Imagine a smooth ceramic bowl of white edged with jade green. Being surrounded by snow-covered peaks as far as the eye can see – an endless realm of pure white magic. The thrill of speeding downhill, which is as close as you come to flying without wings. Getting in touch with your childhood by making a snowman or indulging in snowball fights. A trip to Gulmarg offers it all and then some.
This incredible place will give you a taste of different seasons all in a day – going from bright sunshine to pouring rain, a chill in the air and snowfall in the course of 24 hours. Words fall short to describe this huge meadow ringed by fir trees and snowy peaks, bestowed with mountain fresh air, nature trails, ski slopes, and a host of fun activities –gondola ride, sledging, golfing and snow scooters. A trip to Gulmarg will blow your mind.
We visited the place, with my tot in tow, in spring. After landing at the Srinagar airport, we headed straight to Gulmarg in a cab. The way till Tangmarg is a typical picturesque mountain road. It is the ride from here onward to Gulmarg that will truly make your jaw drop. The 13-km steep uphill drive, fraught with narrow roads and hairpin bends, gives way to some spectacular views you just can’t take your eyes off of. The generous amounts of snow lining the roadside and the surrounding hills are an added delight.
After about two hours on this winding road, we checked in to our splendid wooden cottages and were rightly welcomed with the Kashmiri Kahwa, followed by lunch. After some unwinding, it was time to put together our itinerary for the next three days. Yes, we took a three-day-and-two-night trip to Gulmarg to explore every nook and cranny of its wondrous destination.
Pride of Gulmarg – The Gondola
No trip to Gulmarg is complete without the Gondola Ride. Reckoned to be the world’s second highest cable car, the Gulmarg Gandola is a two-tier ride. The first phase of Gondola takes you to Kongdoori, situated at a height of 8,530 feet. It takes about 9 minutes to reach there. The second phase goes to Aparwat top at a height of 12,293 feet, which makes for another 12-minute ride in the cable car.
We headed straight to Phase 2, eager to look at the nearest Army outpost, which is a trek of about 500 metres. You get a clear view of LoC from this hilltop. But let me caution you, completing this 500-metre trek takes about half an hour and leaves you totally breathless and exhausted.
While travelling to Phase 2, I noticed some travellers using open chair car to access the third phase of the Gondola which connects Kongdoori to Mary Shoulder, where most of the skiing takes place. It is accessed only by professional skiers and is designed in a way that skiers can \bring their skiing gear to the top. Standing out as one of the world’s best ski slopes, Gulmarg attracts skiers from all over the world.
Pro tip: Online tickets for the Gondola ride are available. It is advisable to make prior bookings to avoid wasting time at the counter queues. Rent gumboots, eye gear and hand gloves from the market below and head straight for Phase 2 of the Gondola to avoid the rush.
Adventure On Your Mind: Go Skiing
Known for its excellent gradients, Gulmarg is the best place to Ski in India. There are three baby slopes on which beginners and intermediate skiers can try their hand at this adventure sport under the guidance of expert instructors that can be hired for a day. For professionals, the slopes of Aparwath Peaks are ideal. You can hire ski equipment from Government Ski Rental Shop right next to these slopes during your trip to Gulmarg.
Your first few attempts will be rough. I fell down many times but savoured the taste of snow each time and got back on my feet to start again. The key is to let go and relax, bend yourself forward put your weight on knees, a little weight on right and you will turn left, a slight turn and a smooth stop and it all begins. Skiing can be physically exhausting, so it is ideal to divide the experience over two days.
Gulmarg is the ideal place for novices to learn skiing and snowboarding. The place also attracts many foreigners seeking to acquire this skill, as learning to Ski in India works out easy on their pockets. You will be amazed to see people of all age groups, from 5 to 55 years old, giving their best shot on these slopes.
Pro tip: Don’t rush to be an expert in one day. Follow your guide’s instructions, and most importantly, have fun with the experience.
Fun Activities for Your Trip to Gulmarg
If adventure sports are not on your to-do list or if you want to skip the adrenaline rush, you can explore low key activities such as pony ride, snowboarding, sledging or ice skating at the rink in the middle of the Gulmarg.
Zorbing and Tobogganing are also the fun options for reviving the sluggish souls. If you prefer solitude, wear your gumboots and wander at your own pace to take in the visual delights that Gulmarg has to offer. You can also let your hair down with a crazy ride on ATVs and Snow Scooters. And of course, your wanderlust for a snow vacation cannot be complete without making snowmen and indulging in snowball fights.
Snow Festival: Rejoice for Snow and Sports
For those obsessed with the ardour for pristine white granules, the Snow Festival of is the ideal time to plan a trip to Gulmarg. This two-day snow festival organised by the tourism ministry in the month of February offers a bouquet of attractions, right from snow sporting activities to a feast on local cuisine and Kashmiri folk performances.
Pro Tip: Look up the dates before planning your trip, as these vary every year.
Pamper Yourself with Astute Luxury at Khyber Himalayan Resort
For those looking for a trip to Gulmarg that is low adrenalin rush and high on relaxation, this 85-room luxury property built in classic Kashmiri style is the place to be. Polished wooden logs, mesmerizing views of the Apharwat range and Gulmarg, the Khyber Himalayan Resort is picture-perfect postcard destination unto itself. Right from carved walnut panels on the ceilings to teak panelled floors, Kashmiri silk carpets and embroidered bedcovers, each room promises an escape into the lap of luxury.
Apart from their décor, Khyber promises to satiate your gastronomic desire of traditional Kashmiri meal served in a communal plate for four called the Trami. The food at Khyber is a winner, whether it is the local spinach curry, tangy paneer in tomato-based gravy, Kashmiri Dum biryani or Murgh Kali Mirch. It is worth tossing any diet plan right out of the window.
Pro Tip: If a stay at the Khyber does not fit your budget, make sure you at least treat yourself to a buffet (lunch and dinner) here. Prior reservations are recommended.
How can a holiday be complete without indulging into some good street shopping! That’s what wrapped up my trip to Gulmarg with a shopping spree, exploring the narrow bazaars in search of souvenirs that would remind me of the magical moments spent in this wonderland. Right from Kashmiri Phiran (traditional dress) to pashmina shawls, walnut carved furniture, silk carpets, brass and silverware and leather products, the main market located in the centre of the town offers you best of Kashmir’s indigenous crafts.
Pro Tip: Bring out your bargaining A-game for shopping during your trip to Gulmarg to land some stellar deals. Mr Khan’s shop and Alpine shawls in the street market and Top Choice at gondola market are must-visit.
At the end of my three-day trip to Gulmarg, I returned a content soul whose wanderlust for snow was soothed for a while but my inner travel bug is still rearing to go and get a glimpse of lush green meadows of Gulmarg in summer.