Snowed under in Gulmarg
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It's snowing hard in the Valley. For the last few days, a thick blanket of snow has enveloped the countryside, highways and the mountains. The Central Snow Control Room, on the outskirts of Srinagar, has started issuing alerts to other control rooms, warning them of moderate to heavy snowfall, especially at Gulmarg, a popular skiing resort. With more than six feet of snow, the view from the control room is spectacular for tourists but daunting for the men deployed at the control room. Heavy sheets of snow cover the four-lane Srinagar-Gulmarg highway, halting all traffic. One of the busiest roads in the Valley, this highway takes a snow-break till late noon every day, when the snow is cleared out by the men from the control room.
At 5 am, as the snow trickles down, 41-year-old Mohammad Ismail Chechi, an Assistant Executive Engineer, leaves the control room at Tangmarg in Baramulla district to start snow-clearing operations on the 11-km hilly track leading to Gulmarg. When Rolba, the newly acquired snow cutter, roars to life, Chechi and his machine operator breathe a collective sigh of relief. At sub-zero temperatures, machines often refuse to start up. In Gulmarg, temperatures nosedive even to minus 12 degree Celsius.
The graceful alpine slopes of Gulmarg are considered among the best skiing slopes in the world. Every winter, after militancy began to recede, hundreds of skiers—professionals as well as first-timers—and other tourists throng the resort for adventures that bloom only in winters. For Chechi and his team, the task is at once simple and formidable—to make Gulmarg even more popular by making it accessible. Chechi, who is in-charge of the Tangmarg control room, says, "We can't wait for the snow to accumulate. Up to eight feet of snow can gather in a few hours. We have to keep clearing it."