With snow still to thaw, Gulmarg attracting tourists
Gulmarg, Srinagar: With snow falling as late as May, Kashmir's Gulmarg resort remains an attractive tourist destination, especially for winter sports, even as summer capital Srinagar, where the nearest airport is located, worries over security.
Nearly all flights bound for Srinagar are reporting 80-100 percent occupancy and the final destination is Gulmarg, Sonamarg or Pahalgam.
Recent events that created tensions in the region seem to have taken away the charm of the Dal Lake and world famous gardens due to security fears. However, a tourist rebound is taking place due to popularity of destinations like Gulmarg, travel industry insiders here say.
"We had a downside in arrivals for a while due to some recent events here. However, things are improving and we hope to continue with our last year's performance in the coming months," Shafiul Alam Ishaque, general manager, RK Sarovar Portico, told IANS here.
"Though security still remains a concern, Srinagar is attracting a lot of transit tourists for places like Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Pahalgam which are easily accessible from here."
Other travel industry professionals say what is attracting tourists to destinations like Gulmarg is the natural beauty, snow and winter sports activities even in the month of May.
"Destinations such as Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonmarg have become must-have inclusions on a holiday to Kashmir. Srinagar serves as the base-camp for trips to Gulmarg and Pahalgam," said Mohit Gupta, chief business officer (Holidays), MakeMyTrip.
"The snow in Gulmarg even in the summer season and its spectacular beauty make it a truly memorable holiday destination," he added.
Carriers like Air India are getting healthy passenger loads on its Delhi-Srinagar and Mumbai-Srinagar flights thanks to the transit travellers to places like Gulmarg.
"The average load factor on both flights is 80 percent and around 92 percent on the Delhi-Srinagar rout. We expect the load factors to go up," a senior Air India official told IANS in New Delhi.
Gulmarg's tourist industry insiders say that around 150-200 tourists in groups are flocking to the Valley, only to be lured away from the houseboats of Dal Lake to the high mountains where there is still plenty of snow.
"We still have snow in some lower reaches of Gulmarg, at the higher reaches which can be reached by gondola (ropeway); there is plenty of snow and even snowfall," said Nazir Ahmad, a ski and tourist guide at the tourist spot.
"We have enough snow to at least support winter sports like skiing, while most of the tourists are happy to play in the snow."
Gulmarg which means "meadow of flowers" is famous as a skiing destination and with the abatement of militancy in the area, it has quickly become one of the state's most visited destinations.
The hill station also boasts of the longest and highest ski resorts in Asia on the slopes of Afarwat hills of the Pir Panjal Range. The place also houses "Gulmarg Gondola" which is one of the world's highest cable car, reaching 3,979 metres or nearly 13,000 feet.
The hill station is accessible from Srinagar in under two hours by car or bus.