In the picturesque valley here in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir, the slump in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic has been a blessing in disguise as less human intervention has led to a bumper crop of ‘digitalis purpurea’, a flower species primarily native to temperate Europe. Experts have predicted a bigger crop of the wild flowers, also known as foxgloves, next year generating hope among the tourism players who were expecting a good tourist season after last year’s turnout of over four lakh visitors from April to June. The slump in tourism due to the COVID-19, however, is being used by the Bhaderwah Development Authority (BDA) to create more infrastructure to welcome the travellers next season in a better way. The ‘foxglove’ is a woodland plant with delicate and fragrant bell-shaped flowers that look like wind chimes. Primarily native to the cool temperate zones of Europe, this plant grows wildly in the woods and high altitude meadows of Bhaderwah valley and the famous hill resort of Gulmarg in north Kashmir. “Less interference of humans in the woods definitely has some positive effects and this is for sure that next year we will see more wild flowers especially digitalis purpurea which is one of the most attractive and grows in abundance in the high altitude woods of Bhadarwah,” Head of Department, Institute of Mountain Environment, Bhaderwah Campus, Neeraj Sharma told PTI.
He said as one of the most delicate but attractive plants that blooms in early summer around May to June, the flowers grow in pink and white colours without too much care. “The ‘digitalis purpurea’ is an easy-care plant. Partial shade and moist soil, these are everything the plant needs to thrive,” he said. Manoj Kotwal, a leading tourist player of Bhadarwah, said the flower bloom is soothing for the eyes but the pandemic has kept tourists away causing huge losses to the people dependent on tourism. “Digitalis used to be our trump card to attract tourists during this part of the year and all the guest houses, hotels and restaurants remained overcrowded with nature lovers who especially visit Bhaderwah to experience the rare sight of these pink and white wild flowers,” he said. “This year we started receiving bookings as early from January for this season but destiny had something else in store and now we can only wait and hope for the best in coming seasons,” Kotwal said. A large number of visitors, fleeing the peak summer back home, used to visit Bhaderwah valley — also known as ‘mini-Kashmir’ for its resemblance to the Kashmir valley that is often called ‘paradise on earth’ — during this part of the year to encounter one of the most amazing flowers.
Due to the coronavirus-driven lockdown, the destination saw no visitors this season as a result of which small time tourism players who are solely dependent on the tourist season to make a living are the worst sufferers. “There are hardly any souls making it to the Valley of flowers like Hanga, Jaie, Thanthera, Padri and Guldanda this season. This was the peak tourism season and thousands of tourists used to visit the Valley to enjoy its beauty,” pony seller Saif-din-Dhakar said. He said the tourists enjoy the view of the foxglove flowers, which last for just one month. “Hope we will soon overcome the pandemic and this Valley will again be abuzz with visitors,” Dhakar said.
Chief Executive Officer, BDA, Rajinder Khajuria said a record number of four lakh tourists visited Bhaderwah Valley from April to June last year and surely the digitalis purpurea is one of the main attractions.
“Although due to coronavirus we did not receive any visitors, we are using this opportunity to focus on infrastructure development and make ourselves more equipped to receive visitors next season,” Khajuria said.
He said the BDA is trying to use the current phase as an opportunity to rebuild the damaged infrastructure and also to explore the new nearby destinations especially those which can be developed for adventure enthusiasts. “We have already started desilting of the lake at Gatha resort. For the comfort of tourists at high altitude meadows like Padri, Guldanda and Jaie movable washrooms are being installed. We are in the process of exploring trekking routes from Padri to Bhal Padri, Hanga to Mathola, Manthla to Jaie and Chinta-Subar Dhar,” he said.