Dr. Farooq Ahamad Peer
The winter is here. All has got covered with the colour of winter. Temperature has dipped, air breezes are cooler, and people have added more clothes to save their bodies. The winter in Kashmir is almost four months season but the real winter is experienced in the forty days of Chilai kalan, starting from December 21 to January 31, and if it snows in these forty days, the experience gets worst, and as it is in Kashmir nowadays due to the snowfall.
Old aged and children are forced to sit inside as the snow freezes and is harder and slippery to walk. Everything gets white coloured, the snow blanketed mountains, plains and white outlined trees look beautiful. For outsiders winter is beautiful but for the locals winter brings all kinds of difficulties. It is the nastiest season in the year, because of the lack of facilities available here.
As the weather was cordial during the last few winters, people last and this year people have experienced a harsh winter reviving the chill and cold way back of 60 years. Frozen taps and water pipes have brought all the woes to people here. Many are not even able to wash their faces let alone perform ablution or take a shower. The roads connecting the peripheries are covered with snow which has made life tough and biting here. The blankets of ice have covered the grounds of Kashmir. The weather is chilly, gloomy and has embellished the place with snow. The winter season has had a deep impact on the whole of North India including parts of Rajasthan and Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. And now Kashmir and North India are facing this season’s extremely harsh winter.
Jammu and Kashmir celebrated its first snowfall of the season from 6th to 8th November 2019. And it did cause disruption in the daily lives of the people, apart from bringing impediments to the air and traffic movement in the valley thus causing inconvenience to daily life. Then again from 14th to 21st November, it snowed and rained once again in the valley and caused more issues in the daily life and vehicular movements. People going from Jammu to Srinagar complain invariably that the road conditions are slippery and poor and have to spend couple of nights in reaching to the destination. It became ferocious from 22nd December 2019 and continues till date. There are frequent fresh landslides at on the National Highway, due to which the 297km long Jammu-Srinagar national highway is frequently shut down for vehicular traffic, and conseqently, the flight rates get very costly making the locals and outside tourists very difficult to travel to Kashmir and people from here to other parts of the country. Thousands of Trucks and other vehicles wait for the arterial road to be cleared and this situation gives rise to lack of essential commodities and facilities in the valley.The situation and lack of infrastructure is so poor that a spell of snow or rain in the Kashmir Valley makes life miserable. Here it is to add that the road widening is the major cause for the blockade of the high way. And it would be suitable and in the interest of travellers for the road agencies to shift their focus of widening to the area of road for winter months, where the chances of landslides and falling down of rocks and other particles is less.
Still a paradise? Kashmir has acquired much fame for its natural beauty because of the breath-taking splendor of its mountains, glaciers, meadows, lush valleys and water bodies. When India’s 17th-Century Mughal emperor Jahangir, first came to Kashmir, he was mesmerised by the beauty of the land to such an extent that he termed it a paradise on earth: “Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast (If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this).”
Gulmarg is famous as India’s best and Asia’s sixth best skiing destination. It has steep skiing slopes right in the middle of spectacular mountain views. The skiing area, called Gulmarg Ski resort is a fodder for tourists. Hiking and cable car are other fine and pleasurable activities in Gulmarg. Initially called as Gaurimarg (“the fair one”) by shepherds in honour of the Hindu goddess Paraviti, the resort was renamed Gulmarg (“meadow of flowers”) by the King Yusuf Shah Chak of the Chak Dynasty who frequented the place with his queen Habba Khatoon in the 16th century. The winter games in Gulmarg have become a source of attraction for the past two decades.
Over the years, Kashmir’s meadows, lush valleys and water bodies which would charm millions of tourists are approaching to slow death due to deforestation, improper planning and growth of concrete structures at the beautiful resorts. Sonamarg, the “Golden Meadow”, has no sewage treatment plant. All untreated effluents find their way into the Indus stream, which straddles Sonamarg. The famous phalgham is also facing the threat of pollution of (River Lidder, which with its crystal water flow adorns the resort with majestic allure) and unwanted growth of structures in the name of hotel facilities and other amusement structures or buildings have blighted the pristine and natural glory and look of the place. The revival of tourism, even as it is marked by ebb and flow, has generated hope for around half a million people who are directly or indirectly involved in the Valley’s tourism industry . But, the haphazard construction that the tourism boom is leading to, especially in the famed mountain resorts of Sonamarg, Pahalgam and Gulmarg, are threatening to turn Kashmir into a lost paradise. There has hardly been any planning in the construction process at Kashmir’s tourism destinations. Infrastructure made out of concrete material has come up at the most unlikely places and most hotels try to maximise the number of rooms, even if they block the best views of the Himalayan peaks in the process. There is a consensus among experts, government officials and common citizens of Kashmir that the three major resort towns – Sonamarg, Pahalgam and Gulmarg – are being turned into concrete JUNGLES.
Kashmir is charismatic in every season and is attractive for holidays particularly for the outsiders. If it is complete paradise in spring and summer, it is not less pleasant during winter. Those who visit Kashmir always say it is as beautiful as Switzerland and even superior for its mountainous peaks touching the skies. If one loves snow then spend your holidays in Kashmir in winter. One can visit the scenic places like Gulmarg, Phalgam, Sonamarg, Kokarnag and surely the relaxing Dal Lake and Nigeen Lake. But Gulmarg and Phalgam are the best places during winter which one can visit and relish. Though much of the beauty of Kashmir is lost but all is not Lost. Enjoy Winter Holidays and merry and cheer up in the white clads of snow.
Dr. Farooq Ahamad Peer