Kashmir is experiencing a prolonged dry spell with no snowfall, causing concern for ecologists and tourism stakeholders who depend on snow for visitors. The lack of snow may impact skiing trips and winter sports, with the fear of cancellations and a decline in tourists. The dry spell is attributed to El Nino, which is expected to persist until next month. Other tourist resorts in the region, such as Pahalgam and Sonamarg, are also without winter allure.
Although Kashmir is almost halfway through its harshest 40-day winter period, “Chilla-i-Kalan”, no snow can bee seen on the Himalayan peaks and vast meadows dotted with pine trees and blue lakes.
Popular tourist destination Gulmarg, which is generally snow-covered at this time of the year, is “dry and bleached”, bereft of any snow, leaving the tourists and people upset.
Ecologists as well as those who depend on tourism for survival and livelihood have expressed concern over the prolonged dry spell. Tourism stakeholders have expressed desire for the “much-needed snowfall” soon, hoping for a surge in tourists in February.
“There is no snow anywhere in Gulmarg bowl. The slopes of the meadow appear barren. The situation is the same across the Valley. The resorts in Europe are facing the same fate,” said Javaid ur Rehman, assistant director of tourism in Gulmarg.
“Although the tourism is not yet affected, it is definitely going to have an impact in the coming days. There will be cancellations if the dry spell persists,” he added.
Gulmarg, which literally translates the meadow of flowers, is an icon of Kashmir tourism. Located close to the Line of Control in the Pir Panjal mountain range in the western Himalayas, it is a cup-shaped valley with virgin peaks, dry curry powder snow and vast meadows. In 2023, over 1.65 million tourists visited the meadow, the highest footfall.
There is also a fear that the lack of snow might affect the skiing trips of adventure tourists and winter sports “National winter games are being held between February 2 and 6,” Rehman said. The games have been organised for the past three years.
He that the valley had received snowfall on December 30 and 31, 2022, and on January 4, 2023. “We had started operating the ski lifts from January 12. This year, the weatherman said that chances of snowfall are bleak till mid-January. We fear a dry January,” he said.
“Chilla-i-Kalan” started on December 21 and will continue till January 31. MeT’s Srinagar centre director Mukhtar Ahmad said that there are no chances of any major precipitation till January 16.
“For the past 3-4 years we witnessed early snowfall, but this year it was not so and there has been no major snow spell,” he added.
Ahmad attributed some of the dry spell to the El Nino, which has been persisting since November. “It is expected to persist till next month. Generally, an El Nino year witnesses deficit precipitation here. However, there has not always been a dry spell during El Nino,” he said.
“This is not the first time that we have experienced a dry spell. We saw it in 2022 and December-January of 2018, January of 2015 and December of 2014,” he added.
Not only Gulmarg but other tourist resorts like Pahalgam in south Kashmir and Sonamarg in central Kashmir have also been without any winter allure for the adventure tourists.
Akib Chaya, president of Gulmarg chapter of J&K Hoteliers Club, said that the tourists were returning disappointed due to the lack of snowfall. “This month’s bookings are packed but we expect an impact. Foreigners come for skiing in February,” he said.