Abrupt dry winter, with no snowfall and unusually high temperatures, in the coldest parts of Kashmir has adversely impacted the tourism sector in the Valley. Adventure tourist arrivals have hit rock bottom.
The Valley is disturbingly warmer than other places in northern India. As experts point to global warming, dry winter could also lead to flash droughts during summers.
Snowless winter has spoiled a major portion of the adventure winter sports season in Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg, even as forecasters are expecting a light snowfall later this month and in February.
“The situation is worrisome for the adventure tourist industry. We have seen a 70% decline in tourist arrivals in Gulmarg, where most of the adventure and sports events are organised in winters,” said Rouf Tramboo, president of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir. The snowless Chillai Kalan – 40-day coldest winter period starting December 21 – has marred the excitement of several tourists, who had booked hotels for winter holidays. “We were fully booked till April, but now the majority of guests are cancelling, some are rescheduling and a few are short staying,” said Muhammad Arif, a hotel manager in Gulmarg.
A few feet of December snow at Sinthan Top – a mountain pass at about 12,500 feet in Anantnag district of south Kashmir, connecting Valley with Kishtwar district of Jammu – has come to the rescue of tour operators there. “I have diverted all my guests to Sinthan Top, which received early snowfall and has plenty of snow for tourists,” said Sajad Ahmad, a tour operator from Srinagar. Some of the operators in Kashmir have now taken their tourist groups to Kazakhstan to experience snow and skiing.
The Jammu & Kashmir administration officials have informed that ‘Khelo India Winter Games’, which is organised in Gulmarg and scheduled to start in the first week of February, might be deferred. To hold winter games, the ski resort needs a very thick layer of snow. “We had come to Kashmir for the first time to experience snow, but we are disappointed to see this dry meadow here,” said Kerala’s Madulekha, who along with her family has booked a hotel in Gulmarg for a week.
The dry spell has also impacted hydroelectricity generation, triggering a further increase in load shedding in an already electricity-deficit region. With rivers drying up, drinking water supply through springs and canals has also been affected.
Hundreds of locals are offering special prayers – Namaz-e-Istisqa – for rain and snowfall this winter.