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Kashmir Is Hotter Than New Delhi This Winter. Here's What This Means for Its Tourism

The dry spell has led to cancellation of hotel bookings, especially in Gulmarg which used to be thronged by tourists in winter.

New Delhi: In the midst of the harshest winter period called ‘Chilai Kalan’, Kashmir Valley is witnessing a prolonged spell of dry weather and bright sunshine with temperature rising above the levels recorded in New Delhi and other prominent cities in north India.

According to Kashmir Weather, an independent weather forecaster, Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, recorded 14.2° Celsius temperature on Tuesday, January 9, which was eight notches above average at this time of the year.

“In Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, and Ludhiana, the maximum temperatures  were 13.4° Celsius, 10.5° Celsius, 9.5° Celsius and 10.6° Celsius,” Faizan Arif, who runs the weather channel on social media platforms, said.

Chilai Kalan, the 40-day winter period which starts in Kashmir on December 21, is marked by incessant snowfall and subzero temperature that causes a great deal of inconvenience to the residents who often wake up in the morning to the sight of frozen drinking water taps and no electricity.

Irfan Rashid, a faculty at the Department of Geoinformatics, University of Kashmir, said that the Valley is witnessing snowless winter after seven years, which will have a cascading effect on the generation capacity of hydropower projects, agriculture activities and winter tourism.

Rashid warned that in case the dry spell continued, it would lead to “higher mass loss of glaciers” which will not only impact the flow of water in the streams and rivers of Kashmir during the summers but also have long-term effect on the Himalayan ecosystems.

Jhelum river, the major source of irrigation in Kashmir which bisects the Srinagar city, ran at historic low level in September this year.

According to Srinagar station of Indian Meteorological Department, December recorded an unprecedented 79 percent deficit of rainfall in Jammu and Kashmir with the overall precipitation witnessing a seven percent deficit in 2023 which was marked by interplays of extreme weather between intense heat waves and extreme precipitation.

A peer-reviewed study titled ‘Sustainability of winter tourism in a changing climate over Kashmir Himalaya’ in Springer magazine observed that there has been a decreased precipitation in Kashmir from the past few years.

“Implications of climate change can be seen in less snow, receding glaciers, increasing temperatures, and decreasing precipitation. Climate change is also a severe threat to snow-related winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing,” the study warned.

At the north Kashmir’s hill resort of Gulmarg, which used to be covered under snow at this time of the year, hues of gold and crimson coloured grass welcome the tourists. Due to lack of snow, winter sports activities such as snowboarding and skiing at the hill resort have taken a backseat.

“Unfortunately, it isn’t the best of news for us,” said Brian Newman, who works with Gulmarg Ski Patrol and Avalanche Centre, “On average, there is 50-70 cm of snow at 4000 metres which fell on December 10. Without any new snow, we have insufficient snowpack to open the ski area as yet. The bad news is that there is no forecast of snow for next week.”

A study in Science Direct noted that the average annual mean maximum temperature in Kashmir increased by two notches between 1980 to 2020, an increase of 0.5° Celsius per decade which is far more than 0.2 degree Celsius increase recorded globally.

Farhat Naik, a national-level snowboarder from Tangmarg area of north Kashmir, said that the bowl of Gulmarg is witnessing an unprecedented flower bloom which usually happened at the onset of spring, “It is shocking to say the least,” Naik, who also coordinates the National Winter Games which are held in Gulmarg.

Naik, a snowboarding instructor, said that the deficit in snowfall has adversely impacted the winter tourism economy of Gulmarg. The fate of the National Winter Games, which are held in Gulmarg in the first week of February, also hangs in the balance.

“The lack of snowfall has also affected the preparations of sportspersons like skiers and snowboarders who haven’t been able to hit the slopes,” Naik said.

The dry spell has also led to the cancellation of hotel bookings, especially in Gulmarg which used to be thronged by tourists in winter. Mohammad Shafi, an official with Jammu Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation, said that the occupancy of hotels in Gulmarg has shrunk by half.

Spring flowers blooming on the meadows of Gulmarg due to extreme weather conditions prevailing in Kashmir. Photo: By special arrangement

“Tourists are not coming to Kashmir these days. There have been hundreds of cancellations of hotel bookings as there has been no snowfall this year,” said Mushtaq Chaya, one of the leading hoteliers from Kashmir whose properties are located in different parts of the country.

Manzoor Ahmad Pakhtoon, President of Kashmir Houseboat Association said that the tourism industry has suffered badly due to the lack of precipitation this winter.

Houseboats are an essential part of the itinerary of tourists visiting the Valley but these days many of them are stranded on mud cakes along the parched banks of Jehlum.

“A lot of bookings are getting cancelled. While the houseboats registered 60-70 percent occupancy last year, it has fallen to 20-25 percent this year,” said Pakhtoon.

A special prayer called ‘Salatul Istisqa’ was offered at Jamia Masjid in Srinagar on Friday to seek divine intervention in ending the prevailing dry weather conditions in Kashmir. According to reports, a large number of devotees participated in the prayers.

The deficit in precipitation has also shadowed the generation capacity of hydroelectricity projects in Kashmir Valley which is reeling under one of the worst power crises in two decades.

Due to subzero temperatures, the water flow from the glaciers and alpine lakes in the higher reaches has decreased significantly, which has reduced generation by around 70 percent.

“Due to high demand of electricity in winters, the situation will worsen if there’s no precipitation in Kashmir in coming days,” said an official of J&K’s Power Development Corporation who didn’t want to be named.

Kashmir’s dry weather conditions have also led to an explosion of seasonal illnesses. Dr Muhammad Saleem Khan, who heads the Department of Community Medicine at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar said that the viral infections and other seasonal illnesses increase due to dry winter.