Gulmarg - Jammu & Kashmir

Friday, April 16, 2010

Srinagar - Paradise on Earth! <<

Date of Journey - 18 May 2008.

After a spending an evening along the quiet banks of Dal Lake, the next morning we were headed to Gulmarg. Now I had no idea what to expect because I had never heard of this side of the world before. Our hotel manager also arranged for a taxi for our travel. As we were waiting for the taxi, a mobile vendor was selling colorful Shawls on his cycle. We bought one and waited for the driver. The driver was actually the owner and the minute he arrived, the first thing I noticed was his eyes. Bright hazel brown, they were pretty. And then I realized, more often than not, Kashmiris are a beautiful lot! :D



Gulmarg located at a height of 2650 meters is at a distance of 56 kms from Srinagar and takes about an hour or so to reach by taxi via Tangmarg. Located in the Baramulla district of J&K, close to the LOC, Gulmarg is not a permanent settlement but a resort town. You would only find resorts and hotels but no houses. Situated at the western end of Himalayas in the Pir Panjal Range, the alpine forests, gentle meadows and long stretching slopes make this a favorite summer and winter ski destination. 

Gulmarg houses Asia’s highest Gondola aka the cable car rope way. The Gondola here, takes one high above the pine mountain slopes to the top of Apharwat Range at a  height of 14000ft from 10000 ft above the meadow of Kongdori through the rope way giving majestic views of Himalayas if the weather feels like it. Gulmarg also has the world’s highest green golf course to it’s credit thanks to the inclinations of the British back the early 20th century. This quaint little alpine town has enjoyed the patronage of tourists ever since the ceasefire between India and Pakistan. Apparently the small shrine on the top of a green mound here was where the super famous song “Jai Jai Shiv Shankar” picturised, our driver was enlightening us. 


So what happened with us there? 

This was just the second day of our stay in Srinagar and I was still apprehensive of the watchful glances of the military or the presence of thousands of checkposts scrutinizing every other vehicle that passed by. Amidst all this, the snowcapped mountains soared into the open skies at the distant horizon. The sight of such beauty in such volatile environment only helped add vigor to our escapade. And soon as luck would have it, our taxi had a flat tyre right on the outskirts of Srinagar and within moments, army people from the checkpost came running towards us and I was half expecting a shoot out to erupt any minute now. Silly me, I know, but since when have fears been rational?

After the unexpected delay, we reached Gulmarg only at 10.00 AM and a word of advice for the traveler - make sure you reach early to Gulmarg if a ride in the cable car is on your mind. Otherwise it would be a rat race to even get tickets for the Gondola ride. Hordes of local tourists flock from the nearby towns along with the one from other parts of the country. 


As much as I was looking forward to the cable car rope way ride, the first sight of Gulmarg put everything to rest. At first glance, you shall not see wide spread meadows, not lofty snow capped mountains, not shimmering slopes of white – it is crowd! Crowd all along. It looked like a landscaped park with picnic crowd in every direction. When you have been dreaming for ages and this is what you get to see, I have to say it is disappointing. I was expecting to land directly in snow but it turns out snow is miles away from this place and I’ll have to wade through the ocean of people.

Gondola being out of question, as there was already a huge queue and the weather turning overcast, the other option was to either walk around the place with well defined walkways which I think is a totally useless activity – atleast not preferred for the day traveler.  Either that or a ride on one of the mules would be the other option if skiing is not what you came for. 

The Quintessential Pony Experience: 

Mules are aplenty and a ride around the place or a hike up into the mountains is the only other activity here. Now I’d say a ride on the mules around the place on the roads is again useless as you can walk yourself on the roads if you feel like. No point putting up with the mules and straining your muscles sitting in awkward positions on the mule. Well it’s a completely different story if you plan to take a ride on the mule up into the mountains through alpine forests and gurgling streams to reach snowline. 

That is what precisely we did. After negotiating for what felt like an eternity and listening to the entire life history of the mule owners, we set out on a rather uncomfortable journey on the mules and for the next half an hour we were dragged around along the pavement of the roads. It was pretty, no doubt but not enough for you to pay 500 per head and sit in discomfort over a mount. Impatient, when asked upon, our guide said this is what you will get for 500! So much of talking for this we thought and obliged to his demand of 750rs per head for a pony ride up into the alpine meadows.  


It has been almost three hours since we started our journey from Srinagar and the trip was just getting exciting. Once off the roads and onto the slopes, needless to say my spirits were lifted as well. I was still angry at our guide, for the drama and my dad and driver for making me miss the ride in Gondola. But our guide was assuring me that this hike will be much better and I have to say, at the end of the ordeal I actually liked this. 

So with a sullen face, and sitting on a well groomed and well built mule named “Raja” and the rest of my family of four other mules, I was riding up the mountains slopes into alpine forests. Now this was pretty – the kinds you won’t mind shelling out 750rs on. 


I have to say riding a mule is not an easy task. Certainly not for the faint hearted. As it is, you are at an altitude already and then add the additional height of the mule. An animal has a mind of its own and it freaked me out to think what was going on its head and there was no way I could control this huge thing I am sitting on. As if I wasn’t freaked out enough, seems the pony that I was riding was an experienced veteran on that route and apparently it didn’t need anyone to guide it. Can you imagine the horror, the first time I sat on a mule and the mule was not even being guided by anyone. To add to the horror, it was one hungry mule that Raja! He used to peacefully divert towards any patch of grass and then take shortcuts to reach the group in the next few minutes. All the while I was sitting helplessly making all weird noises while noone cared coz they knew Raja would manage just fine. 

Like any other team activity, riding the pony also required a certain amount of working together. I had to adjust my body as and when the slope changed so I wouldn’t fall off and after some getting used to, the ride was actually enjoyable and I was actually proud of my mule. :)

All the initial moments I was preoccupied with the pony and only now I was beginning to take in the amazing sights all around me. Every now and then we would stumble across a very small piece of snow and my sister and I, we would scream out to each other. The slopes looked pretty isolated and the trail we followed up was not well defined adding to the excitement of treading on barely formed routes. By now, I was used to my experienced and hungry pony going off for short snacks and it’s shortcuts. 


After a long time, we could spot white in the background peering through the huge trees. Finally we were actually close to snowline. Few minutes later we ushered into alpine meadows – miles and miles of undulating green pastures from where the snowcapped mountains rose into the hazy white skies. 

Green Meadows and Snow laden Mountain Slopes of Apharwat Ranges:


A long ride in the meadows then brought us to the snowline. After two hours of grueling climb on the mules and stiffened muscles, we were more than happy to get back on our feet. Imagine a hot cup of tea at a height of 10000 ft of altitude sitting next to the snowline – amazing! 

I am not the trekker I now am and walking up a kilometer to reach a rather untouched patch of snow turned out to be quite a challenge with the thin air.  Wooden skis running on pistes were being enjoyed by kids and adults alike. After all the first time you see snow you are bound to act like a kid. The snow wasn’t the whitest with all the trampling by the eager visitors but it was still snow. We jumped around for a lot of time in the white patches. We watched clouds descend on the slopes. We saw the gondola pass on a very distant mountain before the mist completely obscured the view. We could see snow capped peaks on the other side of the horizon rising above. And there in the middle lay the meadows of Gulmarg. The ponies had got us quite a distance. While the two hour ride on a pony itself felt so tiring, these guides who own these ponies, they walk everyday up and down along with the ponies with much ease. 

After two hours of playing, we set out to reach Gulmarg. Now this means a new problem. All was well while climbing up the slope but getting down the slope through jagged rocky path is outright scary. As the mule was getting down I had to adjust my position so as to not fall, which meant more than half the time I was leaning back completely. But the ordeal didn’t last long and we reached back to Gulmarg by 4 in the evening. It was a smooth drive back to Srinagar and I think I was getting used to the idea of being in Kashmir.

When I think Gulmarg, it is not green slopes I remember, not ice fields I remember, not pine trees i remember, it is just the pony - pony all the way! :)

Tomorrow let me take you on a tour to the beautiful valleys of Pehlgam alongside Lidder River. 

Fact File :
Distance from Srinagar – 56kms
Altitude – 2650 meters
Time Taken: 60-75 minutes
How is the road condition: Pretty decent
Temperature – pleasant in summers although rainwear is recommended as the weather in the mountains is unpredictable.
Where to get snow boots and jackets – you can hire them at Gulmarg at the base before the cable car ride or pony ride.

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  1. Wow !
    I have gone there in my childhood but the place is as beautiful as it was years ago.
    Your pictures say that.

  2. Lovely pics and equally great narration. Makes me want to go there... right away.

    Yep... Kashmiris are pretty, and have distinct features. They descend from a class of the ancient Aryans...

  3. hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

  4. every time you bring so much beautiful places and sceneries to us :D
    i still haven't touched snow :p

  5. Brilliant pictures! Esp love the mist over the mountain slopes one...has a beautiful composition...

  6. wow!!! amazin...amazin...
    nice writeup and splendid pics

  7. ## Nisha - Thank you! Once away from the crowd, Gulmarg felt lovely. Maybe just the crowd has increased over the years.

    ## Roshmi - Thanks much!

    ## hapi - Thank you!

    ## Joshi Daniel - ha ha.. Thanks.. you should go to snow soon then. :)

    ## Sankara - Thank you! The mist was actually lovely.. it came all of a sudden fogging the peaks.

    ## Sorcerer - hey thanks much! Do visit again.

  8. Did I mention stories for the rest of your life without the need for embellishment?! The combination of the terrain, snow, culture, people and the weird and wonderful random acts make Gulmarg a must do at least once while your heart’s still beating. Do it soon before anyone else discovers it.

  9. Gulmarg is an ideal place for vacations from December to April. During this time, one can enjoy the virgin and spotless beauty of Gulmarg amidst the wonderful flowers such as rarest bluebells, daisies, forget me not and buttercups. Moreover, adventure sports lovers from across the world can indulge in various activities like skiing, trekking, paragliding and golfing.

  10. Gulmarg is one of those hill stations where anyone and everyone wants to break away from the hustle and bustle of city life to relax and just chill should consider this beautiful resort.

  11. i was just planning to write a post on gulmarg and then i see this! thanks so much for reposting.. this seems to be one i missed seeing earlier... and really enjoyed reading, esp since we just got back from there... not much has changed now, 4 years later, except that the crowd is much much more.... and the ponies cost 700 just to where the cable car starts... and that too is not for the pony but for getting one of the chaps into the never ending queue to get tickets :( but its still worth all of it!! it was our first experience with snow too and we made the most of it!

    1. Ahh, the inevitable doom that commercialization brings with it! :(
      But I agree, lovely lovely place. Waiting for your post! :))


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