Fifteen-year-old Rounaq Bazaz had been waiting for a year to visit Gulmarg, a renowned hill station in Indian administered Kashmir, after she saw a few images of an igloo cafe that went viral on social media last year.
The dream of experiencing life inside an ice-structure for this local girl came true when she and her parents visited the area known for hosting winter sports in India.
“I had planned to visit Gulmarg last year after the images of an igloo went viral on social media but unfortunately I then could not make it here as a result I remained vigilant this year the moment winter arrived so as to experience life inside it,” Bazaz told Al Arabiya English. “I liked the way igloo cafe has been constructed,” she said, adding that she couldn’t express her happiness in words.
The giant structure with a diameter of 44.5 feet and a height of 37.5 feet has been named Snowglu.
The cafe is divided into two sections. An entrance welcomes the visitors with a big decoration-piece made of snow and icicles, while a galley has ten ice tables and twenty seats, covered with sheep-hides, where visitors sit and order their favorite food.
Miftah Majid, co-owner of the cafe, told Al Arabiya English that the concept of setting up an igloo in Kashmir was borrowed from Singapore. He said that he and two of his cousins had visited the state a couple of years ago and were fascinated by the idea the moment they saw an igloo cafe for the first time.
“That very day one of my cousins named Syed Wasim Shah revealed the plan of setting up an igloo cafe in Gulmarg as the area receives an adequate snowfall,” Majid said. “In 2021 we successfully constructed a smaller igloo but this year Wasim had a bigger plan. As a result we came up with a big one that can accommodate 40 people at once,” he added.
Establishing an igloo in a scenic territory lying in the foothills of Himalayas, Majid revealed, is an attempt to attract more tourists to “cherish a different experience” in a region that has witnessed bloodshed due to the conflict.
“Our main purpose of constructing the igloo is to inspire more and more people to visit Kashmir valley in order to boost the tourism sector,” Majid said. “Kashmir has a huge potential to become the tourist hub in Asia,” he said, adding one needs attempts like the one he and his cousins have put to inspire global masses to visit their “homeland.”
Ali Mohammad Najar, a craftsman or artisan, told Al Arabiya English that 25 men took 64 days to construct Snowglu. He said that the cafe was erected by piling up multiple ice-cubes made from a mixture of compressed snow and water.
“Artisans faced a number of difficulties while constructing the structure,” Najar, the chief artisan of Snowglu said, adding that had there been an adequate snowfall at an appropriate time then the work would have been completed in a month.
Half a dozen artisans, Najar said, are taking care of the igloo after it was opened to the public. “This cafe needs regular maintenance and we are into it,” he said. “The work is still going on and at present we are creating proper ventilation so that there is no suffocation,” Najar added.
The co-owner of the cafe, the engineer Syed Wasim Shah, played a vital role in the construction of the igloo by providing the necessary drawings. “He played a key role in the construction of this cafe and I believe that without him it would have been impossible,” Najar said, adding everyone from the owners to artisans put their blood and sweat to make it a safe haven for public movement.
Jyotirmoy Das, a tourist from the Indian state of West Bengal, said that the cafe with its unique concept is a delight for Indians within the country. “The place is no less than a heaven,” he said. “We need not to go to foreign countries such as Finland to see igloo cafes. I’m grateful to the owners who came up with the idea,” Das concluded.
Hamid Masoodi, managing director of the cafe, told Al Arabiya English that there is a difference between the igloo cafes found in Singapore and in Kashmir.
“Snowglu is different from the one found in Singapore because we have merged their concept with Kashmir architecture,” he said. “Apart from the different entrance we have done crafting on walls to enhance its beauty,” Masoodi said, adding that rupees 14 lakh [$18,700] were spent on its construction.
The igloo cafe, according to its caretakers, will remain open to visitors until March 15 and will then close due to safety concerns. “No one will be allowed to enter inside it after 15 March because the structure would be considered as unsafe,” said Masoodi.
Masoodi claimed that Kolohai Green hoteliers have broken the world record of building the world’s largest igloo café held by Singapore since 2016. “We have applied for Guinness World Record and the team will be here in a week,” he said, adding that, “the day our claim is verified Gulmarg will appear on the world map.”