Gulmarg is an average picturesque ski town – if you took that town and transported it 2600m up into a war-torn and neglected part of India. And while war-torn may have been more accurate 10 years ago, the evidence of Kashmir’s violent past is everywhere. Bombed-out shells of buildings that would have housed whole families, an in-your-face military presence of trucks and patrol booths staffed by frigid, under-equipped soldiers, and a population that has collectively seen a generation of bloodshed and violence. But despite this history, Kashmiris are overwhelming happy and willing to work exhaustively to support the one industry they have left – tourism.
The resort itself takes a little getting used for westerners… Phase II of the gondola costs $5/ride and ascends to 3900m offering epic views of the Himalaya to the east and Pakistan to the west, but can take hours, or even days, to open after a snowfall. And that’s assuming it opens at all. After the last storm, Brian, the American head of avalanche control, was denied explosives by the military until he bombed the surrounding ridges to make them safe for the local army bases – and he was supposed to provide this service for FREE. He resisted, and the alpine was closed for days. Consequently, they have finally gained access to commercial-grade explosives and for the first time in decades, people across the meadow eagerly await the sound of early morning explosions.
Phase II of the gondola access Affarwat Ridge, with the peak sitting 300m above and to the north. The “resort” consists of a relatively small area under the gondola but access to backcountry is as easy as sliding down the extremely icy and windblown ridge. Many of the bowls drain back down towards the gondola but as you get further and further afield you enter the bowls of no return… at least not back to the resort. We’ve sampled some of local alternatives, which end up in small villages down in the valley (Drang and Baba Reshii) and result in a jeep taxi ride back up to Gulmarg. The potential of the skiing here astounds me almost as much as the hospitality of the people. The high altitude means that the snow is always light and dry (until it gets sun-blasted) and our sometimes-guide Shabhir is relaxed and super-helpful. However, the days of untracked lines for a week after snowfall may be over, as the village is bustling and locals and returning pow-fiends are saying this is the busiest they’ve seen. The untracked lines are still there, but after a week they take some work to get to and from.
We’ve been here for almost two weeks now, and with the exception of my four day constitution-shattering stomach illness we have skied nearly every day. That leaves one more week of pow-slaying and relaxation before we dive back into the chaos and clutter know as the Indian subcontinent.
And now, the pics…
Into the mystic
Climbing Monkey Hill
Wolfie leaning into some pow
Jean-Claude – The Luxembourgian
Simon throwing it sideways
John – the token aussie with the Austrians
the new chairlift – right next to the gondola
JC getting a lift back to town – Kashmiri style
Singing trees – a birch forest at 3800m
do not move ahead – cause it’s Pakistan
Highest Gondola in the World
CWells tearing up the alpine in Army Bowl
happy to be at the top
skiing the birch
steep and deep on Monkey Hill
typical scene in Tangmarg – sideways cars and people everywhere
rolling heavy in front of the mosque – he gave me EVIL eyes approximately 1 second after I took this photo
army truck on the road to Gulmarg
colourful army supply bus
dumping again on Monkey Hill
Will ripping down to Baba Reshi
Sunshine Mountain – distant objectives
The Aussie crew with our guide Shabir
The colourful gongshow headed up to Affarwat Peak
The Aussie crew – Alex, Tazzie Joe, Will.I.Am and Justin
Caroline cutting a nice line
All smiles in heaven