Gulmarg: The Kashmir Valley welcomed a record 7.25 lakh tourists this year despite the four-month unrest that paralysed the region in summer. And the popular winter sports destination of Gulmarg, now covered with a pristine white blanket of snow, saw around 500 visitors arriving on New Year`s Eve Friday.
"We had around 700,000 domestic tourists this year in addition to 25,000 foreigners. This is a record that beats even the number of tourists we had before the beginning of the violence," an official of the tourism department said here.
In 2008, the Valley hosted 5.72 lakh tourists, including 5.50 lakh domestic tourists and 22,000 foreigners.
"In 2009, we had 5.77 lakh domestic tourists and 23,000 foreigners. The number of tourist arrivals this year has crossed all previous records with 7.25 lakh tourists," the official said.
He pointed out that the figure does not include the thousands of pilgrims who arrive here each year for the annual Amarnath Yatra.
"We had been expecting over one million tourists this year and had the unrest not occurred, we would have hosted such a number," the tourism official said.
And the year ends on a more than positive note for the tourism industry with around 500 sports enthusiasts and snow lovers arriving in this picture-postcard destination, home to the highest ski point and now covered with a fresh blanket of snow.
"Gulmarg has recently been categorized as the seventh most sought after winter sports destination in Asia by CNN-International," said Farooq Shah, director of tourism.
"We have the world`s highest ski point at Afarwat heights, which is 13,500 feet above sea level. Besides, Gulmarg also has the world`s highest Gondola facility that carries skiers to Afarwat, covering a distance of five kilometres," he said here.
Besides skiing, other popular winter sports like ice hockey, skating and snow boarding are also held at Gulmarg, which attracts sports lovers from different parts of the country and the world.
"Our main worry so far had been the lack of adequate snowfall to cover the slopes. By the grace of god, Gulmarg had nice snowfall yesterday (Thursday)," the director said.