More than 50 million people visit mountains each year around the world. Many mountain towns depend solely on tourists to earn a living. Tourists are attracted to mountains for many reasons. The climate and clean air, beautiful scenery, local traditions, peace and simple lifestyle are some of the reasons. Some people like to visit mountains just to take photos. Some tourists come to do mountaineering and paragliding. There are many winter sports like skiing, snow boarding, icefall climbing, winter walking, and ice skating that draw tourists in winters.
Much of mountain tourism depends on adventure activities. People from cities and big towns are very fond of climbing and camping. Banihal, known as the gateway to Kashmir, was made famous by the 2.5 km long Jawahar Tunnel and now the Banihal-Qazigund rail tunnel (India’s longest and the third longest in Asia). Another four-lane tunnel is under construction. The Pir-Panchal mountain range separates Kashmir valley from the Himalayas. Situated in this range is Banihal, surrounded by rocky and snow-clad mountains. The temperature in winter dips as low as minus 10 degree centigrade. In Banihal, the weather is pleasant in summer and harsh in winter. Nearly 96% of the population is rural based.
Banihal is gaining popularity as tourist hub because of rail connectivity. The vicinity of the railway station has provided opportunities of adventure, recreation and nature tourism to more people. The Pir-Panchal range also has a variety of herbs which are useful for curing many ailments.
Banihal has various adventure and leisure spots. Nilpal Lamber is situated at a distance of about 5 kms from the railway station, with a motorable road leading to it. Thandi-Chhah is about 10 km from Banihal town and is also connected by a motorable road. The picturesque meadow of Zabban is about 5 km from the national highway. Neel Top is a very scenic spot at a distance of 25 km from Ramban town via Chamalwas village, at an altitude of nearly 1900 to 2000m.
A popular peak is Hansraj peak (3998m). It is situated about 15 km from Banihal pass. Banihal is a good destination for camping as well. Camping and night halt on the top of Pir-Panchal range is enjoyable during the summer season. Some important camping spots are Thalan, Yamul top, Mal-Tragan, Vasamarg, Navan, TankaTop, Zaban, Fagoo, Chamalwas, Tunnel Top.
The potential traditional trekking routes of olden days are still used by people in summer. These go via Neel Top, Wasamarg, Navan, Tanka Top, and many other routes.
Mountains of Banihal are the gift of nature .We must raise awareness about environmental issues and make people, both locals and tourists, more aware about preservation of mountains and sustainable practices.