AP Photos: Snow fills Kashmir resort with tourists again

GULMARG, India (AP) - The snow is knee-deep in the shepherd's town of Gulmarg, or "meadow of flowers" on the Indian-controlled high plateau of Kashmir.
With its white ceiling, the idyllic mountain station sees tourists again filling their hotels and skiing, sledding and hiking in the Himalayan landscape.
The heavy influx of tourists is a dramatic change for the tourism industry in controversial Kashmir, which was hit by the double blow of the coronavirus pandemic and harsh restrictions on India's civil rights in the region in August 2019.
Gulmarg was developed by the British as a resort town nearly a century ago, and the region's eternal appeal to foreign visitors has made it a year-round travel destination. In summer, tourists meander through meadows, gorges and evergreen wooded valleys. In winter they snowboard and hike in Asia's largest ski area.
The end of Kashmir's semi-autonomous status in 2019 and an unprecedented security measure turned Gulmarg into a ghost town, an example of the region's economic ruin. The Kashmiri Chamber of Commerce and Industry put the region's economic losses at $ 5.3 billion and roughly half a million job losses by August last year.
But it was to get worse. Last March, Indian authorities enforced a tough lockdown to fight the coronavirus without stopping overseas travel.
However, the pandemic caused Indians to rethink their own vacations. After the mountain station was covered in snow last month, they decided to travel to Gulmarg if they would have otherwise gone abroad. And for the first time in 15 months, the hotels are sold out by the end of February.
“Nobody is worried about the virus. Everyone feels free, ”said Meenu Nanda, 38, an Indian tourist.
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