Long immortalised by Bollywood, pine-fringed Gulmarg (‘Meadow of Flowers’) is the nearest India gets to a ski resort. The town is encircled by snow-capped peaks, the most impressive of which is Mt Affarwat, accessible via the precipitous Gulmarg Gondola – the second highest cable car ride in the world. Gulmarg town itself is more of a twisting 4km-long loop of road ringing the undulating meadow for which it’s named.
In this extract from Lonely Planet India’s Best Escapes Jammu & Kashmir we tell you about the top experiences and best places to visit here.
By far the biggest attraction in town, this cable car whisks visitors 3747m up to a ridge which affords fantastic views of the Nanga Parbat, among other Himalayan peaks. Make it the first stop on your itinerary – the ticket office opens at 8.30am but a queue starts forming from as early as 7am. The Gondola ride has two phases: phase 1 rises 400m above tall fir trees and goes up to the relatively modest bowl-shaped Kongdori Valley, but it’s the second stage, which rises through clouds to the top of Kongdori Mountain (a shoulder of the Affarwat peak) perched at a scary 3747m that truly elevates the experience. The gondolas which seat six people are modern and confidence-inspiring, but stop mid-air if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Church of St Mary’s
This demurely lovely church sits on a lonely hillock and is accessed off the road linking Gulmarg Golf Club to Hotel Highlands Park. Guides will start their monologue at the church with the by now familiar allusions to Bollywood films – for those who are interested, scenes of the Ajay Devgn and Kajol starrer Dil Kya Kare were shot here. Built in 1902 by the British who summered in Gulmarg, the church looks like it’s been transplanted from the English pastoral hinterland, with the links-style golf course adding to the effect. Take a minute or two to admire the antique stained-glass windows.
Gulmarg Golf Club
The highest green course in the country and one of the oldest outside the British Isles, this fantastic layout traces its history back to 1890 when the first six holes were laid out by Colonel Neville Chamberlain of the British Army. Recently given a complete facelift and redesign by course designer Ranjit Nanda, the undulating 18 holes present a physical as well as a golfing challenge to players. The location, in the main meadow, is absolutely spectacular and well worth a wander even if you do not play. The local professional Mohammed Sadiq Kataria is at hand to give non-golfers putting and golf swing lessons at the driving range. Golf clubs and shoes are available for hire. Don’t forget to pop into the historic wooden clubhouse.
This quaint, very Kashmiri-looking Shiva temple, also known as Maharani Temple, sits on a mound next to the bus stand, it’s pointed red roof contrasting strikingly against the snow clad peaks in the background. Built in 1915 by one of the wives of the then Dogra King Maharaja Hari Singh, the temple is a popular destination during the festival of Shivratri. Bollywood buffs will recognise the temple from the iconic ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar,’ song immortalised by Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz.
It takes a two-hour walk or an hour’s pony ride to cover the 6km route from the Gulmarg bus stand to this popular spot, which is carpeted by wild flowers in the summer, and snow in the winter. The 600m slope teems with activity in the winter with skiers, and locals offering rides to visitors on little wooden sleds. Magnificent views of Nanga Parbat and the twin Nun and Kun peaks are possible on clear days from the southeast corner of the meadow. Trekkers encamp here enroute to Alpather Lake. In the spring and summer months, it’s better to take ponies rather than walk up – the snow melt makes the trail muddy and dangerously slippery.
Getting there: Gulmarg is about 50km from Srinagar. A taxi charges about Rs. 2000.
Best places to stay: The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, Hotel Highlands Park and Pine Palace.