Ski across the fence to Pakistan!

January 20th, 2010 admin Posted in Things to consider 1 Comment »

From a blog post by Sam Lozier, Boston.com Correspondent.

Gulmarg is very (VERY) close to the border with Pakistan. As it still hasn’t snowed in weeks, we’ve been pushing out of the resort and exploring the surrounding drainages for ski potential. Today we headed toward the line of control to see what the terrain was like on the Indian side.
To those familiar with the area, we were headed past the shark fin to ski a chute that looked like it was holding snow pretty well. Unfortunately, it was also very close to the border fence that is the line of control.
It’s a rather curious set of sensations that come over you when you when skiing near the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. We were as awestruck by the beauty of the place as we were the absurdity of recreating near one of the tensest borders in the entire world. Dulling the entire experience thought was the pounding headache I had from hiking at 14k feet to get to the view.
Further compounding the ridiculousness of the situation was a report that we’d received from a skier who’d been here in previous seasons. He said that it only takes a few storms to completely bury the fence. The unassuming backcountry skier could ski right over the border into Pakistan rather easily. With that in mind, we’ve made an effort to document where exactly the border is, so as not to end up like the hikers that accidentally ended up in Iran.

The story was reported here.

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Lightning stops Gulmarg Gondola operations – temporarily

April 24th, 2008 admin Posted in Gondola - Cable Car, Things to consider 1 Comment »

Courtesy GreaterKashmir: Gulmarg, Apr 23: The world’s highest and Asia’s longest cable car, Gondola, at Gulmarg has been damaged by lightning that struck it on Monday evening.
 A major tourist attraction, the ropeway has been closed for an indefinite period, the officials said.
  “The lightning has extensively damaged sensitive electric parts and control system of the Gondola’s first phase at Kangdoori. Fortunately there were no passengers in its cabins when the lightning struck it,” managing director, Jammu and Kashmir Cable Car Corporation, Javid Iqbal Panzoo told Greater Kashmir.
 The MD said a team of engineers from Mumbai has started work to restore Gondola. “There is no physical damage to the Gondola but it is very difficult to repair its electric parts. We are also in touch with the foreign engineers and are working on their instructions. We can’t compromise on safety of the passengers, but we will leave no stone unturned to restore it,” he said.    
 The ropeway was set up by the internationally acclaimed French cable car company, Pomoglaski, in collaboration with state government and its first phase up to Kongdoori was commissioned in 1998.
 The second phase of 2.5 km up to Apharwat peak situated at a height of 4390 metres is considered important for it is mostly used by foreign skiers to reach on the peak top for downhill skiing and snow boarding.   
 “We can’t operate the second phase until the first phase is restored. It will hamper our restoration work,” the MD maintained.  
 The Gondola has been facing frequent breakdowns since its construction. Last year, many foreign skiers were trapped inside the cabins on way to Apharwat due to technical snag in the ropeway. They were rescued after hectic efforts.
 The hoteliers of Gulmarg are concerned about breakdown of the Gondola. “Due to it many of our bookings have been already cancelled. If the Gondola is not restored immediately, it will cause us huge financial loss. Tourists visit Gulmarg mainly for Gondola. The State government and management of the Gondola must be equipped to keep it functioning in all conditions,” they said. 
 But the MD said machines can anytime develop technical snags. “We can’t prevent lightning as it is a natural phenomenon. In the wake of the huge tourist rush, we are hopeful to restore the Gondola as soon as possible,” he added.

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

December 9th, 2007 admin Posted in News, Skiing, Things to consider 4 Comments »

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.”

©AFP

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Phone connections from Gulmarg

June 19th, 2007 admin Posted in Things to consider 3 Comments »

The country code for India is 91 (+91 or 0091) and the Gulmarg STD code is 0194 (no zero necessary while dialing international). Mobile phones work in Srinagar, but not in Gulmarg, unless they’re with the Indian provider BSNL. Your only other means of contact with the outside world is through STD phone booths. There are a number of them present throughout Gulmarg.

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Ponderings – Paradise Revisited

June 14th, 2007 admin Posted in Things to consider No Comments »

Paradise revisited
 
J Kamath returns to Gulmarg and is enamoured by the sights and sounds of the place, which was the favourite haunt of the Mogul Emperor Jehangir.
  Nov 13, 2005

 

A jumble of emotions twirled in my head as I boarded the bus at Srinagar’s Balmotta terminus, that was to take me to Gulmarg. I had visited this place nearly a decade and a half ago, and nourished intoxicating memories of it— tall trees that surely touched the sky, the delicious nip of the chill air, snowy peaks etched against the blue sky and the enduring warmth of the people. Would Gulmarg still be the pristine place where one yearns to return? Or would the intervening years have now reduced it to a seething eyesore by the quick buck kind of development that has affected many of its counterparts like Manali and Dalhousie?

Three days and many walks later, I realised that my worries were unfounded and Gulmarg still retains the reputation of a place where nature tries hard to please the wayward tourist. Gulmarg, located around 52 km away from Srinagar, was originally called Gaurimarg by the shepherds, and was the favourite haunt of the Mogul Emperor Jehangir, who came here to collect plants for his gardens.

Today, what drives most day tripping tourists from Srinagar, is the newly inaugurated cable car on the slopes of that majestic deodar covered mountain Apaharwat. And that’s where we headed. The serpentine queues at the ticket counters quite disheartened us as it threaded its way slowly, but what kept us from whining about it was the huge board near the entrance which announced that — when complete— this cable car would be the highest in the world! Eminently affordable, we found travelling on this to be an exhilarating experience; while the gondola lazily continues its upward journey. Sumptuous views of the valley gently unfold, like in one of those slow motion movie scenes.

After travelling for about four kilometres, the journey terminates on a huge plateau and tourists are permitted to spend some time here. The solemnity of the cable car suddenly gives way to a carnival like atmosphere with almost everybody being noisily delighted with their first glimpse of snow.

The following day we decided on a trek to Khilinmarg, which lay on the northern slopes of Apaharwat. It was a tough walk and had it been not for the phenomenal scenery, we would have retraced our steps for the comforts of our hotel. The grasslands quickly gave way to snow, but we kept prodding on with stoicism.

It took us well over four hours to complete the trek and the cold had taken its toll; we could feel our feet slowly ballooning in our shoes and the chatter in our teeth did not seem to stop at all, but our guide Adbul assured us that a sip from the local tea they call ‘noonchai’ is sure to make us feel warmer and lead the way to a tintop hotel. The pink concoction made from tea leaves, baking soda and salt took a while to get used to, but when it sank into our innards, the smiles returned.

Gulmarg’s claim to fame also rests on the Golf course, designed by the legendary Peter Thomson, and is believed to be one of the highest in the world. Their office is a heritage building in its own right too. The huge boulder strewn stream, that is visible from most viewpoints in Gulmarg, is the Ferozpur Nullah. The fish here is known to be a culinary favourite and it is every angler’s dream to try his luck in its turbulent waters.

As per the edict of the tourism authorities, the roofs of all buildings in Gulmarg have to be painted dark green— we found this to be a very practical decision as the concrete here effortlessly blends into the verdant landscape. The only exception to this rule is the temple of Hari Singh; of unknown antiquity and situated on a small hill, its solemn bells could be heard ringing all over the valley. And few metres away is the graveyard dedicated to all those brave English men and women who sought adventure and fortune in faraway lands; we were rather intrigued by a tombstone with inscriptions in chaste Sanskrit.

On our penultimate day here, Abdul suggested that we walk to his village Tangmarg about 13 kilometres away, as buses to Srinagar were far more frequent from there. Being downhill, it would not be a strain on our atrophied muscles and we were sure to enjoy the scenery. We eagerly accepted his offer and soon found ourselves gently dodging wispy mists amidst century old trees. And deep in one of these dark woods, we stumbled across the dargah of Baba Reshi, a sufi saint who inhabited this area a few centuries ago. We paid our respects to the great man and hoped that we would return. And local fore has it that Baba Reshi always answers the prayers of his devotees ….

FACT FILE

Accommodation: Hotel Highlands Park, Yemberza, Saheen and Zumzum.

Tip: It is advisable to hire a guide for the trek to Khilinmarg.

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