The tourist resort of Gulmarg in Kashmir is buzzing with winter sports with the arrival of foreigners for several weeks, a pointer to the fact that the picturesque site in the Himalayas is fast emerging as the most popular winter tourism destination for Europeans.
Situated at more than 13,000 feet above sea level, Gulmarg attracts more than 70 per cent of the tourists visiting Kashmir during winter.
The attractions -- Large sloping fields over several kilometers that provide wider space for skiing, snow racing and skating. The world's highest cable car trolley also operates at this hill resort of Kashmir.
Besides, high-class facilities and accommodation are available from government agencies as well as the private operators. No doubt, the slopes at Yusmarg and Pahalgam are good for winter sports but the Gulmarg site has the capacity to offer fun and sport facilities to nearly 600 tourists at a time.
The number of visitors participating in winter sports at Gulmarg is also increasing every year.
Kashmir Tourism Director Farooq Shah told Business Standard the number of tourists visiting Kashmir crossed 600,000, including those participating in winter sports activities, in 2003, while hardly 17,000 were recorded in the early eighties, during a period the state was relatively free from terrorist activities. A large number of them are now participating in winter sports.
Shah said winter tourists in Kashmir and especially Gulmarg had shown growth of 61 per cent in 2004 over 2003. Till early December in 2006, nearly 412,000 domestic tourists visited Kashmir, besides about 20,000 foreigners. Nearly 265,000 pilgrims visited the Shri Amarnathji cave in 2006, and about 7 million pilgrims are expected to visit Mata Vaishnodevi by the end of this financial year.
Shah said the tourism department, with the support of allied agencies, had organised a major snow festival from December 24 to 30, recently in which a large number of foreigners from Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and some other countries participated. Skiing courses are also being organised at the site by the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering. About 20 skiing courses are underway.
He said due to early snowfall this time, winter sports commenced about one month before than last year and the response had been very good this time. Most of the hotels and government accommodations are full during these days and the resort has the capacity to accommodate nearly 1,200 tourists.
Minister for Tourism, Dillawar Mir said in order to exploit the potential of the Gulmarg's snow lands for winter games, a one-week "Kashmir Snow Festival" was organised recently. He said the festival organised the first ever competition of snow cycling in South Asia. About 400 skiers from Canada and Australia had got registered with the Department of Tourism.