Aharbal: Niagara of Kashmir turns winter tourist destination

Who would have known ‘The Niagara of Kashmir’ would one day host the Winter Carnival in the Kulgam district of J&K? The small hill station of Aharbal, 70 km from Srinagar, has recently gained popularity amongst the tourists who are swarming to this lesser known treasure of Kashmir.

Aharbal’s attraction is its waterfall, which is formed when the Vishav River (tributary of River Jhelum) falls 25 meters on a rocky gorge of granite boulders. It is populated with pine and fir trees that accentuate the sound of waterfall making it seem right out of a fairytale. Under the Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha 75 offbeat tourist destinations are being promoted under the banner of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahostav.

Aharbal hosts the First Winter Carnival in Kashmir

The Carnival began on February 14 on the snow-covered dreamy grounds of Aharbal. It is organised by the District Administration in collaboration with Aharbal Development Authority, Tourism Department, and Forest Division Kulgam.

The main attractions of the Winter Carnival are the trekking expeditions, snow sports activities, and adventure camps. The trekking routes have been finalised by the Department and suitable arrangements have been made to make the journey smoother and safer. The UT’s best trekkers are present to lead the way on this rugged terrain that leads to spectacular lands of Chiranbal, Yadipathri, Panchanpathri, Nuspathri, and Kongwatan.

The expert trekkers claim Aharbal has far more daring slopes in comparison with Gulmarg, perhaps the best in the Valley. It has the potential to come up as an extreme sports destination. Aharbal-Kounsarnag Trek expedition is the sole major trek in the Pir-Panjal Mountain range, a sub-mountain range of the Himalayas. The trek begins at Aharbal Falls and ends at the breathtaking Kounsarnag Lake.

The games at the carnival include Snow Rugby, Snow Volleyball, Snow Runs for Peace, Snow Skiing, Tug of War, etc. The congregation overwhelmed the authorities and they had to expand their systems to incorporate the youngsters who witnessed such a Carnival for the first time in a hamlet like Aharbal. Today’s tourist is an explorer and a backpacker; they seek adventure, scenic beauty, less settlement and more authentic vibe in a destination. And that’s why Aharbal tops the charts in Kashmir because it offers that enthralling experience preserved in the originality of nature.

To make the holiday experience more wholesome, local holidaymakers and service providers are working in collaboration with hotel associations and private home-stays in such destinations to cope with the enthusiastic tourist turnout. People from all over India including Pune, Kolkata, Delhi, Ahmadabad, and Mumbai are participating in the event.

Mission Youth volunteers are mobilising such events by being ambassadors of peace, prosperity, and socio-economic growth through systematic interventions across domains. The MUMKIN scheme and Mission Youth together facilitate unemployed youth of Kulgam district to establish sustainable livelihood sources.

Kulgam as a town is fast developing to support tourism. The government has successfully built major roads under the PMJSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna) connecting Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama through National Highway 444. The estimated cost of construction of the 13.6 km bypasses in Pulwama and Kulgam stand at Rs 62.98 crore.

Aharbal will be developed at par with other popular destinations in Kashmir. Hardly 30 per cent of Kashmir has been capitalised for tourism. Kulgam’s Aharbal is a goldmine for true nature lovers; its mighty waterfall against the snow-clad mountains is a sight for sore eyes.

Film contracts are also underway given the infrastructure expansion and political stability in the UT. J&K Film Policy will allow filmmakers to exploit unexplored locations and help encourage artists given the subsidies provided by the government.

With the influx of tourists, employment is also on the rise. Every tourist employs 16 people — from travel transport, lodging and hospitality industry, to the craftsmen. If only 20 per cent of the Mata Vaishno Devi (Katra, Jammu) tourists would visit Kashmir, there would be a five-fold increase in tourism in Kashmir.

Palpable excitement is bubbling in the rural areas as well. Rural tourism will also be heavily pushed under the same agenda, in the rural circuits of Hokersar- Parihaspora-Gohan in Gulmarg, Waderbala, Nowgam Mawar-Lolab in Kupwara, Chari-Sharief-Doodhpathri-Yousmarg in Budgam, Saderkoot-Payeen-Watlab in Bandipora, and Bani-Basohli-Sarthal and Billawar Duggan in Kathua, to name a few.

The UT government is enthusiastic about its 75 new and exclusive tourist spots with infrastructure having provisions for recreational activities, eateries, and other amenities. (IANS)

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