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The ski resort in Kashmir eagerly awaits tourists after experiencing only one day of snow this winter.
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The ski resort in Kashmir eagerly awaits tourists after experiencing only one day of snow this winter.


As the evening approaches, Bashir Ahmad Bhat remains without a customer for the day. Bhat, aged 34, left his job as a driver seven years ago to join the tourism industry in Gulmarg. January is the busiest time at India’s top ski destination, with skiers of all levels coming from various countries.

During the four months when Gulmarg, located in the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir region, is covered in a thick layer of fine powder snow, the father of two typically makes a good income.

Unfortunately, this season has been a catastrophe. There has been a lack of snow in January and only one day of snow in December. According to Bhat, it has been a total failure. This is an unprecedented situation and he has not made enough money to cover his rent.

Gulmarg, also known as the “meadow of flowers”, is a charming town located on the western side of the Kashmir valley. The tourism sector is a major source of employment for thousands of individuals and contributes to 7% of Jammu and Kashmir’s yearly GDP, which amounted to 2,279 billion rupees (£21.5 billion) in the 2022-23 fiscal year. In 2021, the lieutenant-governor of the region estimated that over 2.25 million people would visit Jammu and Kashmir, including both tourists and pilgrims.

Bare slopes on either side of a road with only a few small patches of snow to be seen in gullies and a plantation of conifers in the background

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According to Rauf Tramboo, president of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, the impact on us has been severe. He reports that approximately 75% of reservations have been cancelled. It is too soon to determine the financial losses, but they are significant.

Tramboo expresses that the postponement of snowfall has caused numerous issues, especially for individuals involved in winter and adventure tourism.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in winter sports tourism in Gulmarg, resulting in the town being heavily populated for three to four months during the winter season (December to March).

According to him, the increase in demand for adventure tourism led to local operators investing in equipment. He also mentions that some of them obtained financial assistance or sold their assets in order to increase their investments.

Farhat Naik, a 30-year-old instructor of snowboarding, has stated that his clients, who are primarily from Europe and the United States, have either cancelled or rescheduled their trips for this year.

He expresses sadness and frustration, stating that it is disheartening and disappointing. Usually, Gulmarg is covered in snow during winter, but this year it is not. As a result, no activities have been possible and no work has been done this season.

According to Naik, fluctuations in weather patterns in recent years have already decreased the number of days he is able to make money.

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“I rely on the winter season and snow for my work and I have never experienced such a situation,” he explains. He also shares that he has lost a significant amount of income that he usually relies on for the entire year. In the past, we would work for 90 days, but now we can only count on 60 or 70 days.”

The absence of snow is not only impacting the tourism industry, but also causing concern for water supply in Kashmir. A senior government official cautioned that this could have dire consequences.

In addition to providing drinking water and irrigation for paddy fields, the winter snow also powers 19 important hydropower projects. Due to a record low water supply to the hydroelectric turbines, officials have had to limit household electricity to a maximum of 16 hours per day.

According to Sanjeev Malhotra, a top engineer at the Ministry of Water Resources, the current situation is not yet alarming, but it is getting close to becoming one. If the lack of rain persists, we may face challenges during the summer. It is important for people to use water wisely.

A young man sits idly on a four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle with a line of similar quad bikes and other drivers behind him View image in fullscreen

Irfan Rashid, a geoinformatics assistant professor at the University of Kashmir, has long cautioned about the detrimental effects of a warming climate on the viability of winter tourism, as well as on hydropower production and agriculture, if weather patterns do not improve.

He mentions that the snowfall from December 21st to January 29th, which lasts for 40 days, plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of glaciers and regulating stream flows.

Bilal Ahmad Bhat is situated in Kalantra village, 17 kilometers away from Gulmarg. He is currently sitting on an all-terrain vehicle worth 1.3 million rupees (£12,300), which he purchased specifically for transporting skiers.

A solemn-looking man in a down jacket stands in front of a yellow helicopter

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In the last month, I have not had any work. Due to the lack of tourists, those who do come leave quickly,” he explains. He mentions that this time last year, Gulmarg had at least 60cm (2ft) of snow, and the mountain slopes had 1.5-3 metres of snow. “I am unsure of how I will be able to repay my vehicle loan to the bank,” he expresses concern.

According to Aijaz Ahmad Dar, a resident of Srinagar, the largest city in Kashmir and a manager of vacation rentals, he is facing frequent cancellations from customers. He states that if there had been snowfall, his huts would have been fully booked, but instead, he has experienced around an 80% cancellation rate. He describes the current situation as the worst-case scenario.

However, Billa Majeed Bakshi, who operates Kashmir Heli Ski, which flies professional – mainly foreign – skiers to high-altitude slopes, remains optimistic. “This is still the beginning of the winter,” he says. We still have two more months, we can even ski till the end of April because at high altitudes snow will be good and powdery.

He further states, “Nature cannot be combated.” He reminds us to remain hopeful and courageous.

Source: theguardian.com