It was our Day 3 in Kashmir and Gulmarg Gondola Ride was in the itinerary. We had decided to start our day early because we did not want to get stuck in yet another traffic jam like the one on the way to Yusmarg. It was 6 in the morning and we were waiting for our driver to arrive. Somehow, he did not turn up and we were left there on the roads without even a mobile phone. After having waited for some more time, we hired an auto for Srinagar Taxi Stand.
Sometimes, a few incidents happen for a reason. In our case, we were a little upset that our driver did not turn up, but little did we know that we will find a taxi driver who will become a friend and be with us for the rest of our trip.
Coming to the auto ride, when I think about it now, the only word which comes to my mind is COZY. The autos in Srinagar are covered with purdahs (curtains) to give you some warmth and the seats are made of soft cushion. And, the blue and green lights inside the auto brings out an old world charm. The auto sped off in the bumpy roads of Srinagar in the early morning hours.
These are few things you get to experience only in India.
From Srinagar Taxi Stand it is easy to find a taxi based on your needs. The rates are fixed by the government and you don’t have to worry about getting fooled. We met our driver, Mr. Shaukat; and we started off to Gulmarg.
Gulmarg Gondola Ride
Gulmarg takes less that 2 hours from Srinagar. We reached Tangmarg around 8 AM and stopped for some tea and toasted hot buns. In Kashmir, everything is laced with butter and ghee; and trust me, your taste buds and your body will thank you for eating it. It provides the needed warmth for your body. Even though I wanted to eat a lot more of those tasty butter laced buns, I had to stop. Our driver suggested that we rent our snow jackets and boots from Tangmarg. According to the locals, renting in Gulmarg is very costly and also dealing with the people in Gulmarg gets a little annoying. So we hired the waterproof jackets, boots and moved on.
In Kashmir, every valley is different. While Yusmarg had lush green meadows all along, Gulmarg surprised us with dense Deodar forests. Every sight, every city in Kashmir is different and it does not get monotonous at all. Nature at its best, I must admit. On our way, we got down to catch the glimpse of a very beautiful valley called Drang valley. The valley looked very pristine with the morning sun shining over it.
Leaving the valley behind, we then quickly drove off as we wanted to reach Gulmarg Gondola before it got crowded. The gondola station is about half an hour’s walk from Gulmarg Taxi Stand. We walked by the lush green Gulmarg Golf Course and reached the Gondola Ticket Booking area within 30 minutes. Because we had pre-booked our gondola tickets online, we directly got our boarding passes and reached the Gondola Station. Our decision of coming early was good because there was hardly any crowd or queues. We quickly boarded our Gondola (We were lucky to get one Gondola entirely for ourselves) and I was completely excited. We moved up (to reach Phase I) slowly looking at the beautiful valleys beneath us. The phase I of the ride was good with greenery around. The ride lasted for 15 minutes and we got down at Kungdoor, Phase I station.
Gondola Phase II – Aparwath Peak
It was now beginning to get cold. A Kahwa would have been perfect at that time but we did not want to waste a single minute before heading to Gondola Phase II – Aparwath Peak. We had read reviews and everyone spoke about reaching the Phase II fast. It is so because, if the weather gets dramatic the operations to Phase II are shut. Off we went and the fun began when we started moving up to Phase II. The ride up to Aparwath Peak feels heavenly and scary at the same time. Up, down and around – All you can see in SNOW.
Like every person who is experiencing snow for the first time, we were very excited. The phase II ride last for 20 minutes and we disembarked at the Gondola Station and witnessed snow for the first time in our lives. We walked around, fell down, slipped, again fell down and kept walking in Aparwath Peak. It felt so different. We did not opt for sledges as we wanted to explore Aparwath all by ourselves. Playing around like kids and munching some snacks for regaining the lost energy; we kept walking and climbing. The mist kept playing hide and seek slowly revealing the stunning views of mighty Himalayas one at a time.
It would be wrong if I’d say we weren’t lucky. It was a very lucky day for us because we also got to experience our first snowfall in Kashmir. I was least expecting it in the month of June, but, we did get lucky. We enjoyed forgetting everything. It was getting colder and we were freezing. Though the coats and boots did help, but it was not sufficient by itself. We missed taking the gloves and our hands became dry and cold like stone. And amidst all the fun we did not realise how sick we were getting. Halfheartedly, we decided to leave Aparwath and have lunch at Kungdoor (Phase I).
Gondola Phase I – Kungdoor
At Kungdoor, we warmed ourselves in front of fire at the Moonstar Restaurant. The biting cold and hot kahwa make a perfect pair. The warmth was just beginning to spread across our body that the snowfall began again! I think we were just too lucky that day or maybe not so lucky. With the fire by our side and the snow falling outside our hotel which just had a plastic sheet on top to protect us from the snow, we had our lunch – Hot soup, Kashmiri Rajma and Rotis. It was cold, we were falling sick, but, we enjoyed every moment of it. With no signs of improvement in the weather, we moved out, walking in the muddy path at Kungdoor to say good bye to one of the most stunning experiences of our lives. Back in the Gondola, we were shivering yet relaxed and were thankful to have had such ineffable experiences.
Back in our car, we switched on the heater and bade good bye to Gulmarg. Slowly sipping zafrani kahwa and looking at the rains and cherry orchards, we drove back to Srinagar feeling happy and blessed. 🙂
Planning for a Gondola Ride in Gulmarg? Read on –
There is chaos everywhere in Gulmarg and is the only place in Kashmir which I felt was less tourist friendly. From the pony walas to guides, everyone tries to fool around. Listing down some essential points here that you may find useful:
1. Book your tickets online here – http://gulmarggondola.com/ We booked the tickets for Phase I and II together. However, Phase II Ride depends mainly on the weather conditions on any given day.
2. Once you have booked online, all you need to do is to get a boarding pass for your Gondola Ride. Do not get confused by the multiple counters at the main ticket booking area in Gulmarg. The counters are for on the spot booking. There is also a counter with the board “Online Counter” and “E-ticketing Block” which is quite misleading, but that is not where you get the boarding passes. The boarding passes are issued just near the gondola boarding station.
3. Avoid the guides who are trying to sell you tickets / boarding passes outside the counters. The process is fairly simple and you dont need guides.
4. You do not require any pony walas or guides for the Gulmarg Gondola Ride. The Gondola Ticket booking area is a 30 minutes walk from the Gulmarg Taxi Stand. Just turn a deaf ear to them and enjoy your trip.
Do you love Kashmir? Read more about all my adventures from Kashmir.