Sonamarg hopes Himalayan tunnels will boost tourism

J&K's Sonamarg pins hopes on Himalayan 'all-weather' tunnels for tourism boost

In anticipation of all-weather access to Sonamarg, a number of hotels and resorts have come up in the region over the past few years

The 14.15 km long Zoji La tunnel under construction about 15 kilometres away from here at Baltal would provide all-weather connectivity from Sonamarg to Drass in Ladakh. Credit: PTI Photo

Ashiq Shaikh, a local resident hopes he will not have to travel to Gagangir, about 15 kilometres from here, when heavy snowfall cuts off access to this tourist town.

The excavation work on the 6.5 kilometre ‘Z-Morh’ tunnel near here has been completed and it could be thrown open for selective use during winter months this year allowing access to Sonamarg Valley.

“If tourists are allowed to visit this winter, we may not have to migrate to Gagangir,” said Shaikh, who works in one of the fast mushrooming hotels here.

National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) Executive Director G S Kambo said the 'Z-Morh' tunnel will be opened "selectively" this winter. NHIDCL is developing highways in the Himalayan region.

Also Read | Centre eyes to win Kashmiri hearts through tourist infrastructure push

Amit Kumar, a bell boy in a hotel, travels all the way from Jharkhand every April since 2010, to earn his livelihood. He is wary of the extreme cold conditions but won’t mind staying back to earn the extra buck if tourists visit this picturesque destination to enjoy the snow.

“I hope the tunnel opens soon and we can have more tourists here,” Kumar said when asked about all weather connectivity to Sonamarg.

Fayed Khan, a senior police officer in Ganderbal district, said the avalanche-prone Hung Park area between Gagangir and Sonamarg is buried under six meters of snow during winters.

“All residents of Sonamarg migrate to Gagangir and adjoining villages as there is no connectivity during winter months,” Khan told DH.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said the government was building 20 tunnels in Jammu and Kashmir, and 11 tunnels in Ladakh to provide all-weather access to regions that remain cut off from the rest of the country during harsh winters.

The 14.15 km long Zoji La tunnel under construction about 15 kilometres away from here at Baltal would provide all-weather connectivity from Sonamarg to Drass in Ladakh.

However, hotelier Nazir Ahmed is skeptical of the “high talk” of development of the region by the government.

“We have Pakistan on one side and China on the other. Kashmir is a tinderbox and the region could be up in flames at the slightest provocation,” Ahmed said.

In anticipation of all-weather access to Sonamarg, a number of hotels and resorts have come up in the region over the past few years. The government also plans to promote the region as a business convention destination on the lines of Davos in Switzerland.

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