Christmas bells ring tourism boom for Gulmarg | india | Hindustan Times
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Christmas bells ring tourism boom for Gulmarg

india Updated: Dec 25, 2012 13:48 IST
Peerzada Ashiq
Peerzada Ashiq
Hindustan Times
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With Kashmir's winter tourist destination Gulmarg under around two-foot snow and recording sub-zero temperature, Santa Claus and pine trees have decked up the place to cater to hundreds of holiday-makers for Christmas and New Year this year.

Hi-end hotel owners like Iqbal Shawl, who owns Gulmarg Vintage, said there was 95% occupancy and bookings were up to first week of January.

"Christmas is no more a festival celebrated by a particular community. It's fast emerging as popular festive occasion for all the communities," said Shawl, who has 100% non-Christian bookings on the eve of Christmas.

Shawl, however, has one qualm: "We are not able to import turkey, the main dish on the occasion. Given the rush, may be next year we will serve turkey".

Located at an elevation of 8,800 feet, Gulmarg, 52 km north of Srinagar, has emerged as main winter destination in the Valley since last year, with violence coming down drastically in the valley and street protests ebbing too.

Recently-opened Rs 120-crore Khyber Gulmarg Hotel and Spa is also booked till January 4.

According to officials working with the aviation sector, Monday witnessed 98% bookings mainly ferrying tourists, many heading straight away to Gulmarg.

"We have heard a lot about Gulmarg and festivities around Christmas and New Year. So our family and friends have planned to celebrate it together," said Suvojit Chatterji, a tourist from Kolkota.

Many bakery shops in Srinagar are serving special cakes on the occasion, mainly from Muslim customers. The valley has around two percent Christian population.

It may not snow on December 25, the good news for tourists is that meteorological department has forecast heavy snowfall on December 27-28 in the Valley, particularly at Gulmarg.

Upbeat by the heavy rush, the tourism department is working on fresh menu of activities.

"We will organize sports events like snow ruby, ice-skating, snow-cycling and cracker shows," said tourism director Talat Pervaiz.

Around1500 holiday-makers are putting up at Gulmarg. The solitary church, perched over a small hill top, at Gulmarg has been decorated for the occasion, where a Mass will take place on Tuesday.

Chief minister Omar Abdullah, while extending Christmas greetings, said, "Hazrat Eisa Masseh preached love, brotherhood, peace, tolerance and selfless service to mankind."

Happy by around 12 lakh footfall of tourists this year, Omar prayed for peace and prosperity of the state.