By Shubhodeep Datta:
Gulmarg is a 50 km drive away from Srinagar. A little research on the internet and I stumbled upon the interesting demographics of this place. Males constitute 99% of the population and females 1%. Gulmarg has an average literacy rate of 96%, way higher than the Indian national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 97%, and female literacy is 22%. In Gulmarg, 0% of the population is under 6 years of age. Phew! Some facts, those are (statistics quoted off Wikipedia).
The most appealing aspect of the Gulmarg trip is the Gondola ride. Reaching a dizzy height of more than 3900m, it is one of the highest gondola rides in the world. It’s a two phase ride and the first phase takes you to the Kongdoori valley at an height of 3050 mt. And the second, takes you atop the Mt. Apharwat which stands at a staggering height of 3950 mt.
Exciting, as it may sound, but there is always a price one needs to pay for the best things in the life. The price here was the unusually long queue- that ran more than a length of a kilometer to get in to the Gondola. But the wait; might be as long as two hours; is worth every penny. On reaching Kongdoori, we rushed our way to the ticket counter and were almost in time to get the last few remaining tickets for the second phase. Also, it was exceedingly kind of the weather gods, that it had snowed a day before. The news was, one could have still found the ‘freshly fallen silent shroud of snow’, atop divine intervention.
The ride from Kongdoori till Mt. Apharwat is steeper and hence much slower than the previous phase. The weather here has a mood of its own and is fickle-minded. It might rain, or snow or the bright sun may show up any time. The clouds often descend down and it doesn’t come as a surprise if you are engulfed in the huge foggy mass on the way up. And once you stand victorious on the Mt. Apharwat, the mind numbing cold bites you through your skin. At a temperature of minus three degrees, that was the coldest till now. Overlooking the mountain is the humongous Pir Panjal range. The Nanga Parbat stands right in front, almost as if staring into your eyes. With its proximity to the Line of Control (LoC), the famous regiment of Rajputana Rifles is on a constant guard here.
CNN once quoted Gulmarg as “The heartland of winter sports in India”. And very few people know here, that Gulmarg was being mooted as a possible host for the 2010 Commonwealth Winter Games. But sadly, it never materialised and the games were scrapped altogether. With the heavy snowfall it receives in the winter, this place is the most famous destination for the adventurists in India.