Gulmarg Gondola, one of Asia’s largest and highest cable cars surrounded by pine forests and Himalayan mountain peaks in the ski resort of Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir, has opened for tourists this week after remaining shut for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Officials said that tourists have started trickling in amid proper Covid-19 protocols of social distancing and masks, to enjoy the breathtaking beauty offered by the mountainous meadow. The first phase of the Gondola was opened for a day on September 27, World Tourism Day and then it resumed daily operations from Saturday taking tourists to Kongdori Mountain at a height of 8,530 ft.
“We had decided to operate the Gondola on weekends but then the government decided to open the first phase everyday from Saturday,” said Assistant Manager Gulmarg Gondola Project, Fayaz Ahmad.
He said that the tourists both locals and visitors from different states of the country have started coming in. “On an average, around 50 people ride the ropeway every day. Over the weekend, the number was around 150. Around 30 percent of visitors were from different states of the country,” he said.
The Gondola was closed after the government imposed lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 in mid-March. On normal days, the cable car records a daily footfall of 2000 to 3000 people generating daily revenue of Rs 35 to 40 lakh. Each ticket costs Rs 740 per person for the first phase and Rs 950 for the second phase which takes a person to a height of 12,293 ft.
Proper Covid-19 protocols are in place to avoid any congestion or close contact of the visitors with each other. Instead of six in normal days, only three tourists are allowed to ride in a single Gondola car. There is sanitization of cabins before and after boarding and de-boarding of passengers besides compulsory wearing of masks.
The tourism industry nosedived in Kashmir since August 5, 2019 when the special status of the erstwhile state was revoked and restrictions imposed on movement of people and communication shut for months. Two days before the revocation of Article 370, around 20,000 to 25,000 tourists were present in Kashmir and they all were asked to leave the Valley along with Amarnath pilgrims. The situation was then aggravated by the Covid-19 lockdown since March 2020.
Ahmad said that the Gondola project has been facing a slump since August 5, 2019. “Later Covid-19 shut it completely,” he said.
He hoped that the number of tourists would increase in the coming days. “Gulmarg and Gondola have become synonymous and people have started coming despite Covid-19. Winter is approaching and travel agents have told us that bookings are being made for October end. Let’s hope for the best,” he said.
The tourism department has also started campaigns to woo tourists. “Tourism is now open in Kashmir and gradually moving towards revival,” said tourism director, Nisar Ahmad Wani during a Nature Walk event at Dachigami National Park on Monday.
“The Directorate has started its publicity campaigns primarily focused on communicating a message that tourists can come here hassle free, as all Covid-19 related SOPs are in place. The visitors can enjoy our hospitality and experience nature in all its beautiful shades and manifestations,” he said.
Gulmarg –the meadow of flowers – is located in the Pir Panjal mountain range in the western Himalayas some 50 km from Srinagar and is defined by a cup-shaped valley with virgin peaks, dry curry powder snow and meadows.
“Our vast green meadows, enchanting valleys, majestic mountains and our pristine streams and lakes is what brings joy to the visitor and fills him with awe,” Wani said.