White Hol­i­days at the Hi­malayas

Sur­rounded by two Hi­malayan ranges, Kash­mir is mys­te­ri­ously beau­ti­ful what­ever the sea­son. As you ar­rive by air, pre­pare to be greeted by the snow-capped ma­jes­tic moun­tains from the north­west all the way to the north­east.

Maxx-M - - FRONT PAGE - Text by Den­nis Latif | Pho­tos by Bob Solokono

As part of In­dia, Kash­mir is quite unique. It is a state torn be­tween Pak­istan, In­dia and the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China. Ge­o­graph­i­cally, Kash­mir is ruled by In­dia, but most of the peo­ple liv­ing in Kash­mir deem them­selves Pak­istani. Apart of its po­lit­i­cal con­flict, Kash­mir is a beau­ti­ful re­gion with ex­tra­or­di­nary views and pleas­ant back-to-na­ture ac­tiv­i­ties. A pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion in Kash­mir is the Gul­marg, In­dia’s only ski re­sort. Gul­marg (“Meadow of Flow­ers”) is one of the best win­ter re­sorts and sum­mer get­aways in In­dia. This small alpine town mainly caters to tourists, and is lo­cated in the Afar­wat Moun­tains about two hours’ drive west of the city of Sri­na­gar. The town is within the Hi­malayas, and is close to the bor­der con­trol be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. You might there­fore want to check the sit­u­a­tion first be­fore vis­it­ing Gul­marg. Even so, it claims to be a very safe place for tourists, the town is not very big and it is easy to move around. The best time to visit Gul­marg is dur­ing the win­ter months from November to April, as ski­ing and snow­board­ing are the main at­trac­tions here. The ski area in Gul­marg is about five kilo­me­tres in length at an altitude of 13,000 feet. It is said that this is the largest and high­est ski slope in Asia. The snowy land pro­vides pretty good pow­der for ski­ing and the ter­rain pro­vides an in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion for all lev­els, but do not ex­pect groomed snow. A hol­i­day in Gul­marg with­out ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a gon­dola ride is in­com­plete. Gul­marg Gon­dola in Gul­marg, Jammu and Kash­mir, has been the world’s sec­ond-high­est op­er­at­ing cable car since the clo­sure in 2008 of the Merida cable car in­Venezuela.The cable car route is spread over two stages, the first used mostly by tourists, the sec­ond by skiers. The first stage trans­fers tourists from the Gul­marg re­sort to Kong­doori Sta­tion in the bowl-shaped Kong­doori val­ley.The sec­ond takes skiers to a height of 3,747 me­tres on Kong­doori Moun­tain, a shoul­der of nearby Afar­wat Peak. Both the first and sec­ond stages of the cable car of­fer views of the breath­tak­ing beauty of Gul­marg Val­ley, which should not be missed. Visit the mid­dle or top slope of the Afar­wat Moun­tains by cable car. On a clear day you may see the snow-capped Hi­malayan Moun­tains from a dis­tance be­yond the flat val­ley where Sri­na­gar is lo­cated. If you are lucky, you may even see Nanga Par­bat Moun­tain, claimed to be the 10th-high­est in the world. An­other in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­ity at Gul­marg is the pony rides. There are ap­prox­i­mately 20,000 ponies and horses in Gul­marg, kept for the sake of the tourism in­dus­try. Most ve­hi­cles di­rectly drive up to Gon­dola sta­tion, the last point hu­mans can travel by road. From Gon­dola sta­tion, peo­ple have to con­tinue by pony or horse, which have op­er­ated here for ages. It is truly a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence to go sight­see­ing around Gul­marg but not in a mo­torised ve­hi­cle. While you are at Gul­marg, do not for­get to visit the 110-year-old St. Mary’s church, built dur­ing the British colo­nial rule. The church was given a new look with a ren­o­vated fa­cade in 2003. There is also a tem­ple lo­cated on a small hillock in the cen­tre of Gul­marg. The tem­ple is named “Rani Tem­ple” or “Ma­ha­rani Tem­ple”. It is a Shiva tem­ple and the royal tem­ple of Do­gra kings of Jammu and Kash­mir. The unique thing about this royal tem­ple is the fact that it can be seen from the ex­trem­i­ties of Gul­marg. There is a short story about this an­cient tem­ple: it was built by Mo­hini Bai Sisod­hia, the wife of the last king of Kash­mir in 1915. When the last Do­gra king spent time in Gul­marg in his royal palace, a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres from the tem­ple, the queen used to come to the tem­ple and stayed for months to wor­ship Lord Shiva. An aarti, or Hindu re­li­gious rit­ual of wor­ship is per­formed twice a

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