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Prayers for Snow: Kashmir Faces Unimaginable Dry Spell and Tourist Woes

A blanket of worry hangs heavier than the missing snow over Kashmir Valley. Unusually high temperatures and a prolonged dry spell have driven residents to seek divine intervention, holding special prayers for an end to the winter of woes. Hundreds gathered on Friday at the historic Jama Masjid in Srinagar, participating in "Istisqa", a prayer for rain or snow. Imams and scholars urged forgiveness, hoping to appease the heavens and bring vital winter precipitation.

The pleas are echoing across the valley. Images of a snowless Gulmarg, normally a winter wonderland, went viral, sparking concern and astonishment. Tourist bookings are plummeting, leaving businesses in distress. "Many tourists have cancelled their bookings to Sonamarg too," says Shabir Ahmad, president of the Beopar Mandal Sonamarg.

The statistics paint a grim picture. Snowfall in November and December 2023 registered a mere 23 cm, a shadow of the 134.6 cm and 50.6 cm witnessed in the same period of 2022 and 2021 respectively. Even 2016, with its scant 7.6 cm, pales in comparison to the current stark landscape. Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir's winter capital, hasn't seen a single snowflake in three months. And the sun is playing truant too, with the daytime temperature soaring far above the average 6.4°C. On Saturday, Srinagar sweltered under a record 15°C, the highest January temperature in two decades.

The consequences are cascading. Healthy snowfall nourishes Kashmir's lifeblood, its agriculture and horticulture. The snow-capped peaks of Shamsbari, Pir Panjal, and the Greater Himalayas feed the valley's rivers, vital for irrigation and sustenance. Experts point to climate change as the culprit. "The dry spell and above-normal temperatures are likely influenced by climate change," says Sonam Lotus, a glaciologist. "The warming trend could lead to more such instances in the future."

The valley's fragile ecosystem trembles under the winter sun. Reduced water reserves, wilting crops, and shrinking glaciers paint a worrying picture. The tourism industry, heavily reliant on winter sports and snow-laden beauty, stands on shaky ground. But amidst the fear, flickers of hope remain.

The Meteorological Department predicts light snowfall in the higher reaches in the coming days. And the resilience of the Kashmiri people shines through, their prayers rising with the winter mist, a testament to their faith and their undying love for their snow-kissed land. The battle for winter is far from over. But as Kashmir chants for snow, the world watches, a silent reminder of the interconnectedness of climate and our shared future.

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