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Srinagar to Gulmarg - a drive to the beautiful valley

September 7, 2019

Please note this post is in continuation of my earlier post on the drive from Bangalore to Srinagar via Mughal Road. If you wish to read the same, please click here https://www.amitpahuja.com/single-post/2019/08/18/Is-Kashmir-safe-to-travel

 

This post contains our experiences of this road trip from Srinagar to Gulmarg only.

 

Stunning view of Gulmarg Valley 

 

Day 7 - Srinagar Gulmarg, 56kms, 1:50 hrs (appx)

 

So today we wanted to keep it light for driving and decided to do Gulmarg which was not very far and the road to Gulmarg wasn’t very traffic heavy. We started early from the houseboat so that we can avoid the early morning city traffic. After saying goodbye to Javed and Basheer bhai, we continued our journey towards Gulmarg.

 

The drive to Gulmarg wasn’t that exciting to start with and we met with some morning traffic exiting the city. We also missed a turn and that lead to another route which was pretty narrow and lead us to a route that had a school in between and had a traffic blockage. This slowed us down and exiting Srinagar itself took us 40mins extra than planned time. After this we joined the state highway road which was ok..

 

 The armour for today :)

 

The luggage waiting to be loaded while I was enjoying the Kashmiri Kahwa! (The Kashmiri Tea)

Kashmiri Kahwa TEa

 Our beast waiting to be loaded..

 Early morning drive through the Kasmiri galiyan

 One of the main temples in Srinagar

 Early morning drive through the Kashmiri galiyan

 Look at the buildings here .. they have their own character

The sad part of every Indian city.. the garbage dumped on the road :(

 Backwaters..

This then lead to National Highway and that was pretty empty, broad after a while it started getting interesting once we crossed Tangmarg.

Towards Gulmarg.. the roads were pretty wide and without much traffic at least early morning

 Until this point one thing we observed is the presence of Indian Army on the roads .. I mean they were plenty and that makes you either secured or very uncomfortable and unsecured as sometimes it gives a feeling that there might be something wrong or sensitive in that area.. but we didn't face any issues while on this trip..

 The diversion towards Gulmarg / Tangmarg

 

 The route to Gulmarg

 

On The route to Gulmarg, we were stopped here to pay the toll/tax or entry fee to the Gulmarg valley. We paid the amount and moved forward!

 

 

We went to Tangmarg market to pickup some breakfast but couldn’t find much of our liking so we picked few samosas and continued to Gulmarg hoping to have the breakfast when we reach there.

 

We picked some Samosas and Farsaan from this shop just to fill or tummies a bit till we find a good place for breakfast. The samosas were real real good..

 

From Tangmarg the roads were very good, well maintained and had proper markings and road signs everywhere so it looked like it would be a good place with tourist amenities and we may find something to eat over there. We were right, as we reached the main parking lot of Gulmarg valley, there were a plenty of restaurants where we got something to eat, finally!

 

The route to Gulmarg

The roads were pretty good and well maintained. We loved the drive and the scenery around us..

The roads were literally empty and there were only very few tourist vehicle as well.. we thought maybe its because of we being early at this place ..

 Beautiful drive to Gulmarg

 Beautiful drive to Gulmarg

One of the viewing point we stopped for a quick photo break

 Beautiful views of the valley

 So here again we were stopped for a toll or entry ticket of 60Rs. We paid and continued..

 Views from the top

As soon as we were about to reach the parking area, we saw some people coming to us and realised that these are the local folks who are either guides, horse men or salesmen of chocolates, snacks etc. which is the only source of income for these localites..

All the guides, horse men waiting for their customers for today

 

We were approached by a number of these folks and we told them that we would be having breakfast first and then decide on anything to be done at Gulmarg. So we had breakfast while these folks were waiting surrounding us. It was very annoying but we couldn’t do anything to get rid of them, hence we enjoyed our breakfast calmly.

 

 

Aloo paratha with Red Chilli Onions.. 

 

Yummy Omlette ..

 

  

And Pao Bhaji for Breakfast.. what else can you ask for on a holiday ...

 

 

After our breakfast we were then approached by the touts, guides and horse men again. They explained us all about the options of the valley, what to se, what to do and the costs etc. We listened to them and were really confused on what's to be done .. as one it was sounding too touristy stuff which we normally avoid and neither like it but as we already came here we thought rather cover it as we might not ever come back here willingly at-least.. So we agreed to do some stuff .. read below on whats a typical stuff you can do here at Gulmarg

 

So what can you do at Gulmarg if you're a tourist?

There are a number of options to do like

  • Horse ride of the valley

  • Horse ride to the Phase I of the Gondola and come back

  • On the way to the Gondola starting point, there were few points to see and visit like Strawberry Garden, Maharaja Palace, some Pond etc.

  • Gondola ride to Phase I and Phase II

  • Phase I Gondola ride takes you to some distance and views are OK till there and at time of the year there was no snow till phase I

  • Phase II Gondola ride takes you to the top of the mountain and the views are pretty good and the place is pretty nice as well. There was a lot of snow on phase II during our visit

  • There's some frozen lake as well on the top if you want to trek to that point (we didn't do it as its very tough and we weren't ready to risk the trip for it :))

Now the point to note here is that its not so simple to do all this and not cheap either. Like the Horse guys will ask for a huge amount even though the government rates are pretty good and controlled and affordable. But the association there for these service providers bump up the prices and expect the tourists to shell out big sums of money as they wouldn't have any option if they want to do it. Their point is also that since this is very seasonal business for them, they need to charge more to survive and feed their families. Even though they would negotiate on the prices but still they won't do it as per government prices. 

 

We looked at their prices and it was like

  • Horse package - 3000Rs per head

  • Snow sports package - 3500 per head that included (sledge, minor skiing)

  • Guide - 1200

  • Gondola ride was separate for around Rs. 7500 for 4 pax

So we did not negotiate any of the prices as I was OK for them to charge more if that helped feed their families and make a little bit of money for that but was expecting a good service and attitude :)

 

 

Some initial shots of Gulmarg valley

 

 Gulmarg Valley

 

 Gulmarg Valley

 

 so before we could start our journey, we were hit by a roadblock.. I and my beloved wifey both have slip disk and back ache problem and didn't want to risk siting on the horse till the Gondola station but as per the horse guys that was the only option as they don't allow people to walk to the point or drive there (even though there's a road till there) 'coz they won't be able to make money otherwise.. So we refused to sit on the horse and decided to cancel the whole program. Upon taking this decision, we were then suggested by one of the agents there to go to the tourist office and ask the officer for the permission to go to gondola point in our own car provided the Kids take the horse.. This sounded like a plan so we agreed to visit the JKTDC office and ask for the permit.

 

 

Government official Rates for various activities @ Gulmarg Valley

 

 Permit issued to take our vehicle to the Gondola point by the officer

 

 JKTDC Officer stationed at the Gulmarg tourism office, a very nice gentlemen who gave us so much importance and respect that it just made my day and the trip to Gulmarg :)

 

As soon as we walked into the tourist office, this officer was talking to someone and he called me inside when he was done with the earlier person. First, he welcomed me to Kashmir and thanked me very politely and in a very very warm way. Then he said he will explain to me all that we can do and what is worth and what is not worth doing out there. I was impressed already with this. Then he took 12-15 minutes explaining me all the options and then asked me what he can do for me? I explained him my situation and he immediately agreed to let me go in my car. He also told me that I shouldn't get into any pressure from these guides, horse men etc and if they trouble me or charge anything that I'm not happy with, I should report to him and he will cancel their license. He also instructed the agent not to trouble me and if I'm willing to, then I can take their services at a reasonable premium.. as it might help them and their families else he suggested not to. He then wished me good luck and we were all set to roll as this was what I was expecting anyway!

 

The road to Gondola starting point @ Gulmarg Valley. We had to show the permit at one of the check posts before we could continue here..

The road to Gondola starting point @ Gulmarg Valley

The road to Gondola starting point @ Gulmarg Valley

 

 

The road to Gondola starting point @ Gulmarg Valley

 

 

 

Kids going on the horses from the Horse route.. I would have actually loved to drive on this track :)

 

 

 

This was the point where the ticket office was situated for Gondola rides

See the ATV's parked at the far end? these are the snow sports equipment used here on the top and the designated area for snow scooter ride.. too touristy for our taste..

Our Guide helped us to buy tickets from here for Gondola Ride.. 1750Rs. per person 

Good to see the use of computers and technology for tickets that had a QR code as well for entry into the main building for Gondola's

 

Below is the entry point for the Gondola rides. You need to scan the QR code here and the door opens for you. For us 2 bar codes worked and 2 didn't which then the attendant who was there helped us to get in. Technology!!

 

 


Our tickets

 

Some exhibits inside the Gondola visitor centre. The place is quite big with a lots of seating etc for waiting to get n to Gondola. Its completely built with wood and looks very nice.

 

This is how the Gondola's look like.. its completely glass walled so that you can see from all sides

View from Gondola to phase I

This is how the Gondola's look like.. its completely glass walled so that you can see from all sides.. but not the floor

 

We directly went to Phase II and after landing at phase 2 the moment we came out of the Gondola station we couldn't believe our eyes and the first impression was WOW 😯 so many people out there !!!! who are shouting, yelling, laughing, talking, screaming at the top of their voices and making the place another tourist spoilt place.. but anyway we continued our climb to find a seat somewhere and before we could do that there were like hundreds of snow sports agents behind us to hire them for all the snow activities. Their rates are very steep (compared to the govt. rates) and the reasons sighted are that they’re too risky jobs, labor intensive and they need to make money to feed their kids.. etc. anyway as I and wife were not inclined anyway to do any sports, we opted for kids to go for it and enjoy the rides etc. The folks there have couple of options but they generally ask you to take a full package.. which includes

  • Snow sledge ride to half point, full top point or even to the LoC area

  • Snow scooter/ATV ride

  • Snow skiing ⛷ 

  • Some other stuff that I don’t remember I guess..

For snow sledge, they told us that they’ll be taking or pulling the sledge to the top and then slide us down from there which is quite a hard task given the labour it requires and then they were fasting dues to Ramadan month. 

 

So we opted for the package to the top most point for kids and they went for their ride. On this they pulled the cart to the half point and then asked the kids to walk up to the top point which we came to know later on! We didn’t like this as this is like cheating.. they shouldn’t have told us that they will be taking to top by pulling and then leave you in between for you to walk up.. why charge for something you don’t? I agree it’s pretty hard on them but then just don’t commit it.. anyway so they make you to walk to the top and then they help you with all the activities which were I heard good experience. So the kids did the stuff and came back after like about 2 hours if I remember it right. But this time the weather started going bad and it was drizzling a bit. This created a kind of panic and everybody on the top started hiding somewhere.. please note there are no sheds on the top other than the Gondola station which is pretty small and doesn’t have any waiting areas. So if it rains, just simply enjoy the rains 😀

 

 

Lovely views from the top

Not so Lovely views at the top .. lots of people to our liking 

Not so Lovely views at the top .. lots of people to our liking 

 

The queue of people for their sledge rides

Our guide giving us Smiles :) He was a nice guy and gave us a lots of information about the place..

See the clouds going dark..

 

Snow capped mountains

Snow capped mountains

View of the valley from the Top of the mountains

 

Kids on their skiing expedition :)

The guy pulling the sledge that they use to slide down from the top

Kids on the way up on the Sledge.. now this is something I didn't like but we did it anyway to support the locals and these guys make some money. The thing is they pull you on the sledge all the way to the top with bare hands and it was Ramadan time when we went, so they were empty stomach doing this :( I was not very happy but supported them by agreeing to do it for kids ... 

 Folks pulling the people to the top... its not easy guys. Forget about pulling a person on the sledge its so difficult walking alone in the snow with less oxygen and empty stomach and fasting without water and food.. 

Beautiful views of Snow capped mountains

Beautiful views of Snow capped mountains

 

Beautiful views of Snow capped mountains

Army post on the top .. at the Pir Pranjal range

 

Cable car and the valley below

 See the contrast of Green and White .. looked awesome

The machinery at work !

The Gondola station at Phase I

the valley

 

 Lovely views all the way

Soothing Lovely views for your eyes and soul !

 This guy was making Bhel-Puri and his smile was so welcoming that we just bought the Bhel just for his smile :)

 Horses waiting for the return trip

Phase I area with all the eating joints

 Lovely views 

 

 Lovely views 

 

 

So after all the activities were done, we settled our bill and came back towards the half way point. At this point we were a bit hungry (actually very hungry) so decided to go to the food stalls out there in the open as those are the only options other than a JKTDC restaurant that our guide suggested not to as the food wouldn’t be good... and that we should go to the other restaurants (food stalls) out there. So we agreed with him and went there in the drizzling rain 🌧. It was a great weather as it was drizzling and wasn’t that biting cold then. 

 

The restaurants over there have a strange system of waiting for their turn for the customers and every customer who walks in have to sit with only the restaurant whose turn has come and not anywhere where the customer feels like. We were told about this and we settled at the allotted place by this restaurant. The place was bare bone plastic chairs with one table and a shed that was leaking from the top.. it wasn’t raining heavily so we sat here as heavy rains were expected in next few mins as per the local guide and the restaurant fellow.

 

 

 

Anyway so we settled here, ordered the food and waited for it to come desperately as we were now even more hungry. At the place served everything from South Indian to North India to Kashmiri and Chinese food. We obviously ordered Kashmiri Wazwan food as we always try to enjoy the local cuisine instead of the mundane stuff.

 

The food here was pretty expensive and I think it was designed to be a rip off considering the state of tourists here and the lack of available options out there. We had not choice but to order and try what they have to offer to the so called “Tourists as GOD’s” philosophy. So we ordered Kashmiri Pulaw (300 Rs), Kashmiri Chicken (1000 Rs.) and some Kashmiri Kulchas which was a dry and cold thick bread.

 

The Pulao we ordered came in about 10 mins but the other food took some time and arrived in about 30mins. The food was tasty but maybe because of the weather, it was cold or just a little warm by the time we started eating it. The quantity of the chicken and pulao was not sufficient at least considering the price we paid for it. We decided to eat whatever we had ordered and maybe later have something looking at the time in hand and the slow pace of the restaurant. After a good "expensive" meal, we ordered Kashmiri kahwa (Kashmiri tea) so cut the cold but it didn’t help.. the tea was just ok but became cold again. Not the fault of the restaurant!

 

Kashmiri Pulau

The 1000 Rs. Chicken and Kulchas :)

 The great menu

Hi there guys !!

And notice the Noudles or Nodle :))

 

 

 So we finished our meal and continued our journey back to the base station. 

 

By this time there was a big queue for the return flight to the base station and it was raining as well that made the matter a little bit more uncomfortable for the people waiting to get on board. It was actually a mess created by the so called staff there as they allowed only one single over there to avoid the chaos but as it was raining and there weren’t any shed to accommodate the long queue, people were getting annoyed and wet in that biting cold weather. I think the authorities should do something about the sheds over there to make it more comfortable for the tourists.

 

Anyway so it took us almost 20mins to get on to the flight and then around 10mins ride back to the base station. So at last we were back to base station and where we parked our car. We then continued our ride back to the main car parking area at Gulmarg and the kids took the Horse ride back. On the way, our guide suggested to do some sightseeing but we just weren’t interested and were tired as well so we didn’t do it. Now the big question was, whether we should stay here in Gulmarg or go to Baramulla as per the original plan. It was already around 4pm, it was raining and was pretty cold and on top of all this, we were tired.. so we decided to stay there itself.

 

Gulmarg has plenty of hotel options and of all categories and pricing to suit the travellers based on their liking. On our way back we checked the JKTDC hotel at the golf club for accommodation but we were informed that the huts are actually a bit far from there and we need to go to the tourism office for the booking and if we want to see the hut, we need to first go there which was about 3-4kms from there. So we decided to pick the kids first from the car park area, drop the guide who was hanging with us still and then go and checkout the accommodation options. It took us just few mins for the ride back to car park. We settled all the bills like horse riders, guide, clicked a snap with them, wished them good luck and good bye for now.

 

 The team of Horse men, our guide in green cap and the agent on the left..

 

The overall experience here was a mix of feeling good and annoyed with the continuous pestering of guides, horse riders, small vendors etc.. but anyway that’s what it was and without wasting any time we then went to find a roof for us for that night.

 

 

See the drama in the skies and the mountains..loved it! 

 

While on the way to see the huts, we saw few hotels just next to the car park area that were not looking bad so we decided to give it a try and check them out as well. When checked, it looked decent and the prices were almost half of what we would have paid for a JKTDC property which was a bit far and may not have had an active restaurant so we decided to camp at this hotel called “Hotel Affarwat”. Upon completing the formalities, we offloaded the luggage and checked in to our rooms. The staff here was helpful and helped us carry the luggage to the rooms. We took 2 rooms and one had a valley view and the other was behind with actually no view.

 

Hotel Affarwat review

 

 

 

Infrastructure- The hotel was well maintained and had good sized rooms for a night stay. The floors were carpeted as in most of the hotels in this region to avoid cold floors and they were well ventilated. Another hotel we actually checked before this was very damp and stinky..so we liked this.

 

Food and Service - We had dinner here and some snacks on that day and they were pretty good in fact one of the top in our list of tasty food items we had on this trip. The service was nice with a smile always and the staff was always very friendly and receptive to questions. For dinner, we went to their restaurant at the ground floor which was a quite small and cozy place. The service was good and the staff interacted well and helped us for our further journey planning as well.

 

Quality of sleep here was very good without any disturbing neighbours or noises coming from other rooms. The blankets provided were heated, smelling fresh and were clean. I would highly recommend anybody to stay here if you’re looking for a budget hotel with a good view of the snow capped mountains of the Gulmarg valley and a decent parking space.