A Thousand Footfalls Break Pahalgam’s Long Holiday, Generate Hope

by Umar Khurshid

Srinagar: This was after a long time that the famous health resort of Pahalgam saw a crowd of tourists gather in winter. The occasion was a winter festival organised by Tourism department aimed at attracting tourists to the picnic spot and to send a message across that Kashmir is ready to host tourists in 2018 summer.

A man and a woman selling wildlife-related posters and T-shirts in two-day winter festival in Pahalgam, KL image by Tahir Bhat

Locals as well non-locals thronged Pahalgam which had musical performances, comedy shows, photo exhibitions, and bedecked thatched kiosks to offer for visitors a blend of beauty and snow. Tourism Department had made elaborate arrangements to entertain local as well as non-local tourists. The festival provided a sneak peak of the local culture and heritage. Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation, Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, Handicrafts, Handlooms departments were also part of the festival and had set up a chain of kiosks to highlight the different facets of Kashmir.

A Kashmiri Baker selling bakery and Kashmiri tea (Noon Chai) during the two-day winter festival in Pahalgam, KL image by Tahir Bhat

A walk past the market street felt like walking back in time. Thatched kiosks lined up on either side of the road leading to Pahalgam club, the central location of the festival. Kashmiri artefacts were placed on shelves at kiosks. Local arts and craft, souvenirs including Kani Shawls, Tila work Pharan, Handloom goods and sculptor’s articles were also available. Local chefs of Pahalgam also gave a live presentation of the preparations of ethnic food.

This weekend, young, restless and creative boys and girls were seen in the famous picnic spot putting up their exhibits in an effort to re-sell Pahalgam. This season, it was the first such event that encouraged most of the urban youth to move out.

Non-local tourists witnessed breathtaking locals from different destinations through photography and painting exhibitions by local boys. A huge crowd of shutterbugs holding digital cameras were seen in and around the Pahalgam club taking photographs of each other as well the events happening inside.

A Shopkeeper standing near his bakery stall during a two-day winter festival in Pahalgam, KL image by Tahir Bhat

Their skills in photography, water painting, instant portrait-making, sketching are creating quite a buzz on social media who pulled a lot of local families and tourists for the festival.

Besides exhibitions, many cultural events were organised at the Pahalgam Club which entertained the participants. A first of its kind Shadow Art and Orchestra performance was performed by locally reputed artists at the club which received a loud applause from the audience.

The star performers include a musical performance by Ali Saifuddin, a book reading by Taha Mughal, shadow art by Amar Sen, stand-up comedy by Anshita, Rabbab was played by Noor Mohammad and others. Traditional Tonga ride was also available for the visitors to take a cultural walk

During the occasion, the department also developed the website kashmirfestivals.com wherein all the information was updated. The website also gave the information of the hotels offering discounts.

The local hoteliers of Pahalgam also participated and illuminated their hotels besides offering 50 percent discount for the two days of the festival.

The tourism sector had been hit by a low footfall after the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016. Despite an improvement in a situation last year, tourist arrivals still had remained on the lower side.

A Kashmiri Horseman carrying two non-local tourists during a two-day festival in Pahalgam, KL photo by Tahir Bhat

The tourism stakeholders had mainly held prime-time debates responsible for the dip in arrivals. To counter it, the tourism players went on a promotional spree last year to woo tourists and to clear the negative image and are now hopeful of receiving a good number of tourists this season.

From past two years, most of the hotels were on zero occupancies. Even the few tourists and mountaineers who would throng places like Frislan, Aru, Chandanwari, Baisaran and Sarbal have not come this year. There were no fresh bookings for the months ahead, and advance bookings which were already made have also been cancelled.

A crowd watching Kashmiri pop singer Ali Saifudin’s musical show during Pahalgam’s two -day winter festival, Kl Image by Tahir Bhat

The two-day festival with a flow of tourists gave a peek to theatre, cuisines, ethnic foods, folk songs, papier mache, handicrafts and other hand art forms exhibited in the fest.

“It had a good response and we hope that the message goes out and it helps the sector to pick up this season,” a senior tourism official said. “We have already put in a lot of effort to encourage people to come and enjoy in Kashmir especially Pahalgam.” The Pahalgam valley has a very limited tourist season. It starts usually early spring and comes to a close by the beginning of July when the yearly Amarnath Yatra starts. Once the yatra is over, it takes time for the local municipal officials to clean the space to host tourists.

(Kashmir Life was not part of the select reporter’s group who were invited by the tourism department to cover the event.)


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