First ever Khelo India Winter Games begin today at Gulmarg in J&K. Photo: DD Sports
KASHMIR: One of Asia’s most famous skiing destinations Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is hosting the national winter games having more than 900 participants, officials said Saturday.
It is the first big sporting event in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 in August last year. Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju inaugurated today.
The first-ever Khelo India Winter Games begin today at Gulmarg in Jammu and Kashmir.
Rijiju said, “Come, witness and enjoy India’s first-ever Khelo India Winter Games at Gulmarg. It will not only promote sports but also generate a huge tourism industry and benefit the local economy.”
It should be noted that the athletes have arrived in Gulmarg to partake in the mass event despite the concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Organized by Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council in collaboration Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, the Games will be held in various sports disciplines.
Kiren Rijiju also participated in an interactive session with youth at the National Integration Camp hosted by Government Physical Education College Gadoora, Ganderbal on Friday.
The camp was hosted to motivate and guide the youth for their active participation in the promotion of unity, communal harmony, national integration, FIT India.
Later sports material kits under the FIT India campaign and promotion of sports culture among rural youth were distributed to over 250 youth hailing from youth clubs from Ganderbal and Srinagar district.
Officials are hopeful the event will showcase Kashmir in a big way at the national level and participants could become Kashmir’s brand ambassadors, especially Gulmarg which is known as the abode of flowers and its slopes are considered one of the world’s best ski slopes in the world which attract foreign and domestic tourists and skiers.
“Once the participants from all across the country go back, they will act as brand ambassadors for the Union Territory so arrangements will be made to make this event successful,’’ said Farooq Khan advisor to J&K government who recently chaired a high-level meeting to fine-tune preparations for the winter games.
“It’s going to be a big event in which around 800 to 900 sportsmen will be taking part in different events,’’
Director General Youth Services and Sports, Saleem-ur- Rehman said.
Besides teams from J&K and other states, private participants will be part of this national-level event, he said. “The event will showcase Kashmir’s Tourism potential, besides the talent of the participants on the snowy slopes.’’
This season Gulmarg witnessed the first snowfall as early as November 6 and the series of snow spells have attracted many foreign skiers towards the icy heights of the meadows where skiers who could be seen skiing from upper ridges towards the picturesque bowl in the valley which is now under about five feet of snow.
In snow-draped Gulmarg, the gondola, one of Asia’s largest and highest cable cars ringed by pine forests and snow-capped Himalayan mountain peaks, takes skiers and snowboarders to the height of 3900 to 4100 meters in the Apharwat mountain.
“There will be 30 events under four disciplines including snowboarding, skiing, cross country and snow show, even snow cycling and other games will be held for local students,’’ said an official of J&K Sports Council, one of the organizers of the event.
Officials said that during the event there is going to be the live display of demonstration stalls displaying local craftsmanship for handicraft, handloom and textile, besides, cultural evenings, food festivals will be the regular feature during games.
The tourism industry in Kashmir has been badly hit for the past six months after the Centre scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5 last year. Two days before the revocation of Article 370, around 20,000 to 25,000 tourists were present in Kashmir and they all were asked to leave the Valley along with Amarnath pilgrims.
From the last six months, there have been very few tourists to places like Gulmarg, Pahalgam, and Sonmarg. Despite revoking a travel advisory in the first week of October, the volume of tourists visiting Kashmir is still not so promising, according to those in the hospitality business.
“We hope this winter games which are being organized at a big level will have a positive impact on the tourism of Gulmarg, especially for the coming season,’’ said Aftab Ahmad, manager of a prominent hotel in Srinagar. “We lost the last tourism season and hope the coming season would bring tourists towards the Kashmir, especially Gulmarg.”
(with inputs from Agencies)