Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gulmarg: Mountain lover's and Skier's paradise

Having planned an end of winter trip to Kashmir, we immediately set off to Gulmarg from Srinagar airport after landing. For skiing enthusiasts and for those who are looking for a vacation in the snowy mountains, Gulmarg is the place to be.

Enroute to Gulmarg
The roadtrip from Srinagar to Gulmarg, seeing snow-capped mountains for the first time, will be etched in my mind for a long long time. The journey is via Tangmarg where you have to either take a 4 wheel drive or get chains attached to your vehicle's wheels as the roads are mostly snowed in. As the road is barely wide enough for two vehicles, it may take anything from 40 minutes to 2 hours. This however, gives you more time to take in the view of the valley spiraling down below with tree tops sprinkled with powdery snow on either sides.

They say Kashmir is ‘Paradise on earth’. I see snowfall for the first time in my life, those tiny white flaky drops of magic and I stop wondering why.  
Trees sprinkled with snow
We checked into Khyber, which lays claim to the best view in Gulmarg. With a room facing the magnificent Mount Apharwat, many hours were spent having hot chocolate and watching our very first snowfall.
View from our room
Once you get accustomed to the cold, one has to take the Gondola ride to Phase I and Phase II, to reach atop Mount Apharwat, a height of 14,500 ft. This Gondola ride is supposed to be the world's highest. As you go up in your Gondola, you can see the commercial area of Gulmarg, and watch tiny lines on snow being drawn by those skiing their way down. Our guide who had come along with us for the day pointed out tiny wooden cabins being made by the Gujjars to live in when the winter is over. Skiing, or Sikkiing as the locals very endearingly refer to it, is the most popular activity around here, with visitors from India and abroad flocking in for their dose of adventure.

View from Phase II
As soon as we reached Phase II, regular breathing became a difficult task for sea-level dwellers like us, let alone any physical exertion. Our guide pointed out to peaks far away, our first view of Pak occupied Kashmir. Having grown up hearing stories about the various wars waged with Pakistan, actually seeing the land which we lost and the military build-up everywhere (including on top of Mount Apharwat), the true intensity of it all hit home. Seeing the extreme conditions which the Indian army battle to keep the rest of the country safe, it is difficult not to feel immensely proud and respectful towards those brave set of people.

View from Phase I
Phase I is pretty abuzz with a lot of activities such as skiing, snow cycling, snow mobiles around. But the price they usually quote is quite absurd and after a lot of haggling (true to Indian spirit) you will see the price dropping to almost half. This seemed to be the case wherever we went in Kashmir.

During summer, it is said that wild flowers will be everywhere, giving it the name ‘Gulmarg’ – path of flowers. As for us, we were content with the picture snow had painted us.

General Info:

Stay: A lot of budget to luxury options are around to cater to the budget skier as well as those who want a luxury stay in the mountains

Getting around: Being a small town, major attractions are walkable if you don't mind the cold, heavy wind. Alternatively you can hire a cab at Rs 1000 for 5 attractions or snow ledges are also available which comes at 300 rupees from one point to another

Clothes: You can either bring your winter wear or rent everything from shoes, gloves to jackets at around 500 - 1000 per pair

Activities: There are a lot of activities around here, but be prepared to haggle a lot. Skiing training sessions are around 3000 rupees and if you want to ski down the Phase I that will set you back by another 3000 rupees. Snowmobiles are available for 1000 rupees, even though the ride will last only 15 minutes, the breath-taking views make it worth the while. 


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