Lush green fields buzzing in the afternoon sun with people and ponies alike, on the backdrop of an animated panorama of the Himalayas, is what greeted me when I made my way through the deodar-rich forest into this skier’s paradise. Gulmarg is a hill-station about 50 kilometers East of Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The only way to reach the town is by road with local taxis and buses available almost every day.
Kashmir has often been given the term ‘Paradise on Earth’. It has been even stated that Jahangir loved Kashmir so much that he visited this heaven thirteen times in his whole lifetime! But what I gathered from a first look was that this swarg had been commercialised way beyond imagination after Jahangir last saw it. The road which led to the rolling hills of Gulmarg was etched with shops boasting of all kinds of imported wares and modern entities. Halfway through the journey and it felt as though I had never stepped out of Srinagar, with her paddy fields and red-roofed houses following me all along. But just as I thought that the whole Kashmir was one enormous city, the surroundings changed so suddenly and dramatically that it took me a while to register the change. Everything seemed to have happened at once; the flat road gave way to hair-pin bends; the plains turned into beautifully symmetrical hills flooding with deodar, and the majestic mountains of Gulmarg became so vivid that it felt as though the Himalayas had taken off their Invisibility Cloak. Round and round the road winded into a lovely forest of deodar and pine trees, and within a few minutes the white-mountains stood straight ahead of where the rolling hills died out, kissing their almighty feet. It was truly a sight which produced much ‘Oohs’ and Ahhs’.
After checking into the hotel, the first thing that I did was to go for a walk in this dreamy environment. But as soon as I stepped out, a hoard of pony walas surrounded me and started pestering me to take an overpriced pony ride into the market. A word of advice, don’t fall for the sweet talk that they try to lure you with. There is this union in Gulmarg that does not allow your taxi to transport you within the city; it’s either the pony or your feet that will save you in this city and I highly vouch for the feet. The distances are so small that a walk to the local market will be rather energising than draining. A walk to the market will also cover the local points of interest, like the St Mary’s Church and Ziarat of Baba Reshi, though be careful of waste produced by all those ponies and mules.
Well, the walk was the best part of the day, except the fact that Gulmarg has been exploited way more than it can sustain. Pollution ruins the magic of the whole city, like blots of ink on a Picasso. The business minded people lure the tourists into buying overpriced and fake products while the pony-wallas poke around all the time. Well, Gulmarg is a really gorgeous place sans the evident damage that has been caused to it.
The next day, I went for the most famous Gondola ride; and boy it was one hell of an experience. The morning was calm and sunny as ever before, but as I started to make my way towards the base station, it started to rain. Pour rather! It was the most ominous rain that I had ever witnessed; thunder and lightning struck as if Thor had just visited earth. Sheltering myself with my gloves, I managed it to the queue for the Gondola.
Now, the Gondola consists of two phases. The first one takes you to Kungdoor, and costs Rs 600. And the Phase 2 ride takes you to the Aparwath (13,500 ft) and costs Rs 800. Kungdoor, or Phase 1, is similar to the base level; lush green fields with deodar tress abruptly rising to increase the beauty tenfold. Perfect place for a trek into the wood. And to my surprise, the place was absolutely clean! But still, that isn’t what most people come for. The destination laid another gondola ride away.
After what felt like a lifetime of standing in the queue, I finally stepped into the world’s highest cable car. Oh the view was breathtaking! Deep green trees slowly being consumed by pure white snow; enveloped by the vastness of the white. And then there was the mist, which seemed to have given away the fact that it was actually snowing here! With every tower that the Gondola passed, the view became purer and purer still. It was about time when the cable car came to a halt, and I stepped out into a view that was unmistakably crowded. There were people and snow everywhere. As far as the eyes could see, dirty and slippery ice with fresh snow falling from the white above. After a satisfying glance, I ascended the mountain, covered in what felt like pearls which were spread all over my extremely overprotected winter clothing. After a small climb, I took a ski ride to a point from which you could see the country of Pakistan. From there I ascended the mountain again to a place where the snow was comparatively less dirty and less crowded. Honestly, it was here that the mountain was the harshest; my feet went numb, too frozen to feel, and the hands were barely kept alive by those clumsy over-sized gloves. But the face was the worst affected of all; chilly winds lashed the cheeks with much force that it felt prickly all over. Oh but it was beautiful. Plain lovely! The sight was well worth the cold and the experience worth spending the rest few hours trying to get your feet back from death. Snowball fights, endless array of photographs and a ski-race is how the Gondola trip ended for me. Well worth everything in the world.
As the cable car took me back to the base, the snowfall turned into a hailstorm. I took off my boots as I ran towards my car in the storm, only to reach all soaked up and white. Well, I left the city with enough rain and lightning to leave an impression, warm and peaceful enough, to last for a lifetime…
Things To Keep in Mind If You’re Travelling To Gulmarg
- The Gondola is closed on 1st and 3rd Monday of the month for maintenance issues. And whenever the weather is stormy at Phase 2. If you’ve already booked your tickets, they’ll be refunded. Tickets can be booked here.
- Don’t go for a pony ride. It’s a complete waste of time and money. If you want to have the experience for once, then go for a ride in Pahalgam but not here.
- Bargain hard. Most of the stuff sold here is either fake or extremely overpriced, owing to the high influx of tourists. So it’s better to refrain from buying any type of clothing from here.
- If you’re going to Phase 2 Gondola, then definitely remember to carry your own warm clothes, jackets, woolen caps and mufflers. Though there are shops which give such clothes and boots for hire, but they are generally overpriced. I struck a deal of Rs 200 for an overcoat and a pair of boots.
- The best time to visit is the winter season when the whole town is covered in snow and it sports the ideal condition for skiing and ice hockey.
- Please don’t pollute the area and do your bit by being responsible for your own waste.
- Don’t forget to have loads of fun and whatever happens, go for the Phase 2 of Gondola! 😀