Gulmarg is one of the best-kept secrets in the skiing world. It’s a remote place, but with the most extreme terrain imaginable, torrential powder and the highest Gondola in the world at 4000 metres along with colourful culture, its well worth a trip for any die-hard snow fanatic.
The amount of terrain that is accessible via the gondola is practically boundless. It’s very much frontier skiing, with the main attraction being a lethal combination of vast extreme terrain and endless metres of powder. Only a small amount of terrain adjacent to the gondola is patrolled, with 99% of the terrain being backcountry. Don’t worry too much about safety precaution if you plan to stick close to the gondola, but you must be properly prepared if you want to experience the backcountry riding.
- 1 Location
- 2 Security situation
- 3 Pros
- 4 Cons
- 5 Contacts
- 6 Planning
- 7 Resort Facilities
- 8 Ride Guide
- 9 Other
- 10 Packages
- 11 Resources
Gulmarg is in Kashmir at the western end of the Pir Panjals and is about 50km or 2 hours away from Srinagar, the capital.
As is well documented, the region of Kashmir has been under dispute between India and Pakistan for some time. Gulmarg & Srinagar are currently on the Indian side of the line of control.
Most people generally have a negative image of the safety and security in Kashmir – this is mostly because of an ongoing publicity stunt pulled by the international media in order to dramatise the situation. In reality, the situation has been relatively calm since the unrest in the 90’s. Although occasional protests do crop up occasionally, the area itself is arguably less dangerous than cities such as New York, London, Mumbai or Madrid, which have been terrorist targets in the past.
In general, the advice of Western Governments towards their citizens is 'Do not travel'. While it is worth reading these advisories to give you an idea on the current situation, it is also important to remember that much of this advice is extremely over-cautious and also quite biased in favour of developed countries.
There is a large presence of Indian military throughout the capital of Srinigar, which subsides as you get up on the mountain at Gulmarg. You’ll soon get used to this and it’s important to remember that they’re only present to safeguard and watch over the area, which means you are safer with rather than without them there. They only time they really get in your way though is when convoys of big military trucks head up and down the Gulmarg - Tangmarg road slowing all other traffic.
Otherwise, you can quite safely wander around Gulmarg during the day, where the people most likely to bother you will be guys trying to give you a sled ride. The Kashmiris are quite friendly. At night, you just need to wary of stray dogs. When stopping over in Srinagar most people will stay on the houseboats which are very beautiful and historical.
Reflecting this sentiment, skiers heading to Gulmarg in recent years have found it quite safe and their numbers have increased dramatically over the past 10 years.
Untracked powder, lots of it. Several bowls to either side of the gondola bowl, so fresh lines available for days. The biggest selling point – uncrowded slopes, no lines at all for the Gondola and ski lifts. Those who usually go to Europe, Japan or American will know what a luxury this is.
There are beginner slopes, but these aren’t the long groomed intermediate runs that Western resorts are known for. Don’t come here if you want a lazy, pampered ski holiday. The best terrain and powder is accessed through the backcountry, so this is a problem for those who aren’t fit and strong. You have to careful about safety – both in terms of avalanches and travelling into the correct terrain, so a guide is essential.
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Fly to Delhi and then get a connecting flight to Srinagar. The domestic airport is 3km away from the international, make sure you take a proper meter taxi and it shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars. Kingfisher and Jet Airways are both reliable international airlines that have daily flights straight to Srinagar. Kingfisher is another one. Occasionally, these flights may be delayed due to bad weather in Kashmir.
Domestic flights in India have a high level of security and this is the case for those to/from Kashmir. Expect to have several baggage x-ray checks and frisk searches, including one just prior to boarding. When checking in, make sure you get a paper luggage tag for your hand carry on luggage as security like to stamp this when you go through the x-ray checks. Listen out for the airline announcement to identify your luggage - you need to go out onto the tarmac and identify your bags matching them with your baggage receipts before they will load them. Avoid packing any sharp objects in your hand luggage. Also avoid carrying battery devices, although phones and cameras seem to be ok. Even in your checked luggage, it’s best to remove batteries out of your battery devices as these can also be checked.
On arrival in Kashmir you will get a registration form asking for details on your stay including flight, passport, visa details, so have these handy. You should get the same form at the hotel and again on departure - it is India so there is no shortage of bureaucracy.
Once you arrive in Srinigar (the capital), Gulmarg is about a 50km drive. This is the tricky bit, so make sure you have arranged for a package with a tour operator before you get there otherwise it can be more awkward when you arrive. They will also pick you up from the airport to avoid getting swamped by dozens of touts wanting to take you.
If you don’t want to stay in Srinigar overnight, it’s best to arrive in Delhi in the morning so that you can take a midday flight to Srinigar, then head straight to Gulmarg. Otherwise, you can stop over in Srinigar overnight and leave for Gulmarg the next morning.
The drive from Srinagar to Gulmarg is fairly straightforward, but can be delayed due to snowstorms etc.
It is a good idea to change foreign currency into Rupees at the bank at the airport on arrival as you won't be able to do this in Gulmarg. Normally the bank will give you a bunch of R500 notes. Ask for a bunch of R100 and R50 notes as well as you need these initially for tips and small purchases and change can be hard to come by.
There are varying styles and levels of accommodation, but don't expect high end luxury. Travelling with a reliable tour operator helps to ensure the quality of your accommodation, as they will have access to the best hotels. Kashmir sometimes has severe power shortages, so if you get a room that has reasonably reliable heating, daily hot water sufficient for a hot shower and some decent lighting you are doing really well. The power surges can blow your electrical appliances, so it’s advisable to bring a surge protector for all your cameras, laptops etc.
Accommodation is in various parts of the village. Some hotels are very close to the gondola station, others a bit further but you can ski to. Again, it’s best to organise with an operator so you can get a hotel that allows you to ski straight to the Gondola.
There are a variety of budget options in Gulmarg. There are small huts with 4 to 6 rooms that are heated via a traditional Bucchari woodfire. In the market area of Gulmarg is where you will find the cheaper options.
Pine Palace is one of Gulmarg's best hotels, providing a blend of comfortable accommodation with genuine Kashmiri hospitality. It’s a hotel with standard facilities – a reception, dining hall/restaurant, lounge/bar, and disco dance area. The food is also some of the best around. It’s perfectly located to allow you to ski straight to the Gondola.
Some packages will allow you to visit the villages with your guide. Depending on how long you plan to stay, taking a day off can be a much-needed break.
Companies such as K-line Himalaya have decently priced packages that include everything from an airport pickup, to overnight accommodation at Dal Lake in Srinigar, to full backcountry guiding services. Check www.klinehimalaya.com for plenty of information.
The lower gondola is Rs150 single trip or Rs700 for a Day pass. The upper gondola is Rs250 single trip or Rs1250 for a Day pass. Again, this is included on packages. You can only buy tickets on the day and only when the lift is going to run, which means you usually avoid the situation of buying a ticket and having the lift close. Try to have the correct change especially if you are early – the ticket booths don't always have change.
In bad weather, the top gondola won't operate so a good alternative is a day pass for the lower gondola if you aren't planning on any tree runs down to Tangmarg etc. On a fine day with the top gondola going, most riders are only likely to ride the lower section once and concentrate on the upper section. If you are doing a lot of hiking / traversing to the backcountry you are probably not likely to do more than 4 runs.
The operating times will vary considerably depending on a number of factors - weather, avalanche hazard, power shortages, number of people etc. The lower gondola rarely starts at the advertised time of 8:30, usually it is closer to 9:30. The upper gondola will not operate with anything more than a sprinkle of snow.
Ski lessons are available. They are usually available with any backcountry guiding package, you will usually be able to ask your guide for skiing lessons instead of backcountry touring.
The ski patrol team is composed of both Kashmiri and foreign snow safety experts. The team is sent regularly overseas for training and seminars, making their skills and qualifications on par with experts from anywhere else in the world.
Weekly avalanche awareness sessions are held once a week at the Pine Palace hotel, which are a must if you are doing any backcountry (why else would you be in Gulmarg?) An avalanche transceiver/beacon search facility has also been set up outside the Pine Palace, which is operated daily if you want to practice your search technique.
There is a government hire shop on the mountain, which has a good range of skis, boots and boards. Hire is ridiculously cheap and you can get this included in your package.
For getting around in Gulmarg the options are to walk, ski/skate, grab a tow behind a passing jeep or pay one of the many Kashmiri guys to give you a sled ride. You can ski down to Tangmarg, from there you can negotiate a taxi to take you back up.
- Ice skating
There is an ice skating ring that offers good equipment for a change of pace from skiing and snowboarding.
- Local attractions
Hey, its a different culture, so go check out the local temples, villages etc and you might learn something.
This will usually be in your hotel. Meals are generally quite good - obviously plenty of rice, dahl, spicy vegetables. Meat dishes will be either chicken or mutton. The chicken dishes are generally pretty good. As always, do be wary as there are always a few people that get a dose of 'Delhi belly'. The safest option is to eat at one of the big reputable hotels.
Lunch options are the restaurants at the gondola base and midstations. However, eating a big lunch will of course leave you too full to ride well, so some find it sufficient to have a big breakfast (included at most hotels) and just bring a muesli bar and fruit onto the mountain. Either way, it’s your choice. Be sure to try the Kashmiri tea, Khava, which is green tea with cinnamon, cardomon, crushed almond - very nice.
Bars & Entertainment
Very limited. Kashmirs are predominately Muslim so do not drink alcohol. Some of the hotels do have bars. You can apparently buy some local whisky specifically intended for sale only to the Indian army if you are very keen, but really you are best off bringing your own duty free. Be aware that if you decide to do your own thing and go down to Tangmarg on a 'beer run' there is a limit of two slabs per person (as someone this year discovered when the police stopped them at the bottom of the road). Some of the westerners there for the season will occasionally organise parties. Look out for signs around the gondola station or word of mouth if you are interested.
Very limited in Gulmarg and Tangmarg. If you have a day off it is worth walking down the road alongside the gold course where there are a few temples, small clothing shops and Dhabas (tea shops). But for any proper shopping you'll need to go to Srinagar.
The poma slopes. These will generally be occupied by middle class Indians. You don't travel to Gulmarg to ride here.
For the most part there is no grooming, which is the attraction of Gulmarg. It is 99% ungroomed terrain.
The lower gondola section usually gets packed down by riders after a fresh snowfall and they might groom it after that to make the lower section back to the gondola easier to ride as it is a bit flat in parts.
A narrow trail may be groomed on the last couple of hundred meters before the midstation down from the top again as it is fairly flat.
As far as the eye can see. The gondola offers an massive amount of advanced and expert terrain and most of it is ungroomed. The skiing and boarding is amazing.
Out of Bounds
Probably 90-95% of the terrain accessible from the top gondola will be backcountry. Only the main bowl under the gondola is controlled. There are numerous bowls left and right of that which are backcountry so you will need to be properly geared up. Check the backcountry advisories which the patrol will post at each of the gondola stations.
No prepared tracks. You could cruise around on the roads or perhaps the golf course, but again it is not really the reason to come to Gulmarg.
Parks & Pipes
Nope, all free ride or build your own.
Unlikely that you'll see any of these. Generally people are looking for fresh lines.
Just about everywhere you look. Just a matter of getting there and back.
The tree runs below the midstation and below Gulmarg down to Tangmarg etc. The top ridge will often be windy.
Get one of the local guys to give you are sled ride. They are always keen.
Gulmarg is located 52 km from Srinagar. It is located at [show location on an interactive map] 34°03′N 74°23′E / 34.05, 74.38. The base station of gondola has an altitude of 2650m & it reaches upto the altitude of 4000m at Mt.Aferwat.
Gulmarg has been a resort for the kings like Yousuf Shah Chak and Jahangir who used to visit frequently. The old name of Gulmarg was "Gaurimarg", the name of Lord Shiva's wife. Yousuf Shah Chak changed its name to Gulmarg, meaning the place of roses. During the early part of the 20th century the famous Central Asian explorer Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862 – 1943), made his home here in a tent between his expeditions. It was a favourite summer holiday destination for the British stationed in India
Hectic Himalayas 11 & 15 Day Snow Packages
Liquid Adventures are currently offering Gulmarg Snow Package Holidays for Australian travelers looking to experience the thrill of long untouched snow runs (some upto 7kms!), something Australians are not privileged with Australian ski conditions. Our 11 day package starts from $1490, and our 15 day packages starting $1730, making this ultimate ski experience very affordable to all skiers and snowboarders.
Package includes: Return flights from Dehli to Sringar ,Return jeep transport from the Airport to Gulmarg Hotel, 10 or 14 nights accommodation, In-resort host, Breakfast daily (except budget package), 8 or 12 days fully guided off piste skiing/snowboarding (depending on your package type)
We are currently giving away FREE Travel Insurance to anyone who purchases any of the Hectic Himalayas Packages before the 30th of September 2009. For more information, visit http://www.liquidadventures.com.au/our-trips/hectic-himalayas.
Free Ski Himalaya Powder Programs
In 2005/2006 we were one of the first operators to run freeriding programs in Gulmarg. Since then dozens of guests from all over the world have decided to ski with us in the Himalaya. We offer either 7 days/8 nights guided or hosted programs and customized programs adapted to the guests' expectations and abilities. Comfortable lodging and professional guiding make us the partner guests can rely on for their ski trip to Kashmir.
Here you will also find some comprehensive information about the terrain including photographic maps http://freeskihimalaya.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/ski-terrain-snow-conditions-in-gulmarg/
- Free Ski Himalaya 
- Smart Traveller
- a group of Aussies that help out
- Ski Gulmarg
- Liquid Adventures