Christmas may not be a grand affair in Srinagar. There may not be Santa Claus roaming on streets and no eager children waiting for the allegorical gift-giver but the vast meadows and valleys with elegant backdrops of sky-high snowy mountains offered the experience of white Christmas in the valley on Monday.
Gulmarg, the most popular attraction on the occasion, had a special delight to offer. A thick blanket of snow welcomed the tourists who had converged in Srinagar to take part in the Christmas celebrations. A special prayer meeting was organised in the 110-year-old St Mary's Church. Around 200 Christians had gathered there to take part in the function. Many of them had travelled down from Mumbai and other parts of the country.
"The snow on Christmas is deemed as good omen. It symbolises peace and prosperity. It was great to celebrate Christmas in Srinagar," said Anita Koul, a keen devotee.
The weeklong snow festival, which began on Sunday in Srinagar, added more fervors to the occasion. While the Christian devotees spend most of the time in prayers during the night, it was time for them to enjoy snow cycling, ice-skating and sledge-racing in the daytime. Cultural programmes and variety shows were also part of the day’s engagements. The most attractive feature of the festival would be snow- cycling and Gondola ride in moonlight, which is being organised for the first time.
"The aim of organising snow festival is to make it (Gulmarg) destination of winter tourists as well", said Farooq Shah, Director Tourism Department.
The officials in the tourism department said that there had been a positive response from the winter tourists. "We have received over 350 confirmed booking mainly from western tourists," said an official.
Traditional fervour and gaiety marked the Christmas celebrations in Srinagar as well. Dozens of people held special prayers at the Holy Family Catholic Church on MA Road. Not only Christian devotees some Mulsim youth were also seen joining the prayers. Reverend CM Khanna of All Saints Church, Srinagar, said that Jesus Christ was a messenger of peace and prosperity for the whole mankind. "He did not belong to a particular sect or people. He was for the entire mankind", he said.