By Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Jan 22 (EFE).- A winter sans snow in Kashmir’s typically snow-covered landscape has triggered economic and environmental concerns in the Himalayan region, known for its picturesque snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes.
A prolonged dry spell, while not unprecedented, has compelled winter vacationers to cancel their holidays in Kashmir, a popular destination for skiing and other winter activities, attracting visitors eager to witness the valley blanketed in pristine white.
Yet, the valley currently appears barren, causing concern among locals about the potential repercussions of a dry winter.
“I have not seen such a snowless winter in my lifetime,” Jahangir Naik, a resident of Shopian, a south Kashmir district known for its heavy snowfall during winters, told EFE.
Data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) shows a temperature rise of six to eight degrees Celsius above normal.
While December witnessed an 80 percent decline in rainfall, January has seen minimal precipitation so far.
This has led to a drop in bookings at hotels in Gulmarg and Pahalgam, two of the main tourist destinations in Kashmir.
“Tourists in winter come to this place for snow only. When there is no snow around, why should they waste their money by traveling here,” Haziq Wani of the Gulmarg ski resort, told EFE.
He said the hotels in the resort have suffered the cancellation of 20 percent of their reservations.
The trend extends to the rest of the hotels in the region, which face around 50 percent cancellations, especially from adventure tourists, an official from the Kashmir Hotels and Restaurants Association told EFE on condition of anonymity.
Official statistics show that tourism contributes 7 percent to the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the second largest contribution after agriculture.
The current drought poses catastrophic effects on Kashmir’s natural resources, with receding glaciers and a potential risk to agricultural and energy production due to declining water resources, environmental expert Khurshid Pandit warned.
“Though we have very rich water resources, the fast-changing climate can put us in trouble,” Pandit told EFE.
He said that successive governments had “unfortunately not preserved the region’s natural resources, like forests, that have also led us to the present weather situation.”
The depleted rivers and other water bodies have prompted the government to announce an additional reduction in electricity supply in the region due to the “record low water level.”
And the Jhelum River that runs through Srinagar, the main city in the region, has transformed into a small waterway, laying bare its depth and houseboats touching the bottom.
“Gone are the days when Srinagar would see around two feet of snowfall in winter,” Ghulam Nabi, a houseboat owner, told EFE. “It seems gone are the days of our economic prosperity as well.”
However, the IMD has predicted a brief spell of rain by the end of January.
Analysts have warned of more worries for the region, whose economy is already in shambles due to the decades-long insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people since 1989, most of them civilians.