It is said that the Eskioms have a hundred synonyms for the word snow. Standing on the snow slopes of Gulmarg I wondered if the Kashmiris have more.
It was early winter and the snow was yet to come in Srinagar, and the leaf less Chinar trees welcomed me in the valley. After spending a couple of days in barren landscape and under an overcast sky I decided to head for Gulmarg.
As my jeep gained altitude patches of snow started appearing. Soon the patches grew bigger and bigger and by the time I reached Gulmarg (2653 m) it was snow, snow & more snow. It was first time in Kashmir I felt that I was in paradise.
After checking in one of the numerous hotels, and a quick brunch, I was out to explore the place. But was soon surrounded by the sledge wallas. The sledges are nothing but indigenous version of the Calcutta hand pulled rickshaw, where you are pulled along the snow in a wheel less wooden carriage (rather a piece of log) by a fellow human being. It was nothing adventurous and I decided to give the sledge ride a skip but the in the process denied a poor man of his income.
I was soon out of the clutches of the sledge wallas and was out to explore the place. My first stop was the Rani Temple. Built in 1915 by Mohini Bai Sisodhia, wife of the last king of Kashmir Hari Singh, the Rani Temple is strategically located on a small hillock and is visible from every part of Gulmarg. I followed the snow covered slippery steps to the temple only to find it locked, but the view was incredible.
Bidding farewell to the Temple I headed for the J&K Tourism office. Located about 500 meters away, the British cottage styled building was totally covered with snow. But the office was open and the young tourist officer provided me not only with tourist brochures but also chalked out an itinerary for my one and half days stay in Gulmarg.
Next to the tourism office is the Gulmarg Golf Club. The century old Gulmarg Golf Club is situated in a similar cottage. Bypassing the club house I headed through the snow covered golf course towards the St. Mary’s Church, located on a hillock overlooking the golf course.
Built in 1902 the church contains some stain glass work. After a brief stop at the church, I made my way through the snow covered meadows, where the enthusiastic tourist tried out their newly learnt skiing skills. Considering me unfit for skiing, I decided to give it a skip, and wondered aimlessly to a hill top, said to provide great mountain views.
It was late afternoon and by the time I reached the view point the clouds have reigned supreme and it was all set to snow. I took a shortcut and made it to the warmth of my hotel room just before the snowfall began. The snow continued all evening and late into the night.
Next morning I was greeted with the most spectacular sight. The snow had stopped and the skies have cleared. Without losing time I was out with my camera to shoot the snowscape.
After a breakfast I headed for Gulmarg’s prime attraction the Gondola Cable Car. As my four seater cable car started to move I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the Gulmarg valley crowned with the eternal snow peaks of the Himalayas & Karakoram. The ride was short and I was soon in Kongdori (3045m), where there was more snow.
Giving the ski training a skip I walked past the frozen seven springs, known for seven natural outlets of water, and headed for Khilanmarg. Located 4 km away Khilanmarg is known for its breath taking views of snow peaks extending all the away to Pakistan. But within a kilometer the snow reached well above my knee forcing me back. I headed back to Kongdori, from where I took a cable car back to Gulmarg.
Now it was time for home. As I retraced my steps back to Srignar, I was reminded of a line from J&K Tourism Brochure “They say a visit to Kashmir can divide your life into two halves – before & after Kashmir.”
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