JAMMU AND KASHMIR

GULMARG

Gulmarg  'meadow of flowers' , is a town, a hill station, a popular skiing destination and a notified area committee in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, India. The town is situated in the Pir Panjal Range in the Western Himalayas and lies within the boundaries of Gulmarg Wildlife Sanctuary.

The main activity for a tourist in Gulmarg is skiing and snowboarding. The skiing season starts on the 25th of December and runs through to March. The snow is generally deep and powdery! There's a huge number of opportunities for skiing from each of the gondola stations and the chairlift on predominantly ungroomed powder runs. Gulmarg is comparable to the higher areas of Whistler/Blackcomb.

There are two areas for skiing: the high mountain/off piste areas served by the gondola; and a beginner's area near the hotels sited on the hills of the Gulmarg golf course.

The beginners area is open from 10-1, then closes for lunch until 2:30. Lifts reopen 2:30-4.

High mountain area: With its gondola accessible ski area on Mt. Apharwat, 4'124m it offers many possibilities for descents of up to 1'800 vertical meters. The Phase I Gondola is open from approximately 8:30 to 3:30 daily. The Chairlift is open from around 9.30am to 3pm depending on avalanche risk. The Phase II Gondola opens later in the day after the main bowl has been made avalanche safe by blasting. However, Phase II is highly dependent on snow conditions and is often closed for the whole day. Avalanche risk and gondola opening is posted on Facebook here

Sound skiing skills and good health are prerequisites to enjoy ski vacations in Gulmarg. Note that only the main bowl to the skier's left of the gondola is avalanche-blasted and patrolled - all other areas are considered out-of-bounds.It is very easy to exit the ski area boundary into the wild terrain where no avalanche control has been done by the ski patrol. A non-profit avalanche center puts out a daily bulletin and teaches avalanche courses. Some are free, like the avalanche awareness talk which is really helpful. The web page for the center is gulmargavalanche.org

Heli-skiing is available, which opens up far more off-piste opportunities than the one-lift resort that Gulmarg otherwise offers [1]. But its very expensive and weather dependent (around 800USD for half day and 1300 dollars for a full day per person, Feb 2015). The heliski operators are Australian and qualified. They also offer equipment rental including skis, boards, boots and avalanche survival kits (beacon, shovel, probe).

Ski rentals are available in many places in town but quality and prices vary considerably (up to 1000 Rs per day) (Feb 2015). A good bet for quality snowboards (even girls boots and boards) is the Attic board shop at Mount View Hostel in Gulmarg village near the post office [2]. Prices 600-750Rs per day total (Feb 2015). They'll even put a fresh coat of wax on:) A good bet for quality powder skis (Atomic) up to 186, poles and decent boots is the Government shop by the baby slopes (750Rs per day total) (Feb 2015).

Take care if considering hiring a guide - they are everywhere, persuasive, of variable quality and use and tend to work on a commission basis. Initial price might be attractive but your guide may be reluctant to take you to places which don't pay commission and you'll be paying inflated prices for ski hire, food etc for the duration of your trip. If you want reliable guides, properly trained in avalanche awareness you can contact the part western owned Di5 adventures[3], or enquire at the Mount View Hostel[4].

The weather can be cold and it is necessary for tourists to wear warm clothes. Golfing, Sledging, and horse riding are other activities (best enjoyed in the summer). Major Tourist Attractions of Gulmarg are Alpather Lake , Baba Reshi Shrine , Gondola, Cable Car to Kongdor, Gulmarg Gold Golf Course, Khilanmarg, Maharani Temple, Skiing ,St Marys church,

A number of informal checkpoints exist along the road to Gulmarg, which appear to be staffed by armed volunteers. Tipping may be necessary to pass any given checkpoint.

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