The snow extends to the knees in the town of Gulmarg, or “flower meadow”, on the high plateau of Indian administered Kashmir.
With its blanket of white, the idyllic mountain resort once again sees tourists filling its hotels and skiing, sledding and roaming its Himalayan landscape.
The massive influx of tourists is a sea change for the tourism industry in the disputed region, which has faced the double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and severe civil rights restrictions imposed by India in August 2019 .
Gulmarg was developed as a seaside resort by the British nearly a century ago, and the region’s enduring appeal to foreign visitors has made it a year-round destination.
In summer, tourists roam the meadows, ravines and wooded evergreen valleys. In winter, they snowboard and hike on Asia’s largest ski area.
The end of 2019 of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status and an unprecedented security crackdown turned Gulmarg into a ghost town, an illustration of the region’s economic ruin.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry has pegged the region’s economic losses at $ 5.3 billion and about half a million jobs lost through August last year.
But the worst was yet to come. Last March, Indian authorities imposed a severe lockdown to fight the coronavirus, virtually ending overseas travel.
After snow blanketed the hill station last month, Indian tourists decided to head to Gulmarg, otherwise they could have gone overseas. And for the first time in 15 months, hotels are full until the end of February.
“No one is worried about the virus. Everyone feels free, ”said Meenu Nanda, 38, an Indian tourist.