20 Jan 2024

What caused a big decline in tourist numbers to Kashmir compared to previous year?

Gulmarg, located in the Kashmir Valley, is renowned for its natural splendor. For the past 17 years, Rashid Khan has managed a resort here, where the landscape is typically adorned with snow throughout the winter. However, this year presents an unprecedented situation as the once snow-covered mountains now appear desolate and lackluster.

Rashid Khaexpresses his concern, stating, "This is unprecedented. Tourists have also ceased making hotel reservations." 

Winter in the Kashmir Valley usually attracts tourists from across the country who come to witness the snow-covered beauty and engage in activities like skiing. Unfortunately, as there is no snowfall this time, the tourism industry in the region is facing a significant downturn.

Repercussions on the economy 

In January of the previous year, around one lakh tourists had visited Kashmir. Officials report that this year, the number has nearly halved. The absence of snowfall not only impacts tourism but also has repercussions on the economy of the Union Territory, as the tourism sector contributes 7 percent to Jammu and Kashmir's GDP.

Experts attribute this unusual lack of snowfall to climate change, which is causing shifts in weather patterns and extreme events. The Meteorological Department of Jammu and Kashmir notes a 79 percent deficit in December precipitation and a 100 percent deficit in January.

Tourists cancelling bookings

The rising temperatures in the valley are evident, with an average increase of 6-8 degrees this winter. Hotel owners lament the cancellation of bookings by disappointed tourists who can neither enjoy skiing nor witness the snow-covered mountains.

Aqib Chhaya, president of the Gulmarg Hotel Owners Association, reveals, "More than 40 percent of hotel bookings have been canceled, and new bookings are not being made right now."

The local tourism industry is feeling the impact, affecting the livelihoods of those dependent on winter tourism for their annual income. 

Mule drivers face financial difficulties

Mule drivers, popular for providing tourists with snowy valley rides, report financial difficulties.

Tariq Ahmed Lone, head of the mule drivers' association, emphasizes the direct link between their livelihood and snowfall, stating, "A season without snow will bring extremely difficult conditions for our families."

Gulmarg Skiing Association President Shaukat Ahmed Rather echoes these sentiments, expressing the challenge of finding alternative sources of income.

Hydro power production, fisheries and agriculture will be impacted

Experts predict that the lack of snowfall will not only affect tourism but also impact hydro power production, fisheries, and agriculture. Even in Ladakh, the adjacent region, the absence of snow is notable, posing a threat to agriculture dependent on melting glaciers.

Environmentalists warn of potential water scarcity, with glaciers melting rapidly. Sonam Wangchuk notes that the driest season in the Himalayan region is causing concern about water supply from springs.

Irfan Rashid, an Assistant Professor at Kashmir University, suggests that the possibility of a drought-like situation cannot be dismissed. Despite experiencing severe winter and heavy snowfall historically between December 21 and January 29, the region has seen a decline in snowfall in recent years.

Possibility of change in weather conditions next week

Meanwhile, Skymet, the weather forecasting agency, says that there is a possibility of change in weather conditions next week. But it is too early to make predictions right now. However, conditions seem to be favorable for the much-awaited weather activity in both the plains and hilly areas of North India.

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