Gulmarg weaves its magic around tourists

Gulmarg: A magical mist surrounds this ultimate destination of skiers, sports lovers, honeymooners and adventure- seeking tourists as yet another snowfall changes the landscape in Gulmarg, the world-renowned tourist retreat in Jammu and Kashmir.

Tall pine trees laden with snow and hundreds of acres of golf turf covered with a majestic white blanket in the foreground of the dense forest are picture perfect for both skiers and adventure-loving tourists who throng Gulmarg these days.

The tourist season, which began here in December with its first snowfall, is to continue well into June.

Ishwar Singh, 45, of Delhi, who is here with his wife and two children, is predictably excited.
The family is part of a 19-member group of tourists visiting Gulmarg for the first time.

"It`s simply breathtaking. I have heard a lot about Gulmarg. The very name brings in a refreshing feeling when the temperature soars back in Delhi," Singh said.

"But this place is beyond words", he added while helping his children walk carefully on the slippery roads flanked on both sides with four feet of snow.

Ilyas, assistant director of the state tourism department, is not surprised by the comment as he has been witnessing this every day.

Hundreds of tourists, domestic and foreigners, arrive here daily, he told reporters.

"We run courses for ski lovers who come here to pick up the sport. Schoolchildren from many local schools have been joining these two-week long courses", Ilyas said.

Visitors to this magical winter sports destination will have their hands full, wondering what to choose from the several options - skiing, snow-boarding, sledge riding and the famous Gondola ride.

The world`s highest cable car project, which connects Gulmarg with the Afarwat Heights situated at 13,400 ft above the sea level, is another favourite attraction here.

The Gulmarg Gondola comprising cable cars takes off from the base in the meadow and covers an uphill distance of five kilometres with one stop at the Kongdoori Mountains.

"The weather along the Gondola route can change abruptly and become life-threatening", reads the warning at the entrance to the cable car station.

Very few tourists however seem to worry over the warning. The skiers and enthusiasts take the cable car rides anyway.

During rush hours, people queue up and wait for hours to get the Gondola tickets.

"It is mandatory to announce weather warnings for high altitude cable car projects, but it is absolutely safe to enjoy the ride", said an official of the Gulmarg cable car project.

Tourists and sports lovers have been trusting the safety of the Gondola cable cars for years.

The project was built by the French firm PomaGalski SA in 1998.

"We have advance bookings this year, especially from the high budget domestic and foreign tourists who stay at our hotel," said a staff member at Hotel Highland Park here.

Two of the oldest local hotels in Gulmarg are the Nedou`s and the Highland Park - choice destinations of the British in the past.

Bollywood film stars and rich business executives stay at these hotels these days, he said.

"The famous song from the 1970s hit Raj Kapoor film "Bobby" - "Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein Bandh Ho" (me and you locked up in this room) filmed on Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia was shot in the hut of our hotel", said a proud old waiter at Hotel Highland Park.

Gulmarg had been the choice outdoor shooting location for Bollywood in the past.

Many of the blockbusters of the 1970s were shot here - at least for one song sequence.

As the security situation improves in the Kashmir Valley, Gulmarg is waiting to welcome Bollywood and all those who long for the quiet laziness that fills the nature here, far from the madding crowd.


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