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Gulmarg in News

Travel advisory says ‘no’, but don’t bother – Gulmarg for greatest skiing experience

Feb 2007 GULMARG (AFP) – His 2,000-metre (6,600-foot) vertical descent to Gulmarg, a village in revolt-hit Indian-administered Kashmir, is what many ski devotees rank as among the best skiing on the planet. Just ignore the travel warnings.

From the world’s highest gondola lift surrounded by some of the world’s tallest peaks, there are icy steeps, acres of powder field and a maze of pine and fir trees — with only a handful of skiers and the odd snow leopard for company.

“I’ve been to ski resorts all over the world, but here the lift-to-powder ratio is absolutely sublime,” said Bowles, one of just a few hundred self-confessed ski bums and adventure tourists drawn to Kashmir this season.

“Anywhere else in the world you’d need to trek for hours or have loads of money for a helicopter.

“You’re on top of the world here in the Himalayas. There’s a freedom to break the rules and ride wherever you want. It’s a place where I can be at one with the mountain.”

Skiers and snowboarders have been converging on the village from all over the globe since the high-altitude lift at the state-run resort opened two years ago, looking to escape the crowds and prices of chic resorts in the West.

“I’ve come out with a budget of 450 dollars for three weeks. In Europe that would last just a few days,” said Bowles, who, on 1,000 rupees (22 dollars) a day for food, lodging and lift passes, is “living simply but comfortably”.

“It’s a special place, low key and quiet. There’s a uniqueness. The local people haven’t had their spirits corrupted by corporate greed.”

— Extreme skiing, extreme tensions —

Cross-country skiers making their way through a snow field in Indian-administered Kashmir’s top ski resort of Gulmarg
© AFP/File Christophe Archambault

But the arrival in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir’s summer capital, serves as a stark reminder that all is not well in the Himalayan paradise.

Nervous Indian troops kitted out in full combat gear line the streets, fingers on the trigger. Pot shots and grenades lobbed at army convoys are a random but common danger for the bystander.

Since 1989, the idyllic Kashmir valley that Gulmarg overlooks has been wracked by a brutal battle between pro-Pakistan or pro-independence Muslim insurgents on one side and hundreds of thousands of Indian troops on the other.

Tens of thousands of people, a few foreign tourists among them, have lost their lives.

Militant attacks and grave human rights abuses by security forces continue, despite an easing of tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad in recent years.

As a result, most foreign governments say tourists should steer well clear of the entire area.

“Gulmarg used to be buzzing with tourists, but the travel advisories say don’t go,” said Fayaz Ahmad, general manager of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Development Corporation, one of the state bodies running the resort.

“But honestly, we cannot say Kashmir is any more dangerous than other Indian states. Tourists are not being targeted.”

The official brushed off a recent grenade attack against Indian tourists on the road between Srinagar and Gulmarg that left several injured.

“There have only been stray incidents. Even the militants want tourists to come so that foreigners can see the situation,” he said, adding that an Indian army high-altitude warfare school in Gulmarg means the resort itself is safe.

He also pointed out that the uncomfortably close Line of Control — the heavily-militarised de facto border separating nuclear-armed India and Pakistan — has been calm for the past few years.

“We were last hit by a (Pakistani) shell in 1999. Quite a long time ago,” he said, smiling.

— Conservation vs. development, free ride vs. safety —

Indian Army soldiers standing guard during a visit by an army high-rank official to Indian-administered Kashmir’s top ski resort of Gulmarg
© AFP/File Christophe Archambault

Locals in Gulmarg, which means “meadow of flowers,” have high hopes that their village will one day rank alongside the world’s top winter resorts.

The new gondola takes skiers to over 4,000 metres on Mount Apharwat, which overlooks Gulmarg. A clear day on the summit delivers views of five out of the 14 peaks in the world over 8,000 metres.

And there are plans to build more lifts over the next five years with a view to hosting the Commonwealth Winter Games in 2010.

At the moment, however, there is no doctor, hospital, banking facilities or Internet access — and the officials who run the resort say they want to prevent the haphazard, runaway development that plagues other Indian getaways.

“One of the best things about Gulmarg is that nothing has been done. We don’t want it mushrooming with big multi-storey constructions. It would be ruined,” said tourism official Ahmad.

One of Gulmarg’s few ski guides, Yasin Khan, said development needed to be limited to the absolute basics — a few more lifts, medical facilities and better communications.

“Gulmarg cannot offer the kind of nightlife and fancy restaurants you have in Western ski resorts, but what we can offer is virgin snow, plenty of sun, no crowds and Kashmiri hospitality,” said Yasin, who also runs the Kashmir Alpine Shop — the only private ski rental facility.

The resort’s managers also have the tricky task of balancing skier safety with its reputation as a top destination for big mountain ‘freeride’ — or steering clear of machine-groomed slopes in a practice increasingly restricted in more developed resorts for legal and safety reasons.

February saw Gulmarg’s first major accident involving a foreign tourist, when an Australian skier was killed in an avalanche below the gondola’s top station.

“Essentially you’re on your own up here. You have to know how to take care of yourself,” said Sean McDonald, an instructor from Canada who witnessed the accident. “It’s a place for someone who has done a lot of global skiing and wants to do something different.”

And it is very different, McDonald said.

“The military presence is not something I’m used to. The altitude is challenging. The setting is fantastic. You have to be extra cautious — because it’s essentially lift-access off piste,” said McDonald, whose company, Extremely Canadian, is one of several outfits bringing clients to Kashmir.

— Olympian endorsement for the “wild west of skiing” —

Foreign tourists making their way up a track pulled by ropes hanging from a snow cat, in Indian Kashmir’s top ski resort of Gulmarg
© AFP/File Christophe Archambault

Steve Lee, an Australian alpine skier who has taken part in three Olympic Games and counts a World Cup gold in his trophy cabinet, said Gulmarg is a rare jewel among ski resorts.

“Gulmarg aligns itself with only a handful of resorts left around the world that offer a big mountain experience with decent lift access used by very few people and with very few rules,” he told AFP.

“It offers a sense of freedom that is hard to find these days,” said Lee, who skied in Kashmir last year.

What Gulmarg needs to do, he suggests, is capitalise on this image while improving basic infrastructure and mountain safety facilities, key to the booming market of ski adventure tourism.

“Its biggest shortcoming is the availability of true mountain guides” with avalanche and rescue training, added Lee, who now runs the online ski magazine Chillfactor.

“For most ‘skiing tourists’ as opposed to skiing adventurers, it would lack many facilities, like pubs, restaurants, dance bars, global communication and other entertainment, but if you are there to ski then it really has it all,” he says.

“From my experiences while skiing all over the world, it is possibly the ultimate ski area for off-piste access. It really is the wild west of skiing.”


Scorching sun in plains rains money for Gulmarg Cable Car

Srinagar, June 11 – The scorching sun in the Indian plains has come handy for the World’s highest Cable Car project at Gulmarg in Kashmir. In just one week, it recorded a turn over of around Rs.7 million.

With mercury soaring in entire north India, thousands of tourists are visiting the Kashmir Valley to escape sweltering conditions even though summer capital Srinagar also witnessed hottest day of the season at 34.4 degrees Celsius Sunday. However, as tourists keep thronging the resort, Gulmarg kept tempers cool with the maximum temperature of just 23 degrees.

‘Besides the bewitching beauty and cool temperatures of Gulmarg, the five kilometre long gondola ride on Gulmarg-Afarwat hills is chief attraction,’ said Farooq Ahmad Shah, Kashmir’s director for tourism.

‘The (Gulmarg) gondola made a revenue of Rs.60 million last year and we have set a target of Rs.100 million this year,’ Shah said.

‘We charge Rs.700 for the entire to and fro ride from Gulmarg to Afarwat Hills and for children below 10 years, the rates are half.’

Gulmarg Gondola is the World’s highest Cable Car at 13,400 feet above the sea level.

‘We are also planning the World’s highest restaurant at Afarwat Hills at 14,000 feet where we have the World’s highest ski point,’ the tourist official said.

Besides the high profile Cable car project, local traders – including the pony-owners who take the tourists on joy rides through the meadows in Gulmarg – are also doing brisk business these days.

‘The place is wonderful and the people here are very courteous. It is a dream vacation for me and my family,’ said Sanjay Kholsa, 46, who has come here with his wife and two kids from Mumbai.

Up for grab: Mughal’s favourite haunt

Times News Network NEW DELHI, Apr 15, 2006: Mughal emperor Jehangir’s favourite haunt and India’s most-loved ski destination is up for lease. And it will cost nothing less than a king’s ransom — Rs 20,000 crore.

The Jammu and Kashmir tourism department has decided to hand over the Gulmarg Ski Resort to a private operator for 99 years. This is the first time the department will allow a private investor to run one of its premier tourist destinations.

Sources said the decision was taken after the department was flooded with offers from international firms, especially from Germany and France, to take over the ski resort. The department will hire a consultant over the next two months to settle the deal.

According to J&K’s director-general of tourism Salim Baig, the government will not interfere in the running and development of the resort by the private owner but will only play a regulatory role to ensure all forest and environment laws and safety regulations are followed.

“We have decided to privatise the entire 6 sq km of Gulmarg ski resort. German and French companies have already shown interest in taking it over. We expect to get over Rs 20,000 crore from the deal. What’s best, the entire land is owned by the state government and there are no private properties that have to be auctioned. At present, hotels in Gulmarg have 1,200 beds which can be increased by the private party in dialogue with the existing hotel owners,” Baig said. 

Kashmiri girls enjoying skiing as a part of educational curriculum in Gulmarg

By Bilal Butt, Gulmarg Mar 17, 2006: Gulmarg, thirty-two miles from Srinagar, with its natural slopes and inclines, is the country’s premier ski resort and a favourite winter tourist destination. These days many Kashmiri young girls are enjoying the region’s snow-blanketed slopes as educational institutes are promoting skiing as a recreational activity among the youth here.

There was a time when the girls in Kashmir valley were expected to wear veils due to religious belief. But with the passage of time, the young girls are exploring avenues to conquer the picturesque slopes of the scenic hill resort of Gulmarg at 8,500 feet above sea level in the Pir Panjal ranges of the Himalayas.

Moving ahead with time these girls have shed their traditional dresses for a pair of ski jumpers costumes as they attend a 14-day basic ski-training course, being conducted by the University of Jammu and Kashmir.

The camp is intended to draw women out of their homes for recreational activities instead of making any attempt at preparing national ski champions.

“Recreation is very essential. Especially, for such youngsters who remained absorb in studies. We bring them here away from the stress, to the mountains and are giving them this training,” said Mohammed Yosuf, a ski instructor with the university.

As snow-flakes gently fell to the ground, 20 women students from various areas of the region that include Srinagar, Kupwara, Anantnag and Sopore, donned in ski gear, tackled the white slopes.

“Earlier I always thought that skiing was very tough and we would never be able to do it. But after we saw an advertisement on television offering us a course, we were very excited about it. It’s very nice here,” said Sabeena, a trainee.

Besides the basic ski course, the programme also offers an advance course and an instructor’s course for those interested in making skiing a career.

Nusrat Nabi, an avid skier and trainee believes that there is a vast scope in the field.

“It’s very nice. I am doing my basic course now and want to do my advance course later on. I was always interested in skiing. After completing all the courses I can also become an instructor. There is a lot of scope here,” she said.

Kashmir with its cloud capped snowy peaks, densely forested mountain slopes, undulating foothills, infinite variety of flora and fauna – are a temptation no nature lover and adventure seeker can resist.

It is believed Kashmir region with many rivers and small streams has a lot of potential for adventure tourism.

Rs 2 crore for Gulmarg Golf course

Ishfaq-ul-Hassan, Feb 16, 2006

Tourisn should get a major fillip as the government is investing heavily in infrastructure development at major resorts in Kashmir. From fashionable golf courses to modern hotels, the government is pumping huge amounts of money into infrastructure development.
The two golf courses in Pahalgam and Gulmarg resorts are being made 18 hole turf with all modern amenities. Another golf course with 18-hole capacity is also being planned at the Sonamarg resort.
“We have got Rs 2 crore for Gulmarg Golf course which will be one of the modern turfs in the country. This will give a big boost to our tourism sector,” said Nazir Ahmad Bhat, Director of Tourism, Kashmir.
Around one million non-pilgrim tourists are expected to visit Kashmir this year. Last year around six lakh tourists visited Kashmir. This excludes four lakh pilgrim tourists who visited the holy Amarnath cave in the past two months.
The government has also approved a proposal of setting up 25 new hotels and restaurants at the famed resort in Gulmarg. “We have identified 25 land plots which will be leased to the people for setting up modern hotels, restaurants and shopping complex. This will give Gulmarg an edge and it will become an international destination which can attract tourists who are concerned about the facilities”, Bhat said.
To have a better connectivity on the upper reaches, the government has decided to have a chairlift in Gulmarg. Already Gulmarg houses the world highest cable car situated at 13,400 feet. But the chairlift proposal has been mooted to connect the mountain ridges so that tourists have no problem in moving on the higher reaches to enjoy nature.
The government has earmarked Rs 4.5 crore for the project which is likely to kick off in summer. “We have got the money and we will definitely start work in summer,” said Bhat. Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussian Beig said the government is trying to give a major push to infrastructure development to put Kashmir on the international tourism map.