The picturesque landscape of Gulmarg can be so entirely captivating that hours had passed by and I still found myself sitting motionless, gawking at the changing colours of the sky. Literally translating to ‘meadow of flowers’, Gulmarg nestles as a delicate Himalayan valley and is famous of making any traveller sit idle amidst the snow-clad mountains. However, there is much to see and do in Gulmarg and without professing haste, here is my day’s guide to Gulmarg.
Gulmarg is synonymous to skiing in India and as an adventurous traveller, I’d like to suggest having a first time go at skiing on the fresh powdered snow here. A number of sports agencies sell out ski packages for a day to over a month. However, as a first time skier, there are options to choose from a one-to-one instructor and spending a few hours familiarising with the equipment.
The Gulmarg Gondola is one of the highest cable car in the world and reaches to a height of 4000 metres. The ropeway is divided into two phases. Phase I is from Gulmarg to Kungdoor and Phase II from Kungdoor up till Apharwat. The latter is a good vantage point for Mount Apharwat, though it is more popular amongst serious skiers. Gulmarg’s slopes are steep and hence a favourite amongst professional and advanced skiers.
I skipped skiing since it wasn’t peak winters and my impromptu trip to Kashmir didn’t allow me to train my body for the sport. But I couldn’t stop myself from experiencing the Gondola up to Phase I and enjoying the spectacular views. Kungdoor serves as a base for all allied activities such as zorbing and I saw a number of tourists dabble with this game. I choose the quieter way of exploring the place (perhaps my favourite way). A small, local shop serving Kashmiri kahwa and Maggi caught my eye and I sat there for a couple of hours, indulging in my bowl of happiness.
While the Gondola can transport passengers to Phase I and back in just a few minutes, I took an alternate walk down which was quite exciting. An easy downhill walk through the forests from Phase I takes a convenient 30-40 minutes, at slow pace. En route I was very distracted with all the beautiful scenic moments. And wandering away into the land of no walking trails, I briefly lost my way. Without any hesitation, I asked the locals to help me and with their warm smiles, they guided me to the right path.
Once I was back to the base of Gulmarg, I refuelled myself with delicious Kashmiri food. Hotel Highlands Park is one of the oldest hotels in the valley and serves authentic Kashmiri and Indian cuisine. Known for its huge portion size, it is always a good idea to clarify the meal size. The other options for lunch are Nedous Dining Room and Big Bite Fast Food (for vegetarian quick bites). Nedous Dining Room serves delicious Kashmiri fare along with some continental options. While in Kashmir, trying the various mutton curries is a must. Rogan Josh, Gustaba and Rista are all famous mutton curry preparations in the valley.
I escaped the temptation of a siesta after the scrumptious lunch and promptly geared up to discover this hill station on foot. The Outer Circle Walk is an 11 km walk around the periphery of Gulmarg, which enfolds some of the most scenic views. Through the tall pine trees and the breath-taking landscapes, this walk provides a fine prospect of the Nanga Parbat. This peak is at an elevation of 8126 meters and is amongst the top ten highest peaks in the world. I didn’t wait until the sunset, however, walkers and trekkers can also admire the Sunset Peak.
As the sun set in Gulmarg, I felt the quiet valley go into a slow slumber. After a satisfying day of walks across the terrains of Gulmarg, I was more and more drawn towards an early night. Highlands Park is a popular bar for a quick drink. And other places include Alpine lounge, near the Gondola, which serves alcohol and a good spread of Kashmiri curries.
A big fan of slow travel, I was happy to experience the snowy peaks of Gulmarg on my own pace. The landscapes are so extraordinary that sitting and staring came rather naturally to me. If someone asked me to throw away all these activities and indulge in a day of only sipping kahwa, I wouldn’t consider it a trade-off!
Good to know:
Gulmarg is about 2 hours away from Srinagar and cabs are readily available.
There aren’t any local souvenirs made in this valley and hence it may be a good idea to shop from Srinagar to avoid overpriced goods.
Good time to go:
Open throughout the year, Gulmarg sees a large number of travellers during summer. However, winter is dear for all those who wish to ski or experience fresh snow.
Good things to keep:
Skiers: Do carry your ski kit along with winter layering essentials like base thermal layer, mid layer in fleece or merino wool and shell waterproof jackets. Remember to keep your ears, fingers and toes covered with a beanie, gloves and socks.
Non- skiers: Winter temperatures in Gulmarg can go below 0 degrees. It is recommended that you carry 100% merino wool thermals, good fleece jacket as your mid-layer, an insulated snow jacket and winter accessories.
Do wear a sturdy pair of shoes with a good grip, to keep you comfortable during your trip.