Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Weekend at Gulmarg

This was my first ever trip to Kashmir. I am always excited when I travel to a new destination, but this was particularly special.  My wife and I were getting a chance to attend a summit at Gulmarg over the July 4th weekend; with much of our colleagues in the USA on vacation, this was when we could get some time off from our daily routine.  This was also the first time in quite a while when we would be traveling without our daughter.

The troubled Kashmir valley has seen a longer period of peace and quiet after years of bloodshed and tourists are beginning to flow. But there was no escaping the heavily armed police and army presence as we drove out of Srinagar airport to our resort in the sylvan Himalayan hill station of Gulmarg.

The Srinagar we saw as we drove through was like any other city, but one could spot the differences.  The glorious mountain peaks surrounded the valley in the distance, with tall fir and pine trees rising up their sides and houses had brightly coloured roofs.  Interestingly, there were no movie posters or ads for schools and tuition that are ubiquitous in other Indian cities.

Soon, we were winding up the hilly terrain lost in admiration of the splendid surroundings that enveloped us.  Panoramic views of the valley would suddenly break through the lush vegetation as we went around a bend, and we would gasp at the beauty of it all.

The Khyber Himalayan Resort is gorgeous. Built in the style of log cabins, the resort is almost completely wood with green tile roofs.  Handcrafted adornments in wood and brass are everywhere: from the balconies, the furniture and the corridors.  However, if you are lucky to have a room with a balcony opening out to the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas, the view is just breathtaking.  Almost 270 degrees of the snow-clan mountain tops and tall treetops of the firs, pines and china’s.

It didn’t take much time for me to get hooked on to kahwa, the local preparation of steaming hot sweetened green tea mixed with spices and dry fruits.

We tasted the famed Kashmiri wazwan cuisine, a feast that is put together during weddings and celebrations here.  Everything we tasted was amazing: the delicately spiced Gustaba and Rishta, the popular Rogan Josh, Waza Murgh, Nadru Kababs made of ground lotus stem, and many others.

During the evenings there were folk songs and ghazals as we gorged on more kababs and sipped on wines.  We also found some time to go up the cable-car to the peaks.  The Gulmarg Gondola is apparently among the highest in the world and so is the golf course here.

If you ski some distance, you can actually see the Indo-Pakistan Line of Control, which is rather close by.  Weather here was good, but you have to remember it can rain, snow and get sunny, all in the same day!

On our way back, we stopped by at a cherry farm to buy some fresh fruit. This is probably the first time we bought brought fruit that was plucked straight off the trees into boxes for us!

For those planning travel to Kashmir, here are some tips I can offer:  keep carry-on luggage to a minimum and arrive at Srinagar airport at least 2-2.5 hours ahead of time.  There are at least three security checks and they have some unique restrictions such as discouraging clothes and shoes in carry-on, etc.  If you plan to shop for Kashmir’s famous Pashmina, do some research in advance; there is a lot of variety in technique, design and price points.  Finally, while summer time is beautiful in Gulmarg, I bet winters are even better!


Nima Das said...

Lovely post,great pictures,only wishing they were larger so I could admire the beauty. We are also planning a visit next summer, will try and remember your tip and guide. Btw the hotel rooms look grand.

Shantanu said...

@Nima: Thanks! I guess I have to eventually redesign my blog so I can post larger pics. Did occur to me. Enjoy your vacation in Kashmir when you get around to it.