Snowfall in India and Pakistan comes two months late

Lack of snow and rain affected tourism and raised fears of water shortages later in the year

A tourist rides through patches of snow in Gulmarg on January 25, days before the ski resort in India's Kashmir region received its first proper snowfall of the winter season. AP Photo
Powered by automated translation

Winter snow and rain arrived in India and Pakistan this week after an unusually long dry spell that kept tourists away and raised concerns about agricultural production and water reserves.

Heavy snow began falling in the Kashmir Valley in northern India on Monday, two months later than usual for the Himalayan region, much to the relief of tourism operators and farmers.

Gulmarg, a popular ski resort in the area, began welcoming tourists in more encouraging numbers after weeks of bookings being cancelled because of the lack of snow.

“We are having good arrivals for the last few days and bookings are getting renewed,” said Rouf Ahmad Tramboo, president of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir.

With more snow forecast, the association is now trying to make up for lost business and is expecting good numbers in February, he said.

“We have started campaigning on social media where we share videos of snowfall … we have everything at stake and we are trying our best to undo the damage.”

The snowfall ended a worrying time for Kashmir, where a dry winter could have led to economic catastrophe in the rest of the year.

Kashmir’s winter is snowless so far, as residents brave dry spell

Kashmir’s winter is snowless so far, as residents brave dry spell

Kashmir’s agriculture and horticulture, the core of its rural economy, relies heavily on the winter snow that replenishes the glacial reservoirs, which melt slowly during the summer and feed the region’s rivers, streams and irrigation networks.

Alarms were already being raised about a possible shortage of drinking water in the region during summer.

The lack of snow and rain had raised similar fears in the Kalam Valley in northern Pakistan.

“Last year, snow had fallen in Kalam in the month of November. Because of dry weather this year, we were afraid our wells might go dry," said Abdul Wadood, president of the Kalam Hotels Association.

“Also, our hotel industry suffered losses because very few tourists visited the region due to the absence of snowfall during the last two months. However, on the second day of snowfall, tourists have started visiting the valley."

Kaghan, another winter tourism destination in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, also suffered from the lack of snow.

“This is the first time [in the past] decade that the Kaghan Valley has experienced dry conditions throughout December and most of January,” said Asad Shahzad, an official of the Kaghan Development Authority.

The dry spell broke on Monday as rain lashed areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan, while several hilly areas received their first snowfall of the season.

Muhammad Aslam, chief meteorologist of Punjab province, said the snowfall system that enters Pakistan from neighbouring Afghanistan and Iran was delayed this year because of “high air pressure, as well as excessive fog and smog levels”.

The dry weather was blamed for a spate of influenza and chest infections in Pakistan. Punjab province has reported at least 240 deaths of children due to pneumonia since January 1.

“The recent rainfall will reduce pollution levels and, as a result, chest infections and pneumonia cases will also be controlled,” said Dr Sultan Aziz, a paediatrician.

For Farhat Naik, a snowboarding instructor in Gulmarg, the arrival of snow has revived his spirits as he prepares to start teaching his first batch of tourists at the weekend.

“There is enough snow now for us to start [snowboarding] courses … one interesting thing I saw is that locals were more happy than the tourists who are witnessing snow for the first time,” he said.

Mukhtar Ahmad, an official at the Srinagar Meteorological Centre in Kashmir, said Gulmarg was expected to receive 60-90 centimetres of snow this week as a result of three back-to-back western disturbances – cyclonic storms originating in the Mediterranean that bring precipitation over the Himalayas.

The snow has put Gulmarg’s providers of sleds and skiing and snowboarding equipment back in business, and even attracted a film crew from India’s north-eastern state of Assam to shoot a song-and-dance sequence on its slopes for a Bodo-language film.

The lead actor and actress appeared hesitant as the director tried to shoot a scene with them skiing. “It is their first time in snow and skiing, so both of them are scared and the director is not relenting,” the film’s choreographer, Paaki Basumataroy, said.

A little distance away, a group of tourists from Delhi were riding sleds down a slope. “It is our first time in Kashmir and we feel so lucky to witness snowfall,” said Nikhil Choudhary, one of the group. “It is so soft, like feathers. I had not imagined it to be like this.”

Updated: February 01, 2024, 12:04 PM