Tourists in large numbers have begun to make a beeline for the snow-filled meadowlands of Jammu and Kashmir’s Bhaderwah Valley, rekindling hope among business people here that it would boost the local economy which is still dealing with the aftereffects of the Covid pandemic.
Unseasonal snowfall over the past few days has spread a wonderful cover of white carpet on the green meadows, adding to their mundane beauty and bringing to life the high-altitude Guldanda meadow (9,555 feet) and Chattergalla pass (10,400 feet), which are brimming with visitors from across the country.
Located on the Bhadarwah-Pathankot National Highway about 35 km northeast of Bhaderwah town, the twin meadows have emerged as darling of tourists in the recent times and given stakeholders such as small-time vendors, cab operators, hoteliers and guesthouse owners a reason to smile.
With a large swathe of the country reeling under gruelling heat, tourists from the plains are beaming with joy as they experience the beauty and chill of the white snow away from the peak summer temperatures back home.
“We came to pay obeisance at the Mata Vaishno Devi Katra and thereafter our plan was to go to Kashmir. But the tour operator suggested us to visit Bhaderwah as the Jammu-Srinagar Highway was closed. We decided to give it a try. And believe me the tour of this beautiful valley is worth every penny!” said Santosh Jangam, a tourist from Mumbai.
Another tourist from Mumbai, also named Santosh (45), said it was like a dream “playing with snow in mid-May when our place is under an intense heat wave”.
“The vast meadows give an impression of being covered with white carpet surrounded with snow-peaked mountains. It’s mesmerising and magical. We are fortunate and lucky to be here at Guldanda,” he said.
“We were in search of a Virgin destination for our honeymoon that ended at Bhaderwah Valley,” said Sunny Kumar, who has come from Patna.
“It’s like a dream come true that when our native place is experiencing intense heatwave, we are in woolens playing with snow. This place is vaster and far more easily accessible than the Rohtang pass as it took us just 40 minutes from our hotel at Bhaderwah town to reach Guldanda. If better facilities are provided here it can become a world class destination,” he said.
Mohd Yusaf Wani (37), a tea vendor at Guldanda, said the tourist inflow has given small businesses like his own a new lease of life as government jobs “have dried up and there are very fever business opportunities”.
“The sudden inflow of tourists has saved us from bankruptcy and since last month we are doing good business at Guldanda,” he said.
Fifty-three-year-old Shabir Ahmed, a resident of Basti village, who runs a small business of local cuisines said his family has joined him to meet the high demand.
“I have been serving local cuisine like makke di roti (corn-floor bread), salted Kashmiri tea (Sheer Chai) and white butter. The tourists are loving it. My entice family including my son and wife have joined me to meet the high demands due to the rush of visitors at our Desi Cahi tea stall which we run from a makeshift tented accommodation at Thanthera,” said Shabir Ahmed (53) of village Basti.
The last couple of months have been good for the tourism sector in Bhaderwah. The region witnessed booming tourism seasons, especially after the Doda district administration held a series of events like a snow carnival at Jaie, followed by a snow festival and J&K’s maiden snow marathon at Guldanda meadow.
“The last few months were one of the best for the tourism industry as the Bhaderwah Valley witnessed a record number of tourist arrivals during this season,” said Vishesh Paul Mahajan, the Doda Deputy Commissioner.
“Tourist arrivals have spiked after the recent snowfall,” the DC said.
“We have an average of around 9,00 tourist arrivals here daily. Most of the hotels are fully occupied or booked,” he said.