Gulmarg ski resort, in Kashmir, is a paradise for powder snow and clear slopes lovers, with its incredible Himalayan peaks and its unique Kashmiri mountaineers hospitality. In winter or summer, all over the year, it attracts more and more Indian tourists but also foreigners, especially European ones, in search of authenticity and often tired of their crowded “ski factories” in the Alps.
The road winds between the trees, a few cows peacefully grazing in the mountains and it is almost like Switzerland. After an hour and a half drive from Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (North), the chic ski resort of Gulmarg, prized from the Brits before India’s independence in 1947, astonishes the traveler with its unique and vast hilly area in its center, surrounded by gigantic white Himalayan peaks.
To reach these famous peaks, one boards on the Gulmarg Gondola. This is the highest and longest of its type in Asia. It takes you in about twenty minutes from Gulmarg station, 2600 meters high, to Kongdoori Mountain, the second and highest stop of the Gondola, at 3747 meters of altitude. With stunning views of the famous Afarwat Peak, 4200 meters high.
Each gondola cabin can accommodate six people and the whole structure can carry a total of 600 passengers per hour. It is jointly operated by the dedicated Jammu and Kashmir Government agency and the French company Pomagalski, better known as Poma, a logo that appears all around the world on ski lift facilities. The first section of Gulmarg Gondola opened in 1998, the second one in 2005 and it is the pride of local people, for its regularity and ability to operate smoothly all year round, thanks to a careful maintenance.
Several other ski lifts facilities give access to what makes the great charm of Gulmarg slopes: a good snow, often powder snow, in a never too crowded environment.
“There are only few hundreds of people who really ski every day,” said Mohammad Yasin Kahn, an ultra experienced guide who traveled Gulmarg and the Himalayan region for decades and now leads Kashmir Alpine Adventure travel agency and some ski shops. “Infrastructures and ski lessons are growing quickly but it remains a human-sized resort, popular with good ski and mountain fans worldwide.”
Europeans, – Russians, French and Austrians, for example, – like to have a taste of this adventure and at times wild side resort, away from the crowds of the ski resorts closer to their home, particularly in the Alps.
The hotel infrastructure is also full of charm, from the guest houses, where one can taste the legendary Kashmiri hospitality, to the luxurious facilities such as Hotel Highlands Park, with its wonderful little “cottages” in Alpine and Germanic style.
The best season for skiing is February or March but one can also come earlier or later in the year and enjoy the many activities: for instance pony rides, hiking, or even the upscale golf course, with views of the peaks. Not to mention the fantastic cuisine of Kashmir, especially for spicy meats lovers.
One must hurry though. With the recent development of tourism in Kashmir, after years marked by serious political problems, Gulmarg may not stay so long a closely guarded secret for international fans of authentic mountain.