Snow Flags Off Tough Kashmir Winter

10 November 2009
Kashmir Observer

Srinagar: With winter off to a flying start in Kashmir, early snows in the heights have given tourism a much-needed break, even as woolens and kangris are out in full glory in the rain-drenched plains. The surprise turn in the weather has sent Kashmiris scurrying to stock up on the seasonís essentials, mainly fuel for heating and high-calorie diets for sustenance. As if the region was already deep into winter, road connectivity to remote areas in the frontier districts has been snapped, cutting off towns like Keran, Karnah, Tangdhar, Teetwal and Neelu and dozens of outlying villages due to heavy snow in the major Sadhna and Razdan passes in north Kashmir. The advanced onset of winter with bountiful snowfall in the higher reaches has brought cheer to the tourist industry with the prospect of a lucrative season as the world famous ski slopes of Gulmarg, just 55 km from here, are already under three feet of snow. People associated with the tourist trade say that Gulmarg has turned into an enticing sight, with its mountains and forests clad under a heavy layer of snow. The slopes are ready to receive skiers and adventure-lovers, and tour operators have urged the governmentís tourism department to go all out in cashing in on the bounties of nature. They have asked the government to mount a massive publicity campaign to attract skiers from oversees, particularly the west, to the inviting slopes of Gulmarg. The neighbouring heights of Apharwat, Kongdori and Khilanmarg have received four to six feet of snow, much to the delight of those connected with winter sports. The many charms of winter in Kashmir notwithstanding, locals find it increasingly difficult to battle the elements, as shunning of traditional practices has left them vulnerable to the flow of supplies from outside and the vagaries of prices. The often unpredictable Srinagar-Jammu highway turns particularly temperamental in winters as its slide-prone stretches close Kashmirís only existing surface link with the rest of the country for days. The hardships of the season, if mitigated with abundant rain and snow, prove a boon for the regions agriculture the year round, and winterís promising onset has instilled hope in the farming community. The snowfall in early November is fairly widespread given the records for the season. The upper reaches in north Kashmir districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipur have also experienced the season's first heavy snowfall. Keran, Karnah, Gurez and Teetwal also had moderate to heavy snowfall since yesterday, disrupting normal life. In south Kashmir, Shopian town had about six inches of snowfall while it was between one feet to two feet in the upper reaches, including Kellar. The holy Amarnath cave and its periphery also experienced heaviest snowfall of the season so far. Reports of heavy snowfall was also received from Sheshnag, Mahaguns, Panjtherni, Chandanwari and Pisso top. World famous tourist resort of Pahalgam, where the minimum dipped to minus 1.2 degree this morning, also experienced about six inches of snowfall. Yusmarg and Charar-e-Shairef in the central Kashmir district of Badgam also experienced snowfall, first of the season. Other upper reaches in the district also received snowfall. The Sonmarg, on Srinagar-Leh national highway, which was closed since yesterday, also had snowfall since early yesterday. Kargil and Drass, the coldest place in the world after Siberia also experienced moderate to heavy snowfall. The summer capital, Srinagar, also experienced snowfall for about 15 minutes last night after 40.6 mm rains during the day, resulting in sever cold disrupting normal life.