Winter tourism thrives in Kashmir

Kashmir Magazine

KM Desk

Popularly known as heaven on earth, the Kashmir Valley is witnessing a huge increase in tourist arrival in the ongoing winters. It is not only the ski resort in Gulmarg which is fully packed but also other destinations like the Pahalgam and Dal Lake where almost all the hotels and houseboats are booked for the entire season in advance.

The ski resort Gulmarg is called the winter wonderland of India and with snow-clad mountains; thousands of tourists throng the resort. All the hotels and guest houses are completely booked. On New Year’s celebration, a big chunk of national and international tourists visited this fascinating destination that led to prior booking of hotels and cottages there. However it is not only Gulmarg but tourist resorts like Pahalgam and the world famous Dal Lake in Srinagar where thousands of tourists have visited so far and are still visiting.

The authorities had expected a bumper winter season this year and had put in place all adequate arrangements for the convenience of tourists and visitors. “We are expecting a good winter season this year and are hopeful that a record breaking number of tourists will visit Kashmir this winter”, an official of Tourism Department Kashmir told Kashmir Magazine.

Revealing details, the official said “The ski resort Gulmarg is already packed where daily arrival and departure of tourists is going on. Besides, we are witnessing a good influx of tourists this winter heading to other destinations like Pahalgam, Doodhpathri, Yusmarg, Sonamarg and other destinations where winter activities are underway. We are promoting winter tourism because it is the backbone of our economy besides paving ways for employment opportunities to thousands of youth” the official said.

The authorities this winter have introduced several offbeat destinations in order to promote these areas and divert the footfall of tourists to there so that the local population, particularly unemployed youth will get an opportunity to earn their livelihood in a dignified way. “We have winter treks in Naranag, Marjoi as many tourists are interested in adventure travel. There is a lot that needs to be explored. We are getting a lot of queries for other destinations. We have a very aggressive publicity plan in place and we are showcasing Kashmir globally as well”, the official maintained.

The official said that houseboats, popularly known as gem of Dal Lake, during the freezing temperatures used to be empty but for the first this year, the houseboats are fully booked as well. The temperatures have touched below minus six degrees and parts of the lake have frozen and to witness these breathtaking visuals, tourists unlike the past, prefer to stay in houseboats on Dal Lake.

The tourists however are seeming enthusiastic and passionate to visit Kashmir after aggressive advertisements done by local authorities outside Jammu and Kashmir. “It is the most beautiful place, the winter is something else, the frost, the frozen Dal Lake. I don’t think that experience can be replaced. It’s absolutely stunning. From minus 2 to we are going to minus 17 to Sonamarg. We are excited. It's my first time seeing snow and I wanted it to happen in my local city”, a tourist from Bangalore said.

Sharing his experience, the tourist held that everyone should come here for tourism. “Kashmir has won my heart. I have seen a lot of tourists. They opened tourism in January and it’s nice to know”, he added.

Kashmir has been facing harsh winter conditions this season and to witness extreme cold, tourists are enjoying the frozen Dal Lake.

“Kashmir is called heaven on earth and it's a paradise and I agree with the saying. You can never have enough of this place. I had a fascination for snowfall, and I wanted winter to come in winter. In Gulmarg and Pahalgam, it looked like a picture to me. They have done a great job while hosting tourists in the winter during freezing temperatures,” said Upasna Das Gupta, another tourist.

The tourist stakeholders in the valley are hoping that the way all records of tourism arrival were broken in the summer, the winter will see a huge rush as well.

Winter in Kashmir Valley shows a positive sign for all the tourism players to keep open doors of all the hotels and restaurants all across the valley be it in Gulmarg, Pahalgam or Sonamarg as all the three tourist destinations are receiving huge snowfalls in harsh winter period in Kashmir Valley, thus making a merry for tourist to enjoy snowfall round the winter season.

As per official data, 1.62 crore tourists have visited Jammu and Kashmir since January 2022 till now as the tourist footfall in the Union Territory this year is the biggest ever in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. Keeping the record breaking number into account, the stakeholders of the tourism department had pinned great hopes for winters and were expecting tangible footfall of tourists this year, which however is proving correct so far.

One can never run out of places to explore in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The land is brimming with picturesque vistas, amazing flora, stunning architecture and there are quaint home stays and eco-friendly resorts that visitors can choose from. Those with an adventurous bent of mind will find a plethora of activities waiting for them. And finally, if you are spiritually inclined, the numerous religious shrines will show you the way to peace and serenity.

Kashmir is an epitome of natural beauty, and it is renowned the world over for that. You can soak your senses at many places like lakes, gardens and hill stations that attract thousands of tourists every year. Take perfect pictures and take home memories of a perfect holiday.

Jammu & Kashmir is known for its religious shrines as well. The UT abounds with important pilgrimage sites for people of all religions, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikhs or Buddhist. There are people who travel from far to pay homage, and others who visit to feast their eyes upon the beauty of some of these ancient structures.

The beautiful sanctuaries of Jammu and Kashmir reward the nature seeker with views of diverse topography as well as the rarest species of wildlife. The UT has several national parks and sanctuaries, aimed at protecting some of the endangered species. Lucky visitors can catch a glimpse of the hangul (Kashmiri stag), leopard, wild cats, Himalayan black bear, Himalayan marmot, musk deer, and a species of wild goat. Himalayan birds, like pheasants, the golden eagle and the bearded vultures can also be spotted.

Gulmarg, the meadow of flowers, is one of Asia's premier hill resorts for its legendary beauty, prime location and the range of choices it offers to the visitors. Famous for its exquisite valleys, gorgeous streams, fascinating slopes for every sort of skiing and hiking, Gulmarg is also home to one of the highest golf courses in the world. Gulmarg is equally most sought after place in summers as well as in winters for, it offers myriad choices during summers like greenery and flower beds all around, with beautiful lakes, sublime valleys and Gulmarg Gandola. During winters, the place is thronged by the tourists for its snowy slopes where skiing is done.

Pahalgam “The Valley of Shepherds” is a town in Anantnag district of Jammu & Kashmir and a popular tourist destination and a hill station. It is located on the banks of Lidder River and is associated with the annual Amarnath Yatra. Chandanwari, located 16 kilometres from Pahalgam is the starting point of the yatra that takes place every year in the months of July-August.

Sonamarg literally means 'Meadow of Gold'. The picturesque natural beauty of the region brought this name to Sonamarg. Sonamarg, a town surrounded by breathtaking glaciers and serene lakes, is a snow covered beautiful flower-laden meadow in the majestic Himalayan mountain region. Sonamarg in the Kashmir valley is the gateway to Ladakh and situated just before the Zojii La pass. Located 87 km from Srinagar, the place is renowned for trekking and hiking trails.

The snow clad peaks in the Himalaya and the undulated hilly mountainous regions are perfectly suitable for all types of trekking expeditions. Sonamarg is the base camp for many trekking expeditions. The major treks passing through various mountain lakes such as Gangabal, Vishansar, Gadsar, Satsar and Kishansar has its base at Sonamarg. The trekking routes offer all types of challenges, from mild to most hard. The pleasant climate with mild summer and cold winter make this place an ideal location for trekkers to explore the natural beauty and challenging treks.

All the three top tourist destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg is the perfect choice for every tourists of domestic or international repute to visit and cherish the cold of winter and enjoy snowfall by own eyes and feel the real fragrance of “Paradise on Earth” here only in this world.

Besides there are several Mughal Gardens like Nishat, Shalimar and Harwan and other offbeat destinations which the J&K authorities have recently identified among which few have been brought on the map of tourism. These offbeat destinations are being introduced in a gradual phase by authorities and many activities are being conducted there to bring the footfall of tourists there. This all is aimed to make the J&K hub of tourism by authorities.

To gear up the activities for winter tourism this season, Secretary Tourism Sarmad Hafeez recently emphasized upon all to make the season more vibrant and attractive this year. He had said that the UT administration had planned a series of activities in this regard across Jammu and Kashmir.

The Tourism Secretary stated this while speaking at a function to mark the International Mountain Day organized by the Tourism Department. While addressing the participants including mountaineers, adventurists and school children, the Secretary Tourism said the mountains are an important asset of nature as these sustain life. He called upon all the stakeholders to promote sustainable tourism so that the ecological balance is maintained and limited strain is put on natural resources.

He had said the department is endeavoring to promote mountain treks along undiscovered locations across the Jammu and Kashmir so that the adventurists can have the experience of lifetime along those routes. He called upon all the stakeholders and associations to join hands with the department so that adventure tourism like mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, among others is promoted here.

Sarmad Hafeez had said the Kashmir valley is witnessing an encouraging footfall of tourists this winter and the Administration had planned a series of activities to make winter tourism more vibrant and attractive this year. He added that apart from destinations like Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg, the department is also planning to keep other locations like Doodhpathri, Tosmaidan, Yusmarg and others open this winter so that tourists have more choices.

Pahalgam, Gulmarg abuzz on New Year:

The week-long Pahalgam winter carnival organized by the Tourism Department concluded with the celebration of New Year. The carnival saw 7 day long performances from the field of music, dance, dramas and exhibition of winter games, street foods among others.

Secretary Tourism, Sarmad Hafeez said that more than 4.5 lakh tourists have visited Pahalgam. He had said that Pahalgam is fast emerging as a major winter tourist destination.

Former Director Tourism, GN Itoo on the occasion said that the department has organized a winter carnival to showcase the scenic beauty of Pahalgam. He said such events are not only important to boost tourism but also promote Pahalgam as a major film shooting destination and he hoped that film industry visits Pahalgam and Gulmarg for shootings.

The New Year day celebrations took place at Pahalgam club and saw a massive participation by tourists and locals. The highlight of the event was the performance by Bollywood singer Rohanprit Singh who brought the crowd to its feet with his numbers. The event also saw participation by local cultural groups among others.

On the occasion, Secretary Tourism also released the Digital Calendar of the Tourism Department. Prior to this, the department had organized weeklong musical evenings which saw participation of locals and tourists. Locals and tourists alike lauded the department and district administration for their promotion and publicity of Pahalgam as a winter destination.

Similar activities were held at the ski resort of Gulmarg where local artists and singers displayed their talent and enthralled the audience. A good number of stalls depicting Kashmiri culture and heritage were installed at the event. The tourists who looked to be very happy after the function said that they had come to celebrate the last days of the year in the beautiful valley of Kashmir.

Advance booking of hotels on Christmas, New Year celebrations:

Ahead of Christmas and New Year celebrations, the hotels and cottages in Kashmir valley had remained booked in advance. As per reports the hotels at famous tourist destinations and in the surroundings of Boulevard did a rich business. Particularly in ski resort Gulmarg the hotels were booked in advance as the majority of tourists preferred to visit the destination and celebrate New Year with their families and friends there.

The year 2022 had been a good year in terms of tourism in Kashmir. According to official figures, more than two million tourists visited the Valley till the end of November.

Kashmir is always teeming with tourists during Christmas and New Year and this is an indication that huge influx of tourists in winters in Kashmir Valley will boost the tourism sector undoubtedly. Keeping the numbers into consideration, the hoteliers had also announced special packages for gala dinner and other entertainment.

In the last two years when Covid19 pandemic was dominant, all the activities of international tourism were suspended as a precautionary measure. But now all these restrictions have ended, due to which there is a wave of happiness among people associated with tourism.