Sports

Kashmir welcomes tourists back with week-long celebration to ring in new year

After two years of poor tourist numbers in the winter, Kashmir is now seeing heavy footfall. And the Jammu and Kashmir administration is looking to make the most of this by ringing in the new year with a week-long celebration. This began Saturday, on Christmas, at the twin tourist resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam.

The celebration will end on the night of December 31.

“The idea is to celebrate the winter season of tourism,” says Dr Gulam Nabi Itoo, Director of Tourism Kashmir. “Normally, we would celebrate Christmas for a day and then New Year for a day. But this time, we have a grand weeklong festival. We are organizing it to send a message that we are ready to host tourists in the Valley. It is also our invitation to the tourists, who are planning to visit Kashmir.”

The ski resort of Gulmarg wore a festive look on Saturday as it marked a white Christmas. While hotels and buildings were illuminated, a musical programme enthralled the tourists, who attended the celebrations in large numbers.

Christmas celebrations were also held at the Pahalgam health resort in south Kashmir.

After two dismal winter seasons, Gulmarg has witnessed a heavy rush of tourists and winter sports enthusiasts this year. While less than a lakh tourists visited the valley in the three months of summer tourism season, more than 1,25,000 tourists visited Kashmir in November alone — most of them headed to Gulmarg.

While the pandemic played a part in the lower tourism numbers in the Valley, experts say it has helped to revive winter tourism in Gulmarg.

“Last year, most adventure tourists couldn’t go to Europe because of the travel ban caused by the pandemic. With no option in India, most of them headed to Kashmir and to Gulmarg,” said Rauf Tramboo, a member of the Winter Sports Association. “When they saw that the ski slopes of Gulmarg matched any ski slope of Europe and found it inexpensive also, they became good advertisers. They have returned to Kashmir this year as well.”

Expecting a huge rush and congestion at Gulmarg this year, the J-K Tourism department has already planned to open two more tourist destinations — Sonamarg and Dodapathri — for winter tourism this year.



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