By Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Feb 17 (EFE).- A snow cafe on top of a popular ski resort in India-administered Kashmir is enthralling visitors in the troubled Himalayan region amid claims by its builders that it is the largest igloo of its kind in the world.
The snow structure has been created in the western Himalayas of the Gulmarg hill resort, situated 2,650-meter (nearly 8,700 feet) above sea level.
The massive igloo houses tables and chairs also made of snow to host 40 guests at a time.
For some warmth amid sub-zero temperatures that can plummet as low as minus 10 degrees these days, the creators have covered the chairs with sheep hides for visitors enjoying a steaming cup of qahwa, Kashmiri saffron tea, inside the icy edifice.
According to its builders, the structure is 37.5 feet high with a 44.50 feet diameter and has 48-inch thick snow walls.
A snow structure in Zermatt, Switzerland, built six years ago with an internal diameter of 12.9 meters (42 feet and four inches) currently holds the record of the largest dome igloo, the Guinness Book of World Records says.
The builders of the Gulmarg igloo have challenged the record and approached the Guinness to set it straight after their café, which has two sections – for hosting guests and the other for art and wall carvings.
The workers took almost two months to complete it, Waseem Shah, the brain behind the structure, told EFE.
It opened to the public on Feb.4 and is expected to run through mid-March when rising temperatures would start melting it down.
“You can spend about one hour inside the igloo without any trouble but after that one feels very cold,” visitor Prakash Seth said.
“It was our first kind of experience and we are amazed,” said Seth, enjoying a cup of qahwa with his wife Kiran Seth.
Gulmarg is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the idyllic Kashmir Valley that counts tourism as one of the top sources of income and employment.
However, tourism declined due to an unending armed insurgency since 1989 that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians.
India blames Pakistan for stoking militant trouble in Kashmir. Pakistan has always denied the allegation, saying Kashmiris are fighting an indigenous battle for freedom.
The authorities claim there has been an uptick in the number of arrivals lately.
“Over 600,000 tourists (mostly domestic), visited the valley since April 2021,” a tourism official told EFE.
Of these, more than 300,000 visited Gulmarg, a popular winter sports destination that also boasts of housing one of the highest green golf fields in the world.
Tourism director GN Itoo told EFE the valley received 93,000 tourists in November 2021, compared to nearly 6,300 in the same month a year ago.
“It is the first time in the past seven years that Kashmir recorded such large numbers of tourists,” he said. EFE