by Yawar Hussain
SRINAGAR: With new year celebrations currently underway worldwide, Kashmir has kept the rendezvous with similar celebrations as its famed Gulmarg and Pahalgam are completely booked with locals and people from outside.
Earlier throughout the year, Kashmir witnessed a historic footfall of tourists, the first time after August 5, 2019, and the Covid-19-induced lockdowns. As per official figures, nearly 26.50 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in 2022.
The hotels at Gulmarg and Pahalgam have achieved 100 per cent occupancy with the former attracting more tourists because of its heavy snow-covered slopes, skiing places and the cable car Gandola.
The affluent Khyber Himalayan Resort is also completely booked with all 80 rooms in deluxe and luxury categories taken up in advance.
The Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department had organised a winter carnival in Gulmarg on Christmas eve December 25. Besides, it planned carnivals at the two places in which an exhibition of winter games, cuisines, music and dance is on display. The department has also planned musical evenings and carnivals in Gulmarg and Pahalgam tonight.
In Gulmarg, the tourism department has planned DJ, musical evening and winter carnival. In Pahalgam, the singer of Kesaria song from the Bollywood movie Brahmastra has been invited.
The Gulmarg carnival will witness local bands performing in the evening, culminating with DJ in the night. There is an open invitation to all, sources in the government said.
Similarly, prominent private hotels have also planned parties during the night.
The Tourism Department with the help of youth service and sports is also trying to start ski courses in Yousmarg and Doodhpathri.
Earlier, the tourism department organised a two-day houseboat festival along Dal and Nigeen Lakes.
Sensing an opportunity, hoteliers announced special packages to lure tourists to Kashmir on Christmas and New Year.
“Usually, Maharashtrians and south Indians visit Kashmir on the eve of Christmas and New Year,” said Abdul Wahid Malik, a hotelier. “We have introduced special packages for tourists, which include a gala dinner and other recreation. We hope to see a good flow of foreigners as well. Last two years, Covid19 enforced suspension of international tourism and now international borders are open.”
Tourism officials said there are 6,000-7,000 arrivals daily. The highest grossing months were April (2.72 lakhs), May (3.75 lakhs) and June (3.33 lakh) while in lean months there were 62,000 arrivals in January and 1 lakh arrivals in February.
In December, the figures have already crossed 1.5 lakh till now. Reportedly, the government, for the first time, is planning to introduce adventure sports and other activities in places cut off due to snow including Karnah only to increase the footfall of tourists as the new proposed ski slopes will be developed in snow-bound areas.
In October this year, the administration claimed that 1.62 crore tourists have visited Jammu and Kashmir this year, which is the highest in 75 years of independence. The Kashmir valley which witnessed no shut schools while offices and businesses remained open, is now gearing up for a new year ahead.