Gulmarg is an ultimate skiing destination in India, popular as 'the Switzerland of India'. It is 48 km from Srinagar and a State bus runs daily from Srinagar to Gulmarg. It starts at 8.30 am and returns at 4 pm. The journey was pleasant but as we neared Gulmarg, the road ascends upward through beautiful pine canopies. As we began the climb we stopped at the last town before Gulmarg. It was on a slope and had many cafes. We stopped for breakfast and the locals insisted on hiring warm clothes and boots from one of the renting shops. At first I was reluctant but they were pretty sure it would rain again. So for safety measures, I hired a pair of boots and a jacket for Rs. 200.
The winding road towards Gulmarg was picturesque surrounded by pine trees on each side. Gulmarg is a beautiful valley with a golf course in the middle surrounded by hotels and shops. The meadow was lush and refreshing. Few horses frolicked around and perfectly wedded with the landscape. The driver warned us to be back by 4 pm sharp.
The rain had messed up the road. There were a lot of horses walking on the same road, making it worse. The Gondola was around 2 km from the bus stop and you either need to take a horse or walk. I was very disappointed to see the extremely long queue at the Gondola tickets counter. At one point it began drizzling again and someone announced on the loudspeaker the issuing of Gondola tickets had stopped because of the jam and the rain. Most people had taken the tickets online or from the tourists centre at Srinagar. I was yet to buy a ticket. It was already 11:30 am and I was afraid, I would not be able to come back on time if I waited for the ticket counter to reopen. It just struck me that I could do with some hiking.
I started off enthusiastically foraging into the thick pine woods and I felt at home again. Nature accepts you instantly; it welcomes you in like one of her own. After half an hour, the drizzle broke into a heavy downpour. I found a big pine tree and sheltered there before the rain stopped. The thick jacket and the rubber boots came in handy, especially after the rain when the roads began to overflow with muddy rainwater.
I caught up with few tourists who were also going to the first stage of the Gondola stop. Some were on horseback and some on foot. Along the way we meet shepherds, shop keepers and students. The last leg of the climb was steep and the hardest. I was left panting when I reached the Kongdoori Station. It takes approximately 9 minutes to reach the first stage on Gondola but almost took one and half hour on foot. The walk was harder because of the steep climb and rain drenched slippery road.
The first stage of Gondola is called the Kongdoori station. It is at an altitude of 2,600 meters. The view of the valley beneath and the needle-pointed pine canopy are a sight not to be missed from up here.
There were shops and restaurant at the Kongdoori valley. Though they were overpriced, it was not difficult to imagine the pain and the expenses they had to endure. I met two shopkeepers on the way carrying goods all the way up on foot. They couldn’t lavishly spend their money on Gondola or tonga ride; it would cross out any little profit they made.
In the freezing weather I had warm soup and maggie and believe me it was the best maggie I ever had. Travelling makes you see things in new perspective, here at this altitude, after a good hard climb anything would have tasted good in my mouth. Necessity can makes you see things clearer and I couldn’t be happier with a bowl of maggie and a cup of tea in my hand.
It was not the best weather to play on the snow, and I didn’t feel the need or the urge to. I could see the snow peaked mountains and the snow not too far away. The tongas were waiting to take me to the snow but I had just 2 hours left before 4 pm and I didn’t have enough time left to venture further.
The descending part was much easier but full of slippery road just waiting to throw you on your back. Gondola ride is another thing; I’ve had that experience at Solang Nala, Manali. I was keener on exploring and making the best out of cool weather. I ended up meeting the first Gujjar (later I met a whole lot of them. They are the semi-nomadic people; grazing their cattle on the mountains in summer for six months and than returning to their villages in winter.
Gulmarg is an amazing place for mountain lovers. Surprisingly, the mountains just gets higher and higher. The Gondola service here is also the second highest operating cable car in the World. At 3,747 meters the second phase of the Gondola stop is a skiing paradise.
Gulmarg is known for fluffy snow, pine trees and meadows. But it is also popular for stylish wooden hotels that seemed like a cut out photo from some magazine.
There is nothing like trekking in the rain on the mountains. There is something very basic and natural about it. The squelching sound of your boots, the fresh breeze and the rain soaked leaves and plants that seemed to be talking to you.
Gulmarg was like a green sea; another time I would love to see the snow covered valley and mountains in winter.
Tickets for first stage of Gondola: Rs. 400
Tickets for second stage of Gondola: Rs. 600
State bus tickets (to and fro) from Srinagar to Gulmarg: Rs. 351