Kashmir border tension hits local ski season

Jan 24, 2013  – The Recent flare-up in tensions between India and Pakistan along the de facto border of Kashmir has hit the local skiing season, with hoteliers reporting a surge of cancellations by anxious tourists.

Gulmarg, the region’s main resort on the Indian side of the divided Himalayan region, is popular with daredevil skiers mostly from Asia and Europe who come in search of deep powder snow and untouched slopes. The region’s tourism industry, a vital part of the local economy, has been devastated by two decades of blood-letting during a separatist conflict, but a
dramatic fall in violence in recent years has seen a widely welcomed revival.

“I received 150 cancellations in a matter of days all due to the LoC (Line of Control) tension and had to pay heavy cancellation charges to hoteliers,” Ayaz Zargar, a local travel operator, told AFP.

“I hear from other operators that up to 40 percent of advance bookings have been cancelled,” he added. The flare-up along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan saw a total of five soldiers killed earlier this month, with fears that tensions between the two countries could escalate. A ceasefire agreement on January 16 between commanders in both armies has held, however, with politicians on both sides seen as keen to avoid wrecking recent progress in their slow-moving peace process.

“Cancellation of earlier bookings via email started pouring in as soon as the news of fighting at the LoC started appearing in the media,” said Tahir Hussain, the manager of Hotel Hilltop in Gulmarg.

Before the border tension, the number of foreign arrivals in the ski resort was slightly higher than in the same period last year, and local tourism officials say they are still confident of a good year.

“We expect this year to be much better than the last in terms of foreign tourist arrivals,” said Talat Parvez, the director of tourism in the local government. Gulmarg has one of the world’s highest ski lifts, which ascends to nearly 4,000 metres (about 14,000 feet) and offers skiers a downhill run of more than five kilometres (three miles).