By Suhail Khan
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir, renowned for its enchanting winter vistas, faces an unprecedented challenge this winter as the region experienced an unusual dearth of snowfall.
This not only jeopardised the picturesque landscapes but also posed severe threat to the livelihoods of local farmers, the tourism industry, and various sectors, including apple and horticulture production.
As concerns mount, stakeholders grapple with the far-reaching consequences of this prolonged dry spell, impacting everything from agriculture to hydropower generation.
Tourism, local businesses crippled
Gulmarg and Pahalgam, the famous tourist destination renowned worldwide for their breathtaking ski slopes and landscapes, used to be a ‘white winter haven’. However, this year, these places have been witnessing a unique and troubling phenomenon. The snowfall blanket that envelops places in winter months has been scarce, causing great concern for both locals and tourists alike.
The tourism industry, often considered the backbone of Kashmir, is facing severe setbacks due to continuous dry spell. Previously bustling hotels that would be packed during the winter months are now virtually empty. Bookings have been canceled as tourists opt for destinations that still offer the allure of snowfall.
Local entrepreneurs, ski rental shops, and adventure tour operators have been discussing the negative effects of a long dry spell. They have been facing economic challenges as a result of the lack of snowfall.
Aqib Chaya, the president of the Hotelier Association Gulmarg, expressed his concerns over ongoing dry spell. “The absence of snow, particularly in the world-famous health resort of Gulmarg, has led to numerous cancellations, greatly affecting the livelihoods of the local horticulturists,” he said.
Aqib said that this unfortunate situation is not exclusive to Gulmarg as other tourist destinations in Kashmir are facing similar challenges. Regrettably, approximately 40 percent of bookings have already been cancelled, further exacerbating the distressing situation.
Aqib expressed his concern regarding the current situation in Gulmarg, stating that it is becoming increasingly worrying due to the scarcity of snow. This shortage of snow has resulted in a significant decline in the number of tourists visiting the area.
Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, President of the Guides Association of Gulmarg, expressed deep concern over the current state of tourism in Gulmarg. He stated that there has been a significant decline of almost 65 percent in tourist bookings. This decline has had a negative impact on local businesses and excursion leaders.
Khan further explained that the lack of snowfall during the winter season has greatly affected the hospitality sector. “The visiting guides and native establishments are currently facing a challenging and difficult phase,” he added.
Waseem Bhat, an international skier, said that the prolonged period of dry weather has had a significant impact on winter sports, not only in Kashmir but also worldwide.
He expressed that numerous sports events, which were supposed to take place in Gulmarg with the participation of athletes and sports players from around the globe, have been called off due to the lack of snowfall in the region.
He further added that Gulmarg was previously renowned as a center for winter sports. However, this year has presented a completely different scenario.
Jehangir Ahmed, the owner of the Third Pole Adventures Company in Gulmarg, said that everything is now clear to share as the rush of tourists we used to see in winter is almost non-existent. “Hardly any people prefer to visit Gulmarg now because there is no snow.”
He further added, “I faced a terrible situation this January as all the ski slots that were booked until early February have been cancelled.”
The government’s data for Gulmarg in 2023 paints a positive picture, with an astonishing influx of 1.65 million tourists, surpassing the previous year’s record.
This showcases Gulmarg’s popularity as a destination. However, the situation took a drastic turn in the first month of 2024, with a significant decrease in tourist numbers and the continued cancellation of bookings.
This sudden change has raised concerns among local hoteliers and adventure tour operators, who heavily rely on snowfall for their business success.
Fruit growers stare into uncertainty
For the local farmers, this absence of snow is more than just an aesthetic issue. It directly affects their livelihoods, as agriculture is their primary source of income.
The lack of snow disrupts the crucial processes of fruits’ growth and overall crop production, posing a significant risk to the agricultural industry of Kashmir. Farmers are worried about the future of their livelihoods and the consequences of this prolonged dry spell.
The impact on the apple and horticulture industries cannot be overlooked either. These industries heavily rely on the winter season to flourish, but the scarcity of snow poses a great challenge. Snowfall nourishes apple and other horticulture crops. Without it, the industry faces a significant decline and potential economic loss.
Fruit growers in the valley have voiced their deep concerns regarding the unprecedented shift in weather. They emphasise that the winter chill and snow are critical for maintaining the health of their apple trees.
The cold temperatures during the winter help suppress pests and diseases while promoting proper bud development for the spring. Snowfall acts as an insulating blanket, protecting the trees’ roots from extreme cold and providing the necessary soil moisture for healthy growth.
A significant decline in apple production would not only impact the growers’ livelihoods but also the local economy as a whole.
Khurshid Ahmad Lone, an apple grower from the Baramulla district, told Siasat.com about the importance of adequate snowfall for the growth and development of high-quality fruits.
Lone said that if the current dry spell continues, it will pose a great risk to the livelihoods of apple growers like me, who depend on a successful harvest to support themselves and their families.
Fayaz Ahmad Dar, another fruit grower from Kupwara district, said that his experience in the apple business spans over three decades. However, the ongoing dry spell has presented unprecedented challenges for the fruit industry, causing considerable worry.
He said, “In the past, I used to conduct business transactions involving approximately 30,000 apple boxes in Delhi. Unfortunately, these numbers have seen a significant decline in recent years. The present circumstances have only further intensified the difficulties faced by the industry, adding to our plight.”
Kashmir Fruit Growers and Dealers Association President Fayaz Ahmad Malik Siasat.com that we are witnessing prolonged dry weather, which is deeply concerning for all of us. He said everyone, whether an apple grower or an apple buyer, is worried about this weather.
He further said that snow plays a vital role in the agriculture sector, and the dryness raises many concerns as it will adversely affect their apple orchards if this dry spell continues.
Impact on Hydroelectricity
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha stated earlier this month that it will be very difficult to run power projects in the near future if the valley doesn’t receive snowfall. He stated, “I pray to God that it snows here. Otherwise, it will affect the power projects in the future if the same dry situation persists.”
A junior engineer from the Kashmir Power Development Corporation Limited (KPDCL) told this reporter that the absence of snowfall in the peak winter will have a significant impact on electricity generation in Jammu and Kashmir.
He said that despite having the potential to generate 20,000 megawatts, the current generation stands at a mere 1,200 megawatts due to the ongoing dry spell.
The official said that the shortage of water in hydroelectric projects is already affecting power generation, and if snowfall does not occur, the situation could become unimaginable. This issue not only affects the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir but also other states, as the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation supplies power to them.
The official further added that, at present, the water level in hydroelectric projects is at a minimum, resulting in a generation of approximately 250 megawatts.