Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gulmarg: The land of winter sports

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By Swetha Amit

Moving ahead from Sonamarg, we travelled to Gulmarg, 'the meadow of flowers'. A beautiful hillock area set at an altitude of 2,653m, it is surrounded by fir trees and snow-clad peaks. It was a long but interesting drive, and we made a few stops.

Bowing down to the goddess: We first stopped at the temple of Goddess Kheer Bhawani, a Hindu pilgrimage centre second in importance after the Amarnath cave. Situated in the middle of a pool of spring water, the temple is built of marble and has a golden dome. One of the unique features of the spring water is that it changes colour. Black is considered a bad omen, foretelling disaster.

Around the lake in 80 minutes: We moved on to Wular Lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia. The large lake looked intimidating. Unlike the shikara ride on Dal lake, which was bustling with tourists, this one was quiet. We rowed along enjoying the mild afternoon sun and the rippling waters of the lake. Not known to many tourists, the lake was a soothing sight to the eyes. The lake reflected the surrounding moutains and clouds in shades of blue. We learned that the lake contributed to about 60 per cent of the fish yield of Kashmir valley. It was also an important hydrographic feature of Kashmir and acts as a flood reservoir. We noticed ducks and some unique species of birds. As we neared the shore, we tried our hand at rowing the shikara, which turned out to be a fun but tedious task.

Exploring the paradise valley: We rented fur coats to stay warm at an altitude of 13,000ft. Walking along mountainous roads amid lush green pine trees, we spotted purple lilies of the valley along green patches highlighted by the evening sun. We went by the army training school, where the army officers and jawans underwent vigorous training sessions.

The elite sport: Gulmarg prides itself on possessing one of the world's highest green golf courses. It consists of an 18-hole course. We could see why it was called as the 'Golfing Mecca of India.'

Christ in the vicinity: Our next stop was the church and we were told that during winters the the entire area was covered with snow and only the church stands out. We climbed higher and got a panoramic view of the valley and the base camps of the Indian army.

The gondola ride: One of the major attractions of this beautiful town is the gondola or cable car ride, the world's highest. The journey in the first phase takes you from Gulmarg to Kongdori valley. At a height of 2,600m (nearly 8,530ft), we got beautiful views of Gulmarg. The second phase took us from Kongdori valley to the upper regions of Kongdori mountain, at a height of 4,200m (nearly 13,780ft). The cable car was capable of conveying more than 600 people in an hour. We were told that it acted as a lift to skiers who visited Gulmarg between December to March. We got off at the top after a 20-minute ride into snow.

Snowflakes, skiing and army jawans: As we rode a sledge further up in the bone-biting cold, we were thankful for our fur coats. From the top, we got a breathtaking view of the Kashmir valley and the snow-capped mountains of Nanga Parbat. We climbed further up to near the Line of Control and expressed our appreciation of the army jawans' valour and effort at keeping the borders safe. We realised skiing was a difficult sport while attempting to not fall over. After trying on our own for a few minutes, we were helped by expert skiers. Gulmarg can qualify as the land of winter sports. Half-a-day in the snow and it was time to get back to the valley and experience the gondola ride again.

Melting ice: We next opted for a pony ride. It was a pleasure to gallop in meadows where nature was at its pristine best. We reached the base point where small tents were serving hot tea and refreshments close to waterfalls formed of melting ice. We sat there a while to enjoy the serenity of the falls. Wild horses grazed in the meadows and the sheep were being taken back home. We saw the beauty of Gulmarg increase multifold as various shades of colour ran across the landscape in the setting sun.

How to reach Gulmarg
By road
: Gulmarg is 47kms from Srinagar and there are several buses and jeeps operating from Srinagar.

Best time to visit The best time for skiing in Gulmarg is between November and February. March to September is also good to experience the evergreen landscapes and enjoy a game of golf.

Things to do
Gulmarg is ideal for skiing during winter, between November and February. The ski gear and instructor services can be hired.
It's also popular for outdoor sports such as golf and horse riding during spring and summer.
Gulmarg is excellent for trekkers and trekking equipment can be hired. The well-known trekking routes are Gulmarg-Khilanmarg-Apharwat-Alpathar;Gulmarg-Danwas-Tejjan-Tosha Maidan and Gulmarg-Kantarmarg.

Cost
A two-night stay in Gulmarg can cost anywhere between Rs5,000-7,000.
The cable car charges for both the phases, to and fro, sum up to Rs800 per person.
If one decides to opt for a sledge ride, it would cost around Rs800 per person, to and fro.
The skiing trial and ride would add to Rs750 per person.
The pony ride up to the fall would cost Rs350 per person.
The horse ride around the valley would cost Rs500 per person for a two-hour ride.



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