Games hope for Gulmarg

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By MUZAFFAR RAINA in Gulmarg
  • Published 19.02.08
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Gulmarg, Feb. 18: From a distance, all that is visible of Nissar Ahmad’s village is a frozen white carpet dotted with ghostly rooftops. But that did not stop him plodding miles through knee-deep snow to reach Gulmarg.

The young man has not come here to relish the beauty of the ski resort where the fifth national winter games got under way today. He believes a big sporting event will bring tourists to Dreng, his village barely 16km away.

Buried under six feet of snow last month, Dreng made it to militancy-hit Kashmir’s tourist map a few years ago, thanks to its mesmerising landscape.

“My village is as beautiful as Gulmarg but very few tourists go there. When the national games were held here last time (in 2003), many tourists came to Kashmir later,” said Ahmad, whose father earns a living by driving tourists on his sledge.

This is precisely why the 8,700ft-high resort is hosting the games for the third time in 10 years. Around 450 players from 11 states are taking part in the five-day event that includes ice hockey, figure skating and slalom skiing.

“We welcome tourists from every part of the country and abroad. Gulmarg has always remained peaceful even during turmoil from which our state is now emerging…. It is a valley of flowers and flower is a symbol of peace and love,” said chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Sarmad Hafeez, the joint director of the state tourism department, said: “We are desperate to see Gulmarg play host to the Commonwealth winter games and today’s event will boost our chances.”

The state has been struggling to revive the industry since militant strikes in 2005 saw tourists turning their backs on Kashmir after two good years. The numbers, however, started picking up last year with four lakh people visiting the Valley.

Varun Thakur, a participant from Himachal Pradesh, said he did not understand why people should stop coming to “fascinating” Gulmarg.

“Visitors feel safe here,” added Gul Mustafa, Kashmir’s lone Olympian and coach of the state skiing team.