Kavita Suri

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Heli-skiing returns to Kashmir after 14 years

Snowboarding arrives in Valley

Gulmarg, the winter-sports destination in Kashmir is witnessing a hitherto unknown sport in the valley these days. Snowboarding, a newly developed sport fast catching up with the winter sports-persons all over the world, is an Olympic discipline whose introduction in Jammu and Kashmir is expected to give new impetus to winter sports in the state. A group of local enthusiasts is currently taking training in snowboarding from a foreign instructor, Idu Neilga at Gulmarg. Besides, the government is also re-starting Heli-Skiing in the state after 14 years. The Himalaya Heli-ski Club of France had been organizing heli-skiing in Kashmir uptill 1989.

The Jammu and Kashmir Snowboarding Association (JKSA), organizers of the snowboarding event, is holding a series of 9-day courses at the famous winter tourist place. The first such course has completed successfully while the second one which commenced from 2 February, is in progress.
 
"The training courses are aimed at inculcating spirit of snowboarding in local youth and to supplement the efforts of the Government to promote tourism in Jammu and Kashmir", says Dr. Khurshid Tarzan, the real force behind the Association. 

The preliminary training would be imparted on nursery ski slopes but on the last four days of each course the trainees would zoom down the treacherous slopes of Mount Apharwat.

Muhammad Yusuf Mandu, one of the active members of the JKSA, says that the Association was planning to organize the first ever snowboarding championship at Gulmarg on the completion of the series of 4 courses.  The championship, he says, would be open to all.

Gulmarg is so far known for snow skiing and attracts both domestic and foreign winter sports lovers. With its unrivalled slopes that can be any adventure sportsperson's delight, the place was the venue for the National Winter Games, 1998. The organizers of the Snowboarding championship are optimistic that the introduction of this new sport would pave way for attracting domestic and foreign tourists to Kashmir. 

The natural facilities required for the sport are available here, they argue. A skier does not need Poma ski lifts for uphill transportation of players to ski down the snowy slopes. 

"The JKSA proposes to also hold National Snowboarding Championship at Gulmarg in near future and has approached the J&K Sports Council and State Tourism Department to extend support for the propose", says Mandu. 

For re-starting Heli skiing in the troubled state, the state government has hired the services of  Mr Sylvain Saudan, a world renowned heli-ski expert of Himalaya Heli-ski Club, France. Mr. Saudan is in Jammu and Kashmir these days on the invitation of the chief minister to finalize modalities and put in place infrastructure for heli-ski as it can go a long way in promotion of tourism being a priority area of the coalition government

The higher reaches of Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg and several other areas have beautiful slopes that provide ideal sites for adventure tourism. Since these remain snow covered upto May, these would prove a major attraction particularly for the foreign tourists. Feasibility is also being explored to start heli-ski in other high altitude areas of the state to tap available potential, as adventure tourism is becoming more popular. Mountain slopes in Kashmir are among the best in the world.     

Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who had a meeting with Saudan last week assured him of his government’s full support in re-starting the support which used to attract thousands of foreigners to the state in normalcy said that adventure tourism would be promoted in Jammu and Kashmir in a big way to attract foreign and domestic adventure tourists in view of state's huge potential. The Mufti discussed in detail the measures to be taken for promoting adventure tourism, particularly heli-ski, in Jammu and Kashmir besides developing conventional tourism. 

Mr G.H Mir, tourism minister informed that the government has recently started helicopter service from Srinagar- Gulmarg and Srinagar-Pahalgam while such services are already in operation from Jammu-Mata Vaishnodevi. Charges for Srinagar to Gulmarg and Srinagar to Pahalgam to and fro have been fixed at Rs 2000 and Rs 3000 respectively. Besides, the work on second phase of Gandola Cable Car project at world famous Gulmarg tourist resort is apace and is likely to be completed by the year end. The security forces who have occupied the accommodation at several tourists spots including Verinag and Cheshmashahi are being shifted to alternate places.  

Jammu and Kashmir is bestowed with numerous bounties of nature and tourist resorts of international fame but tourism industry which is considered to be the backbone of our state’s economy, has suffered a lot during the turmoil period and there is immense need to revive influx of domestic as well as foreign tourists. 

With a view to develop the basic infrastructure of the sector, measures are underway to elevate basic facilities which include upgradation and improvement of various tourists resort and availability of transport and security scenario at different places. 

Besides, with the lifting of ban on foreign mountaineers in Kargil recently, the Jammu and Kashmir government is hopeful that it would boost tourism in the troubled-state which was once the backbone of state’s economy before the eruption of secessionist movement in early 90’s. The ban imposed on overseas climbers who would climb the rugged peaks of Kargil in Kashmir, which saw a full-scale military conflict that left over 1,000 army men dead in 1999, was imposed after Pakistan-backed forces occupied high peaks overlooking a strategic highway linking Srinagar and Jammu.

The reopening of these snowbound peaks soaring to heights of up to 21,000 feet (6,360 metres),is considered to be a good development as the state government could generate some good revenue. These mountain ranges in Kargil peaks have attracted large groups of mountaineers from Britain, Germany, France Japan and the United States since 1974 when the Ladakh frontier region was opened to foreigners. 

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