It’s known as the poor man’s Gulmarg. Until recently, it was frequented by lower middle class families which wanted a snowy holiday on a shoe-string budget. What sets Jammu’s Patnitop apart from luxury destinations such as Gulmarg is not the quantum of snowfall but the low-budget hotel and food options that make travelling there affordable, though not always comfortable.

But all that’s about to change with a plush new ropeway that promises to connect tourists and locals from the lower terminal of the project at Sanget (3 km from the Chenani-Nashri tunnel) across the gorgeous snow-covered deodar trees to the upper terminal at Patnitop, now under snow four-feet deep.

A two-hour 2,024-metre (6,640-feet) climb from Jammu airport, the hilltop tourist destination in Udhampur district has a new attraction — a world-class ropeway inaugurated in October that connects Sanget to Patnitop. Skyview Patnitop is the largest Indo-French collaboration in mountain infrastructure development and India’s highest ropeway with over 65- metre ground clearance and the longest span of 849 metres between eight towers.

Additionally, the ropeway also features 2.8 km of inclined destination covered by the cable car from the upper terminal to the lower terminal. The ropeway, which can transport 6,400 people in eight operating hours, at peak capacity, is built on a PPP model by Empyrean Skyview Projects Pvt Ltd (ESPPL), a subsidiary of Delhi and Srinagar-based FIL industries along with french cable car manufacturer POMA and the Union Territory of J&K.

There is also another reason for adventure enthusiasts to visit. In collaboration with Flying Fox, Skyview Patnitop features Asia’s longest zig-zag zipline measuring 580 metres. It starts at an altitude of 1,371 metres and ends at 1,344 metres above sea level through 9 wires & 10 poles, promising a rush of adrenaline.

“Over the past few decades. Patnitop has had its share of tourism but it hasn’t had the infrastructure development that it should have had. It was the right opportunity to put our first ropeway and adventure tourism project at Patnitop which required a boost to attract people,” says Syed Owais Altaf, Head strategic alliances, ESPPL. The ropeway, he hopes, will help the hoteliers in Patnitop receive a higher footfall of tourists who have every reason to go up to explore tourist attractions such as Sanasar lake, snow-laden Nathatop and temples such as the 600 year-old Naag Mandir.

A ropeway project can be set up in about 24 months and for cities where metros is unviable, ropeways can be an alternative option for main transit system. “It has amongst the lowest carbon emissions among all urban transit options, also most of the modern ropeway systems today are environmental friendly as there is no need to cut forests falling under the corridor,” noted the NITI Aayog in March, while placing a draft Model Concession Agreement for PPP frameworks for implementing ropeway projects in India, giving the industry a boost.

Perfect transport solution

Altaf believes that while India wrestles with a large population, diverse geographies and the need to cut down its carbon footprint, ropeways can offer the perfect modern urban transport solution.

“In examples across the US, France, China, Vietnam, ropeways have been extensively used as smart urban transport solutions that don’t disrupt the ecology,” Altaf says, pointing to examples such as the Vanoise express (also built by POMA), a double decker cable car that links France’s La Plagne with Les Arcs ski resorts in the Alps, that transports 200 people per cabin across a breathtaking view. Skyview’s second project is the Dehradun-Mussoorie ropeway which was awarded to them in May 2019. They hope to deliver it by July 2023.

“We want to be the preferred developer for ropeway projects across the country. We have partnered with POMA which is the top two companies globally to manufacture and construct ropeway systems. They are our partners in India for any projects they or we will do,” Altaf says. Skyview is also in talks with Maharashtra government and is bidding for a potential ropeway project in Mumbai that will connect Mumbai city to Elephanta caves.

But Jammu has a more pressing concern. Post the imposition of section 377 and the mobile internet clampdown, tourism has taken a notable hit. “The clampdown and change in geopolitical situation has impacted everybody, from small shopkeepers to big businesses in J&K,” Altaf says.

The Union territory is desperate for normalcy to be restored. And whether tourism can help restore normalcy is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. “We’d like to welcome tourists back and tell them that its safe to travel here. There are no restrictions in place for travelling. We are hopeful that mobile internet connectivity will be restored in the next few months. Everybody wants to welcome tourists back. We are open for business,” Altaf says.

The writer was at Jammu on the invitation of Skyview Patnitop