A glimmer of hope has finally arrived for Kashmir tourism as top-notch travel agencies from outside Valley who had arrived in the region to assess ground situation has ended the visit on a positive note

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|| WANI JAVID

                      In July last year Kashmir tourisms was at its peak – the hotels were packed with the tourists and long and unending queues would catch an eye at almost tourist destinations. The state tourisms department, which has been over the year working tirelessly to take Kashmir tourism to outside world, was expecting a record break arrival of the tourist to the valley. But when Kashmir slipped into summer unrest which lasted for five months, the valley tourism became one of the first casualties. Soon the booking got cancelled and for the months to come the tourist destinations wore deserted looks. But now a glimmer of hope has finally arrived for Kashmir tourism as a tour of the Valley by top-notch travel agencies from outside to assess the ground situation in the region has ended on a positive note. The news is more significant because this is the winter season in Kashmir and a snowfall at tourist destinations like Pahalgam and Gulmarg would led to flow of tourists to these breathtaking places, sending a positive word about the valley to the rest of the world.

             A senior official of state tourism department said the government had organized tour to allow tour and travel companies to “assess the situation for safety of tourists.” Following the unrest an impression had gone out that situation in the valley was not conducive for tourist to travel. “But our program allowed the tour operators to have the firsthand account about the situation in the valley now and we are hopeful that we will be able to attract tourist from across country as well as foreigners for winter festivals and sports events which are organized in Gulmarg and Pahalgam,” said the official. Many tour operators had visited Kashmir as part of the group to see for themselves the real situation in Kashmir as winter tourisms is set to take off in the valley. Those who were part of the group included representatives of Cox and Kings, Poja Holidays, Raja Rani, Kaisri Travel and Thomas.

            The members of these groups visited different places like Srinagar, Gulmarg and Pahalgam to have sense of the situation in Kashmir where life has started to return back to normalcy. Kashmir even after all the unrest within, has embraced heaven on earth ever since. The lush landscape of Kashmir, manages to steal hearts of any being on the face of this earth. A few years ago a leading travel magazine ranked the state as the best romantic destination in India. Kashmir which is called the paradise on earth has already been ranked second to Switzerland in the world rankings of top romantic destination by Lonely Planet magazine. This comes as sweet reward to the lovely land of Kashmir and the tourists who visit the Valley say it is the romance in Kashmir’s air which keeps bringing them back here. Shikara boats to cruise Srinagar’s Dal lake is one of the major attraction and sets a picture perfect romance for those who come with their beloved. The tourism of Kashmir didn’t take a back seat, even with all the perceptions of unrest in the land of state. The tourism department is already making preparations for promoting “winter tourism” this year, offering tourists a slice of its world-class snow meadows, sports, cuisine and culture at an affordable cost.

            Thousands of tourists visit Gulmarg every winter. This year, too the state officials are expecting a good arrival of tourists after all the work it has being putting in for the past two months. In 2014 about 1.2 million tourists, including 27,172 foreigners, visited Kashmir and the government had set a target of 1.5 million for 2015. But floods and incessant rains in 2014 played spoilsport. Like every year the government is organizing a snow festival in Gulmarg, and is planning to develop Pahalgam as a winter destination by building a skating rink and installing a cable car lift. Gulmarg offers some magical skiing. A new Gondola takes skiers to the heights where crisp snow makes skiing a delight. Some of the best slopes in the country for beginners and intermediate skiers are available at Gulmarg. Skiing equipment is available on hire from the Ski-Shop. In winter Gulmarg’s natural slopes and inclines turn into the country’s premier skiing resort. Not all tourists who visit in winter come for skiing. Tobogganing, the most popular among them requires no skill. No skill is required – a flat wooden board is taken up the hill and is allowed to descend downhill. There are also snow scooters and snow bobbing.