As you wind your way up from the Srinagar valley towards Gulmarg, the snow lies thicker and thicker on the ground and Gulmarg is laid out before you – lined with trees, backed by a dramatic panorama of mountain peaks set against the sharp summer sun.

Gulmarg bestows on you open spaces, mountain-fresh air, nature walks, birdwatching, skiing in winter, pony rides, and rides on the gondola cable car. Though shepherds who’d graze their sheep here knew of the area’s beauty, this hill station was first ‘discovered’ as a resort town by the 16th-century Kashmiri ruler Yusuf Shah Chak, who was so impressed with the flower-carpeted meadow that he named it Gulmarg, or ‘meadow of flowers’. Gulmarg was also the preferred getaway for Mughal Emperor Jehangir. Then came the British, homesick for the glens of Scotland and seeking to escape the scorching heat of the northern plains. Much later, Bollywood too discovered Gulmarg’s blue skies and pristine slopes as the perfect location for its films. In the 80s and 90s, militancy reared its ugly head, pushing Gulmarg off the map. But with peace returning to the Valley, Bollywood is back and so are the tourists.

Courtesy J&K Tourism
Gulmarg — the perfect base for skiing, snowman-building or snowboarding
Gulmarg — the perfect base for skiing, snowman-building or snowboarding

ORIENTATION

Driving in from Srinagar, a short distance ahead of the Tangmarg Bus Stand, the road to Gulmarg forks. The right goes to the Baba Reshi shrine; follow the left, a typically picturesque winding mountain road, into Gulmarg. The main tourist area is a high-altitude meadow with forests and peaks around. The Apharwat Peak is to the southwest and the Alpathar Lake is below the summit. The famous Gondola takes you up towards Apharwat via Kongdori. Most of the high-end hotels are located near the Kongdori Gondola station. It is best to walk around to explore Gulmarg.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Skiing, golfing, snowman-building, trekking or snowboarding are some of the activities you can indulge in while in Gulmarg. The hill station is located within the Gulmarg Biosphere Reserve and is the natural habitat of the musk deer, red fox, flying squirrel and black and brown bear. It is also a birdwatchers’ paradise.

Skiing and Snowboarding

If there’s one reason for Gulmarg’s global fame, it’s the skiing and snowboarding. Regarded as one of the best ski destinations in Asia, Gulmarg’s gentle slopes are perfect for first-timers; the more advanced skiers also have the option of skiing down from higher points accessible by the Gondola Cable Car, which takes you up to either the first stage at Kongdori or Apharwat.

Jitender Gupta
Skiing in Gulmarg
Skiing in Gulmarg

There’s a wealth of ski gear on hire at pretty affordable rates from the many ski shops. March sees the annual Gulmarg Global Derby, a downhill ski and snowboard race.

Ride on the Cable Car

The ski slopes might not be all that crowded but what does attract a frenetic rush is the cable car from Gulmarg to Kongdori and Apharwat. The Gondola Cable Car (W gulmarggondola.com) makes Gulmarg the highest lift-accessible ski destination in the world with tea and pakora stalls along the way. Most tourists and skiers go up for the view. If you want to avoid the crowds, walk up to Khilanmarg (4km away), the alpine meadow towering above the golf course. Hike through wooded fir forests along the pony track, from where you’ll see Nanga Parbat. The second phase takes you up to the Apharwat Peak from where you can spot the Line of Control.

Tip The gondola does not operate on bad weather days

Strawberry Valley Pony Ride

About half an hour into the pony ride on the Outer Ring Road, you reach a ‘Kashmir Valley View’ from where you can see most of the Kashmir Valley. In another half hour, you will reach the Strawberry Valley. You can see the Apharwat Peak, local villages and the Army area with the Ningli Nallah stream, gurgling below.

Children’s Park

The Children’s Park is a short distance northwest from the entrance to Gulmarg. It has the same smooth grassy meadow-land that Gulmarg abounds and is sprinkled with swings, rides, an artificial pond and activities like zorbing.

Tee off at the Golf Course

Gulmarg also boasts the world’s highest and India’s longest golf course, first set up by the British in the early 20th century. The scenery, location and the weather, all make it an irresistible place to tee off. Even amateurs can rent a set of golf clubs here and take instruction from the professionals. For green fees and equipment rental contact the nearest tourist office.

Trekking

Gulmarg’s highest peak, the Apharwat, is a popular trekking destination but is set amidst high security. High up in the massif lies a seldom-visited mountain lake, half frozen even in summer, called Alpathar. Almost 4,921ft up steep slopes, you can reach the lake on foot or by a pony. Permission to trek up to Alpathar can be obtained from the Army Checkpost in Apharwat.

More to see

Drive to the Ziarat (shrine) of Baba Reshi, a well-known Muslim saint. It’s chiefly to witness the daily activities around the shrine that you might want to visit this place – newborn babies are brought here for their mundans and langar is supplied by devotees. The Maharani Temple is one of the distinctive rooftops in Gulmarg. St Mary’s Church, built during British rule, has beautiful glass stained walls.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa (Cell: 09906603272; Tariff: ₹21,275–1,50,000) is a massive property with 85 rooms. The Vintage Gulmarg (Cell: 09796100444; Tariff: ₹14,000–24,000) is another luxury hotel with spectacular views of the Apharwat range and the golf course.

A number of hotels are clustered around the Gondola base, including Grand Mumtaz Resort (Delhi Tel: 011-29847786, Cell: 09818468786; Tariff: ₹10,500–16,000) and Hotel Pine Spring (Tel: 254537-38; Tariff: ₹9,500–17,500)JKTDC’s Hotel Alpine (Cell: 09596177811; Tariff: ₹2,500–15,000) is a comfortable option.

Pine Palace is in a quiet corner overlooking the Gondola base and the forests. Hotel Nedous (Tel: 254428; Tariff: ₹6,000–31,600) is centrally located, while Royal Park (Srinagar Tel: 0194-2458579; Tariff: ₹8,000–9,500) is on the Outer Ring Road.

There aren’t any fancy standalone restaurants in Gulmarrg, so the hotels are your best bet. Dine at Highlands Park, The Vintage Gulmarg and The Khyber. All of them have great food and ambience, and the views are spectacular. Otherwise, the rash of dhabas in the market is what constitutes eating out in Gulmarg. Hillpoint and Big Bite serve decent fast food. Bakshi offers the best vegetarian food in town and is quite popular.

FAST FACTS

When to go Round the year. Though winter is freezing, it’s also ski season

Tourist offices

J&K Tourism, Assistant Director, Near Golf Course, Gulmarg, Tel: 01954-254487, Cell: 09419708180

Gulmarg Development Authority, Chief Executive Officer, Gulmarg, Tel: 254625

JKTDC, Near Golf Course, Gulmarg, Tel: 254507

J&K Tourism, Tourist Reception Centre, Srinagar, Tel: 0194-2502279, Cell: 09596098882, W jktourism.org

Director Toursim, TRC, Srinagar. Tel: 2502279,

JKTDC, TRC, Srinagar. Tel: 2502270, 2502271, W jktdc.co.in

STD code 01954

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Sheikh-ul-Alam Airport, Srinagar (62km/ 2hrs), which has flights connecting New Delhi, Mumbai and Leh. Taxi (Tel: 0194-2303113) to Gulmarg costs ₹2,000–2,500 for return

Rail Nearest railhead: Jammu Tawi (349km/ 11hrs). Taxi to Srinagar costs ₹4,500–5,500. JKSRTC deluxe bus from Jammu to Srinagar is ₹500–600 per head

Road Take NH1A. Taxis near TRC in Srinagar charge ₹2,000 to Gulmarg. In Gulmarg, you can use ponies or a local taxi as taxis from Srinagar are not allowed