In his 17 years of managing a hotel in Gulmarg, a picturesque town in Indian-administered Kashmir, Manzoor Ahmad has never witnessed a winter season without snow. However, this year presents a stark contrast, with the normally snow-clad mountains appearing unusually brown and barren.
“This is unprecedented,” remarks Mr. Ahmad, 50, emphasizing that tourists have ceased making reservations at his hotel.
Traditionally, thousands of tourists flock to Kashmir in winter to partake in activities such as skiing and sightseeing. The notable absence of snowfall this year has dealt a severe blow to the region’s tourism industry. Last January, nearly 100,000 tourists visited Kashmir, but this year’s number has plummeted by more than half, according to officials.
Experts warn that this snowless winter will have a devastating impact on the territory’s economy, as the tourism sector contributes about 7% to Jammu and Kashmir’s GDP. Additionally, the insufficient snowfall will adversely affect farming and water supply by failing to adequately replenish groundwater reserves.
Environmentalists attribute these changes to climate change, resulting in extreme weather events and prolonged dry spells. The weather department in Jammu and Kashmir recorded a 79% rainfall deficit in December and a 100% deficit in January. The region is also experiencing warmer temperatures, with a 6-8°C (11-14°F) rise recorded in most Kashmir stations this winter.
Hotel owners report mass cancellations of reservations, and many tourists have left prematurely, unable to enjoy winter activities like skiing or sleigh rides.
Aqib Chaya, president of Gulmarg Hoteliers Club, states, “Over 40% of hotel reservations have been cancelled, and new bookings are currently on hold.”
The decline in tourism is severely impacting local businesses, the majority of which rely on winter tourism to sustain themselves. Pony riders, a popular tourist activity in the region, have seen a significant drop in earnings, as their livelihood depends on snow.
Apart from tourism, experts predict that the absence of snowfall will impact the generation of hydroelectricity, fisheries, and farming. The neighboring territory of Ladakh, another popular tourist destination, is also experiencing a snowless winter, leading to concerns about water scarcity.
While some hope for a miracle, experts suggest that snowfall in the region has been declining for the past few years, attributing it to the consequences of climate change. The region faces the prospect of warming to “catastrophic levels” by the end of the century, according to a study by earth scientist Shakil Ahmad Romshoo and his team.
Residents are praying for an end to the dry spell.
As the weather department has not predicted heavy snowfall until January 24, locals express hope that nature will be “kind” to them this winter.
Article courtesy @BBC