Heli-skiing takes flight in Kashmir as violence wanes

Tue Mar 1, 2011 6:54am EST
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By Sheikh Mushtaq

GULMARG, India (Reuters Life!) - Helicopters aren't just carrying troops to the snow-capped mountains of Indian Kashmir any more.

They are also flying foreign skiers to ski slopes near a ceasefire line that divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.

Ski operator Gulmarg Heliski started the heli-skiing service in January hoping to attract adventure tourists to Kashmir with separatist violence down in the region once a top tourism destination popular with honeymooners, skiers and trekkers.

The region attracted about a million tourists a year until 1989, when simmering anger against New Delhi's rule burst into a violent rebellion.

But years of separatist violence across the Muslim-majority region ensured visitors stayed away even though authorities built a spectacular cable car network running through forests of towering pine trees to attract skiers to Gulmarg.

"Gulmarg is an adventure destination. There are endless possibilities for heli-ski runs in this area," said Martin Jones, a New Zealander, one of the directors of Gulmarg Heliski.

"The future for heli-ski in Kashmir is very good, and Inshallah, we will return next winter with big business."

A little over 300 people signed up during the six-week season that ended early this week.   Continued...

<p>A man skies down a slope in Gulmarg, 55km (34 miles) west of Srinagar February 3, 2009. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli</p>