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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gulmarg (Kashmir)

Literally the term Gulmarg refers to a place with abundance of flowers. Situated at a distance of 56 kilometres South West of Srinagar, Gulmarg attracts the largest number of tourists among all hill resorts in Kashmir. It has one of the longest and highest (12000 feet) ski slopes in Asia. This apart, the World’s highest (8700 feet) Golf Course is also located here.  Many of the foreigners who come here are  skiing enthusiasts, though there were very few of them when we visited. We were told that they arrive in large numbers during winter when the competitions are organized. Gulmarg was known as Gourimarg centuries back but in the 16th century Sultan Yusuf Chak excitedly called it as Gulmarg and the name lives on. This place was a favourite with the Emperor Jehangir of the Mughal Dynasty. He used to come here frequently and seems to have attempted to make out an inventory of various species of flowers growing here.

We were camping at Srinagar. By the time we were ready to proceed to Gulmarg it was nearly 10.00 AM. The hangover of our visit to Sonmarg a day earlier made us to sleep a little longer. The extra sleep energised us and we were geared to enjoy Gulmarg to the fullest extent.  We commenced our journey without wasting further time. Our driver had foretold the desirability of reaching Gulmarg as early as possible.  He was also in touch with the Guide who was waiting for our arrival. The road was quite wide and straight except a diversion. Soon we were at a township known as Tangmarg and it took only 40 minutes to cover the distance of 40 kilometres. From here we had to climb a mountain on a narrow winding road. But before that we were required to equip ourselves with heavy winter clothing,  e.g. gum boots, hand gloves, fur caps etc. We also procured long rain coats as well, keeping in mind the previous day’s experience at Sonmarg. All these gears were available on hire at that point. As said earlier, the road up the hill was narrow. We were told that during winter tourists can come up to this point only and thereafter they need to board special vehicles which are equipped with chains on their wheels. This facilitates navigation through the snow covered path.

We continued our journey on the mountain road with Pine trees all around. This stretch needs about 30 minutes drive to cover around 15/16 kilometres. Finally we arrive at a point with a gate to the left and disembark from our vehicles as tourist vehicles are not allowed to enter. Nevertheless  there was a road leading inside with meadows to the right as far as the eyes could see. To reach the snow covered mountain ranges, we had three options. We could go on horse back up to the foot of the snow clad mountains or reach the base station for the Gondola (Ropeway) service.  Horses/Ponies were available to our right but we decided to walk the distance and followed many others who were on their foot. Although we could have covered some 2 kilometres, it was a pleasant walk passing through the beautiful tourist villas/cottages to our left. Very soon we were at the Gondola Station which had a very long queue in front of the ticket counter. Fortunately our Guide was with us who volunteered to fetch our tickets for the Gondola ride. We escaped from locating the tail end of the queue and standing there for our turn. Perhaps the guide had only such jobs to perform and was fully experienced. Incidentally Kashmir is also plagued  with corruption at every level.

The cost of the ticket was Rs.300.00 per person including children above 3 years and that too up to the 1st stage at Khilanmarg (Kungdoori). On getting the tickets we proceeded to board the Gondolas. After a little wait we moved in. The Gondola has a seating capacity for 6 and is fully covered. One can, however, get the beautiful views through the transparent panels (wind screen). Use of cameras got restricted as the wind screen was not clear enough to obtain sharper images. During our upward journey we came across small huts with flat roofs beneath. Some kind of vegetation was visible over the roof tops, a rustic kind of roof garden for growing seasonal vegetables. It did not take much time to reach the first stop at Khilanmarg where we were required to get down. Once again we needed to buy tickets for our onward journey to the 2nd and final  stage at Apharwat costing Rs.500.00 per head. Now we were very close to the snow covered hill slopes of another mountain. The ticket counter here was also over crowded but we were not much concerned as we had with us an experienced guide!.

We observed that the the issuance of tickets was being interrupted followed by announcements about the bad weather conditions uphill. It was resumed within 20 minutes or so and then again a similar announcement followed. We, leaving our guide back, engaged ourselves in exploring the area. We learnt that another rope way from here, a Chair Lift,  which was not operational at that time, goes up to the snow covered mountain slopes ahead where skiing competitions are held during winter. Snow Rugby matches are also organised occasionally. The skiing slopes known as Marry Shoulder is supposed to be one of the best in the world. They charge Rs.200.00 per head but children below the age of 10 are not permitted to board the Chair Lifts which have a capacity for four. 

After about an hour and half, we had our tickets and could board another Gondola to take us to Apharwat. The onward journey commenced. After some time we found ourselves amidst clouds and it started raining. The gondola stopped in the mid air and after remaining suspended for some time we were on the go. Finally we entered the Gondola station where we readied ourselves to get down but the doors refused to open. Lo! we were returning. We could perceive that the weather conditions were not conducive thereat. Finally, after being airborne for over 40 minutes, we were back at Khilanmarg. Another ride on the Gondola brought us to the base from where we walked back to the main road. We reached our vehicles and headed to Srinagar.

Though we regretted for not having been able to disembark at the top of the mountain, at least I was a bit relaxed for I could have had problems in breathing at that height of over 13500 feet. Nevertheless all of us were happy for at least having had an opportunity of riding the most elevated ropeway in the world. Gulmarg is an all-weather resort with refreshing summer meadows and pastoral scenes. Its legendary beauty, adventure opportunities, prime location and proximity to Srinagar naturally makes it one of the premier hill resorts in the country. The beauty all around is heavenly.

Note: Online booking facility (E-Tickets) for Gondola tickets for both the stages is available at: