|GULMARG, Dec 4: Better known for its political turmoil than its skiing, Kashmir has been contested since the 1940s by Pakistan and India, and the region still has a strong military presence. |
In fact, from July to October last year, tourism in Kashmir practically ground to a halt due to unrest, according to a government of Jammu and Kashmir report.
Gulmarg was established during the British Raj as a hill station to which British colonial administrators would flee to escape the heat of the Northern Indian plains. To promote tourism, a gondola (Phase 1) was built in 1998 to carry tourists up the 3,000-metre Kongdori peak. In 2005, a second one, Phase 2, was added, reaching 4,200 metres, which is very close to the top of Mt Apharwat, making it one of the highest gondolas in the world.
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The cable cars provide ample opportunity for winter sports; it is estimated that Gulmarg gets around 14 metres of snowfall a year (similar to Niseko in Japan, but significantly more than American or European ski resorts). Indeed, half a metre of fresh snowfall overnight has made the twisting final kilometres of road to our hotel difficult to pass, and our car finally grinds to halt in a heap of snow 500 metres before we reach our lodge.
As if used to this, two boys were already waiting to carry our luggage the final stretch to our room. We haven’t brought much – only the essentials, including our ski boots. The owner of the local ski rental shop is happy to help, though the equipment is a bit hit and miss, and looks more like abandoned gear, left here by other tourists. After a bit of digging, however, we find some agreeable skis and before noon we’ve hit the slopes.
The heavy winter snowfall means Phase 2 is closed for safety reasons, so instead we focus on Phase 1, skiing through the dense pine forests around Kongdori. All the fresh powder make skiing a dream, and we enjoy run after run in the unspoilt snow.
“Gulmarg is special,” Bhat says. “It’s like helicopter skiing, but you don't need a helicopter.” In fact the Phase 2 gondola allows for so many different descents in multiple bowls that even experienced skiers could spend several weeks here without having to repeat any tracks.
News Updated at : Tuesday, December 5, 2017