After Covid-hit summer, winter offers hope for Kashmir tourism

In Kashmir, it is that time of the year again: From November onwards to March, the tourism usually picks up helped by the recurrent snowfall which is a novelty for most Indians. 

When Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently visited Jammu and Kashmir for a three-day visit, he made a specific mention of the growth in tourism in the Valley this year. Giving figures, the minister said that from January-March this year the number of tourists stood at 1.13 lakh as against 36,000 tourists that visited in 2020.

The minister was stating the obvious. Earlier this year, the then union tourism minister Prahlad Singh Patel had then said in a statement in Rajya Sabha that the tourist footfall in the union territory this year had broken the record of the last 16 years. From January to March, all almost of 1800 hotel rooms in Gulmarg, Kashmir’s winter wonderland, were booked till the end of March.

But the promotion of tourism was one of the major agendas of the home minister in Kashmir. He inaugurated a Houseboat Festival organised by J&K’s tourism department at the famous Dal lake terming it “a mesmerising experience.” He paid obeisance at the Mata Kheer Bhawani temple at Tulmulla in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district., where an annual festival takes place which is attended by Kashmiri Pandits from all around India. Shah also shared “breathtaking pictures” of the Pir Panjal mountain range that he captured from the air on his way back.

“Kashmir, the Jewel in India’s crown, is all set to welcome tourists. Do visit this beautiful part of India,” Shah wrote as a caption to the pictures.

In Kashmir, on the other hand, it is that time of the year again: From November onwards to March, the tourism usually picks up helped by the recurrent snowfall which is a novelty for most Indians. Thousands had flown in every month during last winter leading to occupation of all hotel rooms in Gulmarg and also thousands others in Srinagar, according to the tourism department estimate. However, the virulent second wave put paid to the tourist rush.

With the Covid-19 pandemic abating, J&K administration and the Valley’s tourism stakeholders are looking forward to a renewed inflow of tourists. There’s a hope that the bumper tourist season from November last year to March this year would replicate this time also. More so, when it has already snowed in high altitude areas.

Chief Secretary A K Mehta is reported to be keen to ensure a vibrant winter tourism season in the valley. At a recent meeting, he urged the officials to provide round-the-clock power supply to the famous resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.

“Government is keen to ensure a vibrant winter tourism season in Kashmir and for this purpose, provision of reliable electricity supply is of critical importance,” he told a recent meeting of high level officials.

The tourism department has already taken several measures to ensure that the fear of the Covid-19 contagion doesn’t scare away the visitors. According to government data, so far over 80 percent of the Valley’s tourism service providers have been vaccinated and are safe to welcome travellers from far and wide. Over the last several months, the Government has also been in the process of identifying new tourist destinations to accommodate more tourists and offer them more places to visit.

J&K Government is also banking on the film industry to return to Kashmir in a big way and start shooting here. Government recently framed a comprehensive Film Policy whereby film shooting and production in J&K has been institutionalized and incentivized. According to the policy, the first time shootings in the UT would be made available the requisite infrastructure.

Recently, the J&K Secretary, Tourism & Culture, Sarmad Hafeez attended the national level Film Tourism symposium, organized jointly by the Ministries of Tourism & Information & Broadcasting in Mumbai.  He called on the film fraternity of the country to renew its decades’ old romance with Jammu & Kashmir.

But so far not many film shoots have materialized, partly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “But we hope with the improvement in the Covid situation, the situation on tourism front would change for the better,” said Nasir Shah, a major travel and tourism operator. “The complete vaccination of the population is certain to reign in the pandemic, creating conditions for businesses including tourism to return”.