Heli-skiing takes flight in Kashmir as violence wanes
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...