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.
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