The famous ski resort of Gulmarg in Kashmir, known as "Switzerland of Asia", is geared up for a heavy influx of New Year revellers with fully booked hotels amidst snow-capped mountains, white-carpet meadows and eye-catching icicles.
The tourist resort at an altitude of 8,000 feet, 50 km north of summer capital Srinagar, has virtually been sold out with most of the hotels registering cent per cent bookings till January end and the Tourism Department going an extra mile to make the beginning of the New Year a memorable one for the visitors.
Often described as the 'heartland of winter sports in India', this year again, Gulmarg will play host to a number of activities as part of the 'Snow Festival' much to the delight of holiday-makers, most of whom are already camping in one of best ski destinations of the world, braving sub-zero temperatures.
Among the main attractions this year will be snow cycling, ice skating, snow-sculptor activity, sledge-race, snow rugby, and, for the first time, torch-skiing in the night.
"On December 31, we have planned snow-rugby, snow-cycling, snow-sculptor activity and musical programme in the evening along with a cracker show and so many other activities like snow-trekking, snow-boarding and snow-marathon," director Tourism, Kashmir, Talat Parvez told PTI.
He said the highlight of the festival will be the 'Torch-Skiing' event – skiers with torches making rounds of the slopes during the night, offering a breath-taking sight to the tourists.
He said the department has made elaborate arrangements this year as well to make "the stay of tourists a memorable one."
In fact, the preparations kick-started on December 23 with an ice-skating camp in which 20 boys and 20 girls are participating.
"They are being imparted training for seven days and the final competition will be held on December 31. We have arranged a national coach from Ice-Skating Federation and a local coach as well," Parvez said.
He said the department has roped in local hoteliers for the celebrations this year to provide better services to the visitors.
"This year we have taken along the local hoteliers so that they participate in the festival and become the stakeholders in it. They will help us in the form of providing accommodation and food and beverages," he said.
Before the onset of militancy, Gulmarg, declared as the Winter Games Capital of India by Winter Games Federation, used to witness large-scale celebrations on Christmas and New Year eve, offering best slopes for amateur and professional skiers, who weave their magic on ice much to the delight of spectators.
The people associated with tourism industry, buoyed by the influx of record number of tourists this year, are expecting to reap rich dividends in the winter months too.
"We are expecting a huge rush of tourists in the coming days. In fact, we already have achieved 100 per cent bookings till January-end in most of the hotels in Gulmarg," president, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHARA), Showkat Chowdhary told PTI.
He said the hotels are offering various packages and discounts to the tourists as a "feel good factor".
"We are offering very good packages and discounts to tourists. There are many deals, complimentary things and programmes, so that tourists feel good and stay longer," Chowdhary said.
Hotels have made elaborate arrangements to ensure that the guests do not face any inconvenience, especially on account of the cold conditions during winter months, he said. However, Chowdhary asked the government to ensure round-the-clock electricity and water supply on priority.
Although the slopes in the resort are covered with snow, the white flakes from the sky in the coming days are expected to add to the celebrations.
The MET department has also predicted a complete "white-New Year" with widespread snowfall expected from December 29.