Have you ever made a list of things to do before you die? This one should be added to that! The skiing destination in India, gulmarg is the highest lift accessible ski terrain in the Asia which makes it a big attraction for skiers.
As a non skier, I was wondering what would I do there and hello I was in for a major surprise. The cable car ride aka Gulmarg gondola and nature walks in 7 Km and 11 Km stretches called as inner ring road and outer ring road respectively are a treat for all nature lovers.
Gulmarg literally meaning meadow of flowers is a huge meadow ringed by fir trees and snowy peaks. The meadow itself is shaped like a cup and this enables an onlooker to see the entire expanse from any one point. Welcome to the world’s highest operating cable car since the closure of Melida Cable Car in Venezuela in 2008. It is also the longest cable car project in Asia.
It is the only cable car system in Asia which travels up a height of 13,500 feet above sea level. The gondola was designed in technical collaboration with with a French company, Pomagalski and is operated by Jammu and Kashmir cable car corporation (JKCCC). Each gondola is a small yellow colored cabin with space for 6 adults. The cabins are slung on high tensile strength cables which move continuously. The gondola operates in two phases, PHASE 1 and PHASE 2. The gondolas have two stops where they allow for embarking and disembarking of tourist passengers. The gondola fares are Rs. 300/ tourist up to Phase 1 and Rs. 500 / tourist to Phase 2. The total aerial distance covered by Gulmarg Gondola is 5 Km. The cable car ascends 1,330 vertical meters to a height of nearly 4,000 m.
The ride to phase 1 is an exhilarating 9 minutes journey. The gondola takes tourists from gulmarg to seven springs Kangdori which is at a height of 1000 feet above sea level. The journey among tall lines and looming mountains is wonderful. From phase 1 you can go to:
Seven springs: a natural water source where seven springs originate.
Khilanmarg: vast meadow which can be reached in 30 minutes by pony.
Ski slopes: skiers have access to numerous easy runs through the trees and to the groomed but narrow slopes.
Phase 2 has been completed recently and was opened for public only in May 2005. The phase 2 gondola goes up to a height of 13,500 feet above sea level to Apharvat. This journey is a steep ascend to the rocky mountain peak and takes about 12 minutes. This phase is of prime attraction as it takes you higher and closer to the scary and mesmerizing heights of Himalayas. From the top most station, you are awestruck by the closeness of the snow covered peaks and the clouds around you and below you. The peak is at 30 minute trek from the station. Also, from this peak the line of control and Pakistan administered Kashmir is both visible.
Patients with respiratory disorder, heart diseases and children below 5 years of age are not allowed to go to phase 2.
Phase 2 gives a bird eye view of the Kashmir valley.
Alpanther Lake: a lake that is frozen throughout 365 days of the year. It can be reached in 30 minutes by foot from top of phase 2.
Walk some distance by foot and you can witness the rare sight of rarest of flowers.
The joy ride
The movement in the gulmarg gondola is smooth and there is just a little jerk and tug when the cable car goes by one of the towers. At this vantage position you can fully enjoy the magnificent view all around. In the first section you go by tall fir trees, and then the landscape dramatically opens below to grassy slopes covered with flowers. All I could witness was birch trees and snow covered slopes everywhere I looked! Step out to knee high snow at Kangdori or (soft green turf depending on the time of the year). You get to see the towering Nanga Parbat, the western extremity of the Himalayan chain!
No other experience can give you the enriching feeling of having snow peaks close to touch with a rich serving of nature’s bounty!