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Avalanche takes a big toll

Sad news from Gulmarg – there are reports of 5 to 17 Army personnel, including an officer getting killed when a snow avalanche struck Khilanmarg, at an altitude of more than 2,700 meters at 11am (0530 GMT).

A group of 350 armymen were setting up a winter warfare camp at Khilanmarg near Gulmarg, when the snow avalanche struck the region. 70 of them were rescued, while some others could be still trapped there.

The officer, who was killed, was identified as Lt. Prateek. The army personnel were from an advance camp of the Army’s prestigious High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS). Some of those seriously injured are in a critical condition in a hospital in Gulmarg.

An Indian soldier makes his way by truck towards the site of an avalanche which engulfed a military school in Kashmir, killing at least 17 people Photograph: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

Indian ski guides, who normally are hired by the burgeoning numbers of foreign skiers, worked into the evening to help with rescue efforts, according to local ski outfitter Yasin Khan. No tourists were hurt.

A combined rescue team composed of military personnel, police and tourism officials, working in fog and snowfall more than two meters deep, took several hours to recover the bodies of those killed.

Officials said there was little chance of any tourist being trapped as the avalanche was triggered at an altitude higher than the popular skiing slopes. About 400 tourists skiing in the area were safe.

Heavy snow blocked Kashmir’s main highway, the only road link to the rest of the country, for the third day Monday.

Over the weekend, skiers in Gulmarg had expressed concerns that days of intense snow were creating risky avalanche conditions.
The website warned Friday of “HIGH potential for climax avalanches,” adding: “when strong winds on Sunday and Monday create slab conditions, expect widespread natural avalanches from this weak interface throughout the alpine region.”

Authorities say an avalanche warning had been issued after several days of heavy snowfall.

It’s not clear yet what precautions, if any, the military took in the face of the warnings. The avalanche was triggered when 70 troops were taking a skiing test.

A vehicle carrying Indian Army rescue team is on its way to Gulmarg, via Tangmarg, northwest of Srinagar, 08 Feb 2010 (AP)

The Army produces skilled alpinists who occasionally trade potshots with the Pakistanis in the nearby Siachen glacier region, dubbed “the world’s highest battlefield.”

They also are sending India’s only two Olympic skiers to Vancouver.

The High Altitude Warfare School is the Indian Army’s primary institute for such training and was set up more than 60 years ago initially to teach skiing to front-line infantry troops.

In April last year, another avalanche hit an Indian army post close to the de facto border, killing seven soldiers and injuring at least eight others.

About 400 people, including 30 civilian workers, were at the training centre, but the avalanche hit only one part of the facility.

Kashmir – the powder paradise

“A couple of years ago stories about Kashmir started to spread through the ski bars of the Alps, rumours of a powder paradise, where a metre of fresh, light snow falls like clockwork every week throughout the winter. And could there be a more compelling subject for a traveller’s tale? Kashmir has been romanticised by everyone from the 16th-century Mogul emperor Jahangir (who, when asked on his deathbed if he wanted anything, whispered “Kashmir, only Kashmir”) to Salman Rushdie (who spoke of “the lush valleys, the lakes, the streams, the saffron meadows – the intense physical beauty and culture of enormous harmony”) and Led Zepellin (“Ooh my baby, let me take you there”).”

In his travel article published in The Observer, Sunday 31 January 2010, “The call of Kashmir”  Tom Robbins talks about how this troubled corner of the Himalayas has gone from war zone to ultimate ski destination. To his dismay, this year, as he chose to go all the way to India, to ski in the Himalayas, he found out that for the first time in 15 years, there’s no snow.  Well almost none.  But then as he begins to head back, it does start to snow…

He goes to Gulmarg, and can’t miss reminiscing about the “Raj” – the period of British rule in India. He’s given an interesting read on all that he is comes across. Read here his account of the journey to the new so called powder paradise

Current Gulmarg weather Ski Season 2009-2010

You can find current upto the minute Gulmarg weather conditions and temperature here.
2010-01-28 13:30:00
North Kashmir’s Gulmarg tourist resort received snowfall Thursday morning, starting early in the morning – even as the weatherman predicted rain and snow in many parts of the Kashmir Valley.
Ski blogger Sam Lozier is spending a chunk of this winter in Kashmir, India with his friend Allen Taylor. From his blog report in
Gulmarg has finally got some good weather in the forecast. After an unbelievably dry early season (only two storms so far) it looks like the jet stream is shifting south over the Arabian Sea, where it will pick up a lot more moisture than it does when it swings in over Asia. With combined force of the jet stream, the karmic assistance of our Kiwi friend James, who is leaving just before the storm, and the help of Allah (all the locals insist we trust in Him to bring the weather), we should end up with a bit of snow here in town.
More can be read on the blog posted by Eric Wilbur, Staff January 27, 2010 01:39 PM

Current Weather