Srinagar: The shift of Ponnywallas to ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) at world famous tourist destination Gulmarg is posing a threat to the bowl-shaped area which receives a huge rush of tourists from different parts of world every year.
“The conversion which started here from 2011 was not only from Ponnywallas to ATVs but also from Sledges to Snow Mobiles, which has changed the scenario of Gulmarg,” says Ghulam Rasool, a Ponnywalla.
“The conversion has boosted the earnings of the people who solely depend on tourism in Gulmarg,” says Ghulam Rasool, who has been serving tourists from the last seven decades.
“Government is spoiling the green bowl by allowing such things here,” says Shabir Ahmad, a Sledgewalla.
It seems that the tourists visiting Gulmarg now enjoy ATV rides rather than the famous horse rides.
Local tourists visiting Gulmarg hail the move. “Snow Mobiles and ATVs are more comfortable and enjoyable as compared to Ponny and Sledges,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, a local visitor.
Shakeel Ahmad Lone, President of Snow Mobile Association says that the conversion of Sledges to Snow Bikes is good as most of the tourists are enjoying it. It is easy to handle and work with it.
However, people associated with ATV and Snow Mobile complain that both the vehicles produce a lot of emission and noise which is harmful for human health and environment.
President of Snow Mobile Association himself says, “It is harmful for the beauty of Gulmarg because the number of vehicles is increasing at an alarming rate.”
Shakeel says, “There is no fixed rate. Snow Mobile owners are taking Rs. 1000 to 1400 per 1.2 KM.”
“Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) didn’t help us in any way. They only told us to alter the business. ATV vehicles have been subsidized not Snow Bikes and subsidy has been given only to those who fall under Below Poverty Line (BPL),” adds Shakeel.
Members of Mobile Association said, “We don’t need help. We only want registration of Snow Bikes because day by day, the number of bikes is increasing which creates problems here.”
They said that presently there were 47 Snow Bikes and 25 ATVs operating at the tourist destination. “Tourism Department should monitor the operations of Snow Bikes and ATVs closely,” they demanded.
Riyaz Ahmad Chachi, President of ATV Association says, “The ATV which costs Rs. 9 lakh and government provides us Rs. 4 lakh as subsidy, which has been given till now only to four ATV owners and 21 have been approved for subsidy.”
“A lot of land is under Army control and lot of construction work is also going on unabated. Garbage is everywhere and thrown openly in forests,” says, Riyaz Ahmad.
These vehicles run on Petrol and produce smoke which poses serious threat to the ecology of the destination. From last few years, Gulmarg is receiving less snowfall as compared to the previous years.
Assistant Director, Tourism, Dr. Alias Nasir, says, “It was need of the hour to protect Gulmarg from the dung produced by Ponnywallas. There were 1717 Ponnywallas and 1200 Sledgewalas. We convinced them a number of times to convert their business by purchasing ATVs and Snow Mobiles, benefitting from the subsidy given by the department.”
“After the department convinced the Ponnywallas, Tourism Department faced stiff resistance from them. ATVs are mostly preferred by tourists to reach mountains while as Sledges and Snow Mobiles / Scooters are not used when there is no snow,” he adds.
Dr. Alias says, there are only two government owned snow bikes which are used during rescue or any emergency-like situations. “Rest of all Snow Bikes and ATVs are private which are regulated by Department of Tourism and Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) by registering them and also fixing the operating rates,” he added.
“A Five-Member Committee has been established in 2012 at five different tourist spots of Kashmir. The committee is headed by Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who decides the rates for rides and also revises and displays the notices on seasonal basis,” says, Alias.
The rate for ATVs has been fixed at Rs. 400 per hour and Rs. 300 per hour for Ponny and Sledge riding respectively. For Snow Bike, the rate is Rs. 700 – 800 per kilometer.
Director, Tourism Department, Mahmood A. Shah recently said that he will introduce Battery Operated Vehicles (BOVs) in Gulmarg but nothing has been done on ground.
The BOVs use chemical energy and work on battery packs and thus, have no internal combustion engine, fuel cell or any fuel tank.