gurez and Sonmarg have improved their infrastructure, especially the heating system. Everything is ready. I’m pretty sure this year will be a start to a new kind of winter tourism in Kashmir,” the official said.
Almost a fortnight back, Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner, Pandurang K Pole visited Sonmarg where he chaired a high level meeting of officers to review winter preparedness for keeping Sonamarg open during the winters.
At the outset, threadbare discussion was also held regarding the necessary preparations and arrangements including water, electricity, health, road, fire service, snow clearing operation, mobile communication, traffic management, firewood and other related facilities to be put in place for keeping Sonamarg open during the winters.
“It is imperative to have all facilities available to the tourists, especially heating arrangements in hotels, water and electricity besides a proper plan for its promotion at all levels as a winter destination so that tourists can have the best experience here,” Pole said.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.