The foreword –
This post has been in the draft for a long time. 3 years is indeed a long time. I am a lazy travel writer. I am an enthusiastic travel photographer. Sometimes though, the photographer in me pushes the writer to weave stories and showcase photographs from the cobwebs of HDD. It has been 5 months now, that we all are stuck with pandemic. The flights are not operating from several places. Travels for leisure has stopped. More importantly, the world is facing a new crisis which will change everything.
Kashmir has been facing its own problems. For a long year, there was no internet, the unrest still continues. The headlines are only with death. Loss of life on either side. However, this is a personal experience and worth sharing here.
Basic info on Gondola ride in Gulmarg
If you are looking for standard information travel information on Gulmarg, then this is not the blogpost for you. Google will throw up thousand information sites on how to reach Gulmarg, what’s the best time to visit Gulmarg etc. This is a personal experience of visiting Gulmarg and also experiencing snow storm. We were travelling to Gulmarg from Pahalgam.
While going to Gulmarg, just before entering the up climb, there is a base where one can hire snow jackets and boots of all sizes and colours. So we spent a formidable amount of time picking the right ones for us. There are two phases in which the Gondola operates in Gulmarg. The Gulmarg Gondola ride is the second highest cable car in the world. When we travelled, the tickets were around INR 400 per head. There are two rides available. However, as Tugga was 4 years old, we didn’t take the ride from Kongdoor from Apharwat.
The ride in Gondola
For Tugga, it was thrilling yet, a little scary to sit inside the Gondola overlooking the snowy valley. Madhushree and I enjoyed the ride and for both of us, this was for the first time in Kashmir. It was an overcast sky, small droplets of water started creating patterns on our glass panes. We crossed through the large pine trees with snow on them. They looked like Christmas trees laden with pearl necklaces and small gifts. The Gondola ride, initially a bit uncomfortable, becomes easier as you continue.
At Kongdoor – Gulmarg Gondola ride
Kongdoor is one of the most popular tourist spots but it may feel over crowded. We had a guide, whom we called Chacha and this blogpost is more about him. Since the time we came back, there hasn’t been any forum where I haven’t spoken about Chacha. At the beginning, he shared that he has a grandson of Tugga’s age. When the snow storm hit, we started running, rather scrambling uncomfortably in our snow boots towards the shelter. Chacha realised how inept we were at managing the snow. So, he picked up Tugga in his arms and walked with us.
We went for a nice snow bike ride, where Madhushree was on one bike and Tugga and I, on another. This was a thrilling ride, where we went to the point from where Indo Pak LOC can be seen afar. It was a lifetime experience riding a snow mobile on a rugged terrain. We were scared to death and harsh rain drops hit our goggles as we rode back.
The meal and the snow storm
We had a long journey from Pahalgam since morning and by the time this ended, we were tired and famished. We walked to the nearby shacks where they served food. It was painfully cold at a height of 3100 mtrs above sea level. Large drums with fire burning inside were kept around to keep the guests warm. We picked up rishta pulao and Tugga was fascinated to sit under one of the colourful umbrellas. Towards the end of the meal, we could sense a sign of emergency. Suddenly, the shacks around started folding their umbrellas. Everyone was waving at the snow bikers, who looked like dots, to come back. It felt like a fire drill, except, it wasn’t one. The snow storm was coming – Chacha said.
Flakes of snow started floating in the air. The colourful canopy styled umbrellas started forming a layer of white. We had cleared the bill by then but slowly, the intensity of the wind was increasing and we had to run. It was overcast and zero visibility from thereon. Last time we faced like this was in Mt. Titlis in Switzerland, when we had gone for flying fox. This was the time when Chacha, like a true grandfather, picked up Tugga on this shoulder and started running with us till we reached the shelter. The ride back was a dreamy glide through the clouds and pine tops on the ropeway and a feeling of an early rainy evening setting in the valley. I wondered, how much I would have loved to spend some time inside those shepherd’s home.
Kashmir now and thereafter –
A lot has happened since then in Kashmir. I got trolled for writing Faces of Kashmir. My friend and journalist Sonia Sarkar, who has come up with many articles on Kashmir, confirms that after more than a year of no internet and 2/3/4 G services in Kashmir, connectivity is back. 2G in some places and 4 G in only 3 places and the disturbances are still there. I have always believed, with my limited interaction with the locals – they worship the tourists. I hope for the disturbances to end and can’t wait to go back at the earliest.
Few important things to know before you go for Gondola ride in Gulmarg
Best time to visit Gulmarg – We visited the place in the first week of March and all the mountain peaks were covered with snow and even the small shepherd houses from top looked like dollops of vanilla ice cream . In case you visit during the hotter months like July August, then the meadow is covered with green, they valley turns colourful with flowers blossomed.
Places to stay in Gulmarg – Being a tourist spot, it has many places which can be booked beforehand. We stayed at Nedous Hotel. This is a130 year old hotel opposite to Gulmarg Golf Club and is an experience in itself
Food at Kongdoor – There are several options which are available and we tried out rishta pulao and that’s the time when there was a snow storm. I’m sure, in the freezing cold, you will enjoy the hot pulao with fire stoves around the table to keep guests warm.
Options for rides – For the adventure sports enthusiasts, one can go upto Apharwat valley for skiing and other adventure sports but for most, the Kongdoor is a safe bet and if you are with family, then this is the best place to hang around.