Twelve hours of vigorous traveling that too on a curvaceous highway drained our energy and we slept like animals, after taking a warm bath. Our morning was welcomed by fine sun rays , visible from our beautiful balcony which gave us the immediate view of some local pond and distant view of Shankracharya Temple, which was hardly 3-4km from our place of stay. As the driver said, the hotel belonged to one of the hot-shot personalities of the state, which makes it one of the safest place to stay, despite being close to Srinagar’s Lal Chowk (have very notorious historyL).
As guided by the driver, we need to get ready by 10 o’clock as we have to start for Gulmarg which wasn’t too far from the city but it was important to reach on time so that we can come back on time.
The sky was clear, sun was shining and there was almost no chances of rain. Even the cold waves were medium paced, making the temperature good enough to be handled by just one sweater but we decided to carry one extra pair of jacket to face the sweeping cool icy breeze at Gulmarg.
We started around half hour late from our schedule. Gulmarg is over 50km from the city. We passed through the beautiful landscape of Srinagar where ‘brownish’ bushes and trees made it look more scenic and graceful. Most of these were Apple and Chinar trees and almost all of them have shed their leaves to get the new one. Tangmarg was the route we drove on for almost one and half hour. This is also one of the roads to reach Baramullah and Sopore (if you follow the news, you must be aware why these destinations are super-popular).
We took a halt just before Gulmarg to have some quick delicious breakfast.
Note: Don’t forget to carry handy eateries as not all ‘dhabas’ or hotels are hygienic here. There are several vegetarian restaurants as well but are very few and you would take almost the entire day to discover them.
Incidentally, I came across a friend of mine from Delhi who was also a tour operator and was on family trip. Thankfully, he gave me a clear knowledge what are the things to do in Gulmarg and how to go about it. Bidding good bye to him, we started again and reached Gulmarg around 1.30 pm.
Now you have to be very attentive to this. Since Gulmarg golf course is at the heights, not all cars are allowed to go on the slopes. Only cars with chained tyres are permitted which would charge you anything between Rs 1500-2000. But you can convince your driver to go after paying the taxes but that would be on your own risk. You also need to rent the winter clothing and shoes (they call it boots ;)) which would cost you another Rs 300 per person and this is mandatory as they say (at least the shoes)
As we moved up, the white sheath of ice glared our sights. It was as impeccable as it can be. Just pure white gold all around and that’s all. To our farthest sight, it was just tidy, creamy snow and uncountable trees which have fine layering of this white substance which can make anyone go crazy. It rained and made the roads slippery and made it tough for us to rely on unchained vehicle, but we decided to move on as the roads were too narrow to take a U-turn. We reached Gulmarg Golf Course in another half an hour where we parked our car and had to hire a guide (it’s compulsory).
Post this, you have to face sledge guys. They have a cart like structure tied with rope and pulled by them. They have rate card which you need not follow during off season and can negotiate well. They will take you around and make you feel cheated for money (sorry, it’s the truth and you can escape it).
Beside all, don’t forget to carry your glares as the sun seems much more bright due to reflection from white snow. You can easily spend over three hours playing on deep snow roads, clicking as many pictures as you can, as you won’t possibly come back.
Gulmarg Gondola is the most popular over the world as it is one of the highest cable cars, operational till now. This is the two stage gondola ride which takes you to Mt. Afarwat and can view the ninth highest peak of the world Nanga Parbat and catch glimpse of neighbouring country. This is the experience you wont ever forget in your lifetime, hence it is advisable to keep your camera handy and also place your mobile phones deep inside the pocket as once fallen, its almost impossible to track it down.
We spent over five good hours in Gulmarg and I swear, it was the best experience ever. We paid Rs 300 for Gondola stage 1 ride while another Rs 300 for sledge ride. You can also go for skiing that would also cost you Rs 300. But, make sure you get down before the sun sets as once it gets dark, it becomes difficult to drive down the slippery slopes.
We again halted at a point from where China border was visible. It was as cold as it can be. One thing that you will notice everywhere, throughout Kashmir valley was CRPF camps. There were innumerable. In a biting cold, where it was difficult for us to stand for a while, they were on their toes 24×7.
We returned the stuff we rented and thanked (not so friendly) Kashmiris. We started back and took another three hours to reach our hotel. Aftermath, we were free to explore city but that’s another story to tell.
Watch out for this space to explore more about Kashmir Valley from the eyes of not so Kashmiri tourist !