The Kashmir valley gets some of the heaviest snow in India. The gentle undulating meadows of Gulmarg (2,649m) are carpeted in a thick layer of snow. It’s ideal skiing terrain for first-timers; and the more advanced have the option of slaloming down from Kongdor (accessed by cable car)—a 31/2 km run. It is also possible to trek several hours to the top of the Apharwat peak and ski down from there. Toboggans and snow scooters are also on hire. If you’re not the adventurous sort you can just admire the snows—the days are sunny and the skies crystal clear or take a joyride to Khilanmarg by cable car. Or you can sit by the fireplace, with a book and some hot coffee.
Getting There: the nearest airport is Srinagar (57km). From Srinagar the state highway via Tangmarg will take you to Gulmarg.
Where to Stay: Hotel Highland Park ( 01954-254430/07) is by far the best hotel in Gulmarg.
Snowfall: November to March (Skiing: December to late February)
Patnitop (2,024m) is perched on a beautiful plateau and offers some breathtaking views of the Chenab gorge. It is one of the few areas in Jammu which receives snow. The thin layer is enough for enterprising locals to run a skiing school (strictly for beginners). The real charm of Patnitop however lies in some of the walks that it has to offer. Walks to Madha Top, the ridge opposite Patnitop and to Sanasar, a grassy meadow wind through forests of pine and cedar.
Getting There: Jammu (100km) is the closest railhead. From Jammu take NH1A to Patnitop via Domel, Udhampur and Chineni.
Where to Stay: Green Top (01992-287581) situated in Padora Enclave, the highest point of Patnitop offers unmatched views and is the quietest corner of the resort town.
Snowfall: December to March (Skiing: December to mid-February)
Pahalgam (2,730m), is situated at the confluence of the stream from the Sheshnag lake and the Lidder river. It is most famously associated with the annual Amarnath Yatra that starts from Chandanwari, about 16km away. Pahalgam can be enchanting in winter, located as it is between steep hills. While it does not offer much by way of skiing, there are some lovely walks you can take. Baisaran, a lovely meadow surrounded by a forest of pine is not too far away. There are eight tiny villages around Pahalgam, where you spend cold snowy mornings sipping kahwah.
Getting There: Pahalgam is in Anantnag District and is about 96 Kms from Srinagar. There are regular buses which run from Srinagar.
Where to Stay: Senator Pine-N-Peak (01936-243304) is the best hotel to stay in.
Snowfall: December to March
If it can never be cold enough for you, head to Leh (3,353m). Temperatures drop to –20 celsius, and cold winds howl through the streets of the town. But you get to see a completely different side of the town. There are virtually no tourists, and but there are more than enough locals around to chat with. Few restaurants are open, but there’s nothing like walking to a bakery on Fort road for some piping hot apple pie. The days are usually sunny, and it can be great fun to just walk around the city—to the Leh palace (it’s closed in winter so you won’t be able to enter) and to the Tsemo gompa. The trip to Pangong Tso, a large brackish water lake at a height of 4,267m on the Indo-China border is worth making—in winter it is especially cold, and there’s virtually nobody on the road which goes via the Changla pass (5,334m). The pass usually has a couple of feet of snow, and closes by 4pm, so there is the added thrill of making the 6-hour dash to the lake and back before that. The drive takes you through stunning terrain, clinging to sheer cragged mountainsides. The waters of the lake are an array of blues and greens.
Getting There: the only way to get to Leh in winter is to fly in. Indian Airlines, and Jet Airways have daily flights to Leh.
Where to Stay: Yak Tail (10982-252118) is comfortable central—and warm.
Snowfall: Snows a little in December, January, but is bitterly cold from November to March