Our contributors Deepika and Dev Verma have a tremendous love and deep affinity for the Himalayas. Here, at Ecophiles, Deepika Verma offers a definitive guide to Gulmarg, accompanied by her husband Dev Verma’s stunning photographs.
Gulmarg in the Winter
Gulmarg had topped our wishlist of places to visit in the winter. And why not, it’s during winter that Gulmarg comes into its own, in all its glory. Snowy peaks, picturesque landscapes, icicles dangling from roofs, snow-draped cars, a skiing paradise – that’s the Gulmarg that greeted us. Having visited Gulmarg during summers, the place transforms into a snow haven this time of the year.
Journey from Srinagar to Gulmarg
Gulmarg (meaning Meadow of Flowers), lies in a cup-shaped valley in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, at an altitude of 8,957 ft, 56 km from Srinagar. It is a hill station in Baramula district in Jammu and Kashmir. The town is within miles of the Line of Control between India and Pakistan.
In the 19th century, Gulmarg was a retreat for the British civil servants to escape the summers in North Indian plains. The drive from Srinagar to Gulmarg is through snow-covered paddy fields of Tanmarg and moving uphill, we pass through forests of pine and fir, more than partially covered in snow. Snow-laden roads, thick layer of fresh snow settled on the roofs of houses, trees on either side of the roads with blobs of snow sitting pretty on its branches are common sights this time of the year.
The Gulmarg Gondola
Gulmarg boasts of Asia’s highest and longest cable car project, the Gulmarg Gondola. There are two-stage ropeways – the first stage transfers from the Gulmarg resort at 8,530 ft to the bowl-shaped Kongdoori valley.
The second stage of the ropeway, highly dependent on weather conditions, takes skiers to a height of 12,293 ft on Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Apharwat Peak at 13,780 ft. One can enjoy the magnificence of the valley, suspended in air. At Phase II, despite strong winds and knee-deep snow, local guides assist adventure seeking tourists to trek higher up, from where the LOC (Line of Control) can be sighted. One is almost at mountain level here, facing the magnificent snowy peaks.
The winter sports capital of India
Gulmarg is the “heartland of winter sports in India”. Thrilling winter sports like skiing, tobogganing, sledge-riding and heli-skiing can be experienced along its gentle slopes. Due to its diverse and steep terrain, it is a skiing haven and attracts advanced and extreme skiers from all over the world. Some slopes are serviced by ski lifts, enabling amateur skiiers to access the slopes. Gliding through the powdery snow is a must do here. Tourists can undertake thrilling skiing sessions from local ski instructors. Snow biking here is equally tricky, till you figure out how to navigate through the snow.
Golf course highs
Gulmarg Golf Course, one of the highest golf courses in the world, situated at an altitude of 2730 meters above sea level, is a breath-taking hub for golfers and is also counted amongst the largest 18-hole golf courses in the country. During winters, this golf course is enveloped in pristine white snow, and skiing sessions are conducted here for tourists who prefer not to venture to the higher slopes in the valley.
Hotel with a view
The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa in Gulmarg, true to Kashmiri architecture, is built from locally sourced pine and slate. Wooden flooring, large bay windows, Kashmiri rugs and piping hot Kahwa (local Kashmiri tea) on arrival, provides some warmth from the freezing cold outside. The exceptional beauty of Gulmarg is visible from every little window. The balcony view, snow-covered roofs in a line, some with icicles hanging was enthralling.
One of the mornings we woke up to a complete whiteout, misty day. Seeing the balcony chairs, table and the banister entirely covered with flakes of snow, left us spellbound. Soft flakes turned to drops as it touched our skin. Fresh snow was making its way into the entire valley. What a sight! The snowfall had lasted all night long.
The Baba Reshi Shrine
The Baba Reshi Shrine is another popular tourist attraction. Saint Baba Reshi was a Muslim scholar, who served as a major courtier during the administration of King Zain-ul-Abidin, King of Kashmir, in the 15th century. On the way to and from the shrine, it’s hard to miss the skiers on the slopes creating a zig-zag pattern alongside the roads, after which they would wait in groups for designated vehicles to take them back to the starting point.
Gulmarg has something new to offer every season. During spring, the valley comes alive with myriad colourful flowers and during winters the diverse and extreme terrain combines with torrential snowfall to create a snow destination that is among the best in the world.
Getting there: The nearest airport to Gulmarg is in Srinagar (56 km). Jeep and taxi cabs are available from the airport to Gulmarg. We recommend the eco-friendly option – shared taxis are available too.
About the Authors: Dev and Deepika are keen travellers, constantly on the lookout to discover and share their experiences about lesser known places. To be a part of their journey, log on to their blog deepikandevtravelouge.