Tue, Mar 22, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Kashmir's new ski lift gives rise to adventure

The highest gondola ski lift and a cheap fare will help Indian Kashmir rebuild its diminished tourism industry

AFP , KONGDOORI, INDIA

A cable car gondola carries visitors over snow-covered fields in Indian Kashmir.

PHOTO: AFP

Indian Kashmir, which is battling a 15-year-old insurgency by Islamic rebels, is hoping to entice skiers and adventure tourists from around the world when it opens the world's highest gondola ski lift later this month.

The ropeway stretching 2.5km will connect the bowl-shaped Kongdoori Valley with the 4,390m-high Afarwat peak.

"The ropeway is almost complete. God willing we will inaugurate it on March 30," said Farooq Ahmed, head of the Cable Car Cooperation, one of the Kashmir government's few profit-making enterprises.

Ahmed says it will be the world's highest cable car using gondolas and the only one in the world that takes skiers to a height of 4,390m. He believes it will attract skiers as well as trekkers and adventurers to the picturesque Himalayan state.

French and Indian engineers have been working in huge drifts of snow to erect towers and lay cables in the area that lies close to the Line of Control, the heavily militarized de facto border that divides Kashmir between rivals India and Pakistan. The two countries have been observing a ceasefire since Nov. 26, 2003.

Authorities are convinced skiers and tourists will be more than willing to pay the 150-rupee (NT$90) fee for a round trip on the Afarwat cable car.

"I am optimistic once the cable car is operating, not only skiers but other tourists will also come," Mohammed Dar, a state government official in charge of skiing in the area who is also region's leading ski instructor.

Dar has visited ski destinations around the world and claims slopes at Kongdoori are "beyond a skier's imagination."

And then there is the price advantage in a sport that is often considered an expensive hobby.

"Ours is the cheapest ski destination," said Dar. "For 1,000 rupees (NT$600) a skier can have equipment, a gondola ride and accommodation for a day."

Until now skiers on Afarwat, which has ski-able slopes from January until the end of April, had to be dropped by helicopter -- an expensive option.

Dar said Afarwat was likely to draw enthusiasts of other winter sports such as snow boarding.

The area last month hosted an international cross-country ski competition, which aimed at sending the message that the region could hold top ski events.

More than 700,000 tourists visited Kashmir annually before the insurgency began in 1989, causing the number to nose-dive to a trickle within a year.

Tourist arrivals have picked up amid peace moves between Pakistan and India, with more than 370,000 tourists visiting Kashmir in 2004.

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