Kashmir is currently under the grip of ‘Chillai-Kalan’ — the 40-day harshest winter period when a cold wave grips the region and the temperature drops considerably leading to the freezing of water bodies including the Dal Lake here as well as the water supply lines in several parts of the valley.
The chances of snowfall are the most frequent and maximum during this period and most areas, especially in the higher reaches, receive heavy snowfall.
While ‘Chillai-Kalan’ — which began on December 21 — will end on January 31, the cold wave continues even after that in Kashmir with a 20-day-long ‘Chillai-Khurd’ (small cold) and a 10-day-long ‘Chillai-Bachha’
The minimum temperature at most places in Kashmir dropped further as the intense cold Tightened its grip in the Valley, resulting in the freezing of water supply lines and water bodies, including the famous Dal Lake, in several areas. A thick fog also engulfed many parts of the valley, including the city, in the morning, reducing visibility. The cold wave conditions intensified as the mercury dropped further during the night and the minimum temperature settled several degrees below the freezing point. The city had recorded a low of minus 8.4 degrees Celsius on Thursday, which was the coldest night in Srinagar since 1991.
Pahalgam tourist resort, which also serves as a base camp for the annual Amarnath yatra in south Kashmir, recorded a low of minus 9.4 degrees Celsius . The minimum temperature in Gulmarg tourist resort settled at minus 5.4 degrees Celsius — slightly up from minus 5.5 degrees Celsius the night earlier.
Qazigund — the gateway town to the valley – recorded a low of minus 10.0 degrees Celsius and was the coldest recorded place in Jammu and Kashmir.
Kupwara, in north Kashmir, recorded a low of minus 6.8 degrees Celsius, while Kokernag, in the south, minus 8.7 degrees Celsius.
The surface of the Dal Lake has frozen due to the bone-chilling cold, prompting authorities to issue an advisory against walking on the ice.
The SDRF and the river police are conducting patrols around the frozen water-body to ensure the safety of the people. Several other water bodies have also frozen due to the intense cold. A dense fog engulfed many parts of the valley including the city in the morning, which, however, dissipated later.The plunge in the minimum temperature has also resulted in the freezing of water supply pipes. A thick layer of ice has frozen over several roads in the city and elsewhere in the valley, making it difficult for motorists to drive.
Many areas remain cut off due to snow accumulation. Freezing weather conditions compounded the winter woes in the Kashmir Valley, where scores of areas remain cut off due to snow accumulation. A cold wave triggered freezing sub-zero conditions in the Valley, resulting in slowing down of snow clearance exercise. Many villages in south, central and north Kashmir remain cut off from district headquarters. Due to snowfall, roads remain closed. Patients findi it difficult to reach hospitals.Most taps, water bodies, including the Dal Lake, froze as Srinagar recorded a minimum temperature of minus 7.8°C, lowest since 2012. The freezing temperature also slowed down the traffic movement as most stretches turned slippery.
Meanwhile Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha toured capital Srinagar and took stock of the measures undertaken for snow clearance and restoration of essential supplies across Kashmir.
“Field-level officers should ensure swift completion of snow-clearance and dewatering of all lanes and bylanes. Ensure round-the-clock operations for the earliest possible restoration in areas where public services are still disrupted. It is essential to ensure uninterrupted supply of essentials and healthcare facilities across the Valley,” Mr. Sinha said.
Hundreds of travellers remain stranded as the Srinagar-Jammu highway was closed after a bridge caved at Ramban’s Kela Mod area.Jammu and Kashmir Civil Society Forum (JKCSF) chairman Abdul Qayoom Wani said the stranded passengers on the highway were facing scarcity of essential commodities.Meanwhile, an official said a critically injured teenage girl was airlifted from cut-off Tulail near the Line of Control in Bandipora and shifted to a hospital.
On the other side chilly and white snow raises hope for J&K tourism. Unlike most people, six feet of snow and the thermometer at minus 10 degrees Celsius is no cause for worry for hoteliers and tourism traders.
“We had to stop hiring services such as security, laundry and transport. We retained a bare minimum staff and negotiated their salaries. We all understood it was going to be a long haul. However, it seems the good days are back. Gulmarg witnessed a very, very good season in the past two months. A hotelier said. The COVID-19 pandemic has also proved a blessing as it has forced hoteliers to hire more staff. “We won’t mind hiring more people as long as tourists keep a tryst with Kashmir,” he added.
The current fillip to tourism is the first silver lining for the moribund hospitality industry in Kashmir, first battered by the post-August 5 shutdown and then dented further by the pandemic-induced lockdown. According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, around 65,000 people lost jobs in the tourism sector post August 5, with the industry suffering a loss of ₹2,615 crore.
The latest footfall figures from the J&K Tourism Department show that the popular destination, though mired in bouts of unrest, has retained its hold over visitors from the country and abroad. “Out of the 34,025 tourists who visited Kashmir this year, 3,808 were foreign tourists. December recorded the highest number of 13,237 tourists, which is 39% of the total footfall in the entire year,” said Ahsan Chisti, Deputy Director of the publicity wing of the Tourism Department.
The trajectory of the tourism graph is showing a rising trend. From just 186 tourists arriving in the whole of July and 284 in August, 6,327 visited in November. In a surge, the Valley saw around 2,100 tourists arriving just on December 23 and 24, ahead of the New Year. “We are witnessing a healthy footfall of 700 to 1000 tourists arriving in Kashmir per day for the past many days,” Mr. Chisti said. It’s for the first time since 2013 that Gulmarg, which has a bed capacity of 1200-plus, is sold out for two months. The first sun rise of 2021 seems to have brought a ray of hope for tourism. Besides hoteliers, sledge drawers, horse owners, ski trainers and all-terrain vehicle owners, all have all seen good demand.
“The tourist trend is also showing that spenders and not just budget tourists are arriving in Gulmarg. We saw mostly three star and four star hotels getting booked first. People who felt trapped due to COVID pandemic, are finding Gulmarg a safe destination to visit,” president of the Gulmarg Hoteliers Club, said.
Gulmarg Gondola, the country’s highest cable car, closed for around six months for failing to do any business, reopened in October last year, and has started ferrying 600 to 800 tourists every day up to an altitude of 3,950 metres.
“We have set up special snow-clearance vehicles to rescue tourists who often get stuck due to snowfall, while travelling towards Gulmarg. Despite the recent heavy snowfall, we ensured that electricity supply remains uninterrupted so that no tourist faces any inconvenience,” Inam ul Haq, Chief Executive Officer, Gulmarg, said.
Buoyed by the tourist footfall, the J&K administration will organise winter games, under the ‘Khelo India’ programme, from February 11-16 at Gulmarg. “The winter games will require 600 rooms. We are discussing how to arrange accommodation given to the prior bookings,” Mr. Shah said.
Kashmir, which remains a troubled spot, may see its tourism sector back on track but still faces challenges to match the figures of 2013, when more than 11 lakh tourists visited the Valley.
“Of 55,000 hotel beds available in the entire Kashmir Valley, 35,000 beds, mostly of budget hotels. continue to remain on the verge of closure. Scores of hotels have already shut,” said Nasir Shah, chairman of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (J&K Chapter).
“We are getting queries of tourists for spring and summer too but not on the scale it used to be,” he added. Mr. Shah said tourism has been a conflict neutral sector in Kashmir and should remain so.
“Kashmir remains a safe place for tourists. The COVID numbers are coming down due to the government measures. We are hopeful of continuation of this healthy trend, which has potential to break the previous record,” Mr. Shah, buoyed by the trends, said.