This post is in continuation with a previous one; part of my Kashmir Travelogue. On Day 1, we flew in from Delhi to Srinagar and the rented a cab, arriving straight to Gulmarg from Srinagar airport. Our second day was spent in sightseeing in Gulmarg; and indulging in various adventure activities which I will be providing details on in this article. To read previous part of this travelogue, please click on the link below.
Journey So Far: Delhi to Srinagar & Drive to Gulmarg
There were three things I learnt about Gulmarg in my 2 days of stay here. First was that the place is a bit on the expensive side; second that it is infested by guides and pony owners; and third is that you got to watch where you step. Let me explain.
Gulmarg is Expensive
In terms of it being expensive, there is really no such thing like a budget hotel here. I was here in August which is actually off season and even then, I could not find even a single hotel for less than Rs. 2000 or Rs. 2500. I am sure that during tourist season, these prices would definitely go as far as Rs. 3500 at least or even higher. The only budget hotel I found was still charging Rs. 1200 for a day and was located 14 kilometers away in Tangmarg. You eat at a simple Dhaba or restaurant and they will charge you Rs. 20 for a simple tawa roti. That is how it is.
Also Read: Tourist Attractions in Gulmarg
Guides and Pony Owners in Gulmarg
Second is that the guides and pony owners here are a big time nuisance. You cannot walk 100 meters in Gulmarg without either a guide asking to show you around; or a pony owner offering you a ride. You enter the hotel and there will be guides sitting either at the reception or waiting for you outside. No matter how many times you say no, they will keep pushing and won’t give up. You go to the golf course and they will ask you to pay and play for a while. If you go to Gondola and there will be a guide waiting there asking to show you around. You start walking in any direction and within minutes, you will have 2 or 3 pony owners asking you to hop on their pony. It is crazy and extremely annoying.
Also Read: How to Plan a Trip to Gulmarg?
As a matter of fact, some time ago there was even a police complaint against these guides and pony owners because they kind of started harassing the tourists; and fighting with them. I understand that they are poor people trying to make a living and competition is tough; but the problem is that they charge way too much. There is really nothing in Gulmarg that you need a guide for. You can just walk around and see it all on your own. I wouldn’t mind giving a 100 bucks to a local guide to help him; let him walk with me even if it is just for the sake of clicking a few pictures of mine. But I am not going to pay Rs. 1000 for that. This also kind of contributes to the fact that there is nothing cheap in Gulmarg.
Watch Your Step
Finally, you really got to watch where you step in Gulmarg; specially while walking through the meadows. Thanks to the pony owners, there is dung everywhere and I literally mean everywhere. So much that after I returned, I had to Photoshop majority of my images to remove all the horse shit from the pictures.
Food in Gulmarg
Another thing mentioning here is about the food which I am sure you will find surprising. I actually was shocked. First is that food here is expensive which I mentioned above. There was one hotel here that charged us Rs. 30 for a small tawa roti. Now Gulmarg is all mostly Muslim and keeping that in mind, you would expect non-vegetarian food available everywhere. But surprise surprise. Majority of the hotels and restaurants here are vegetarian only. I have no no idea why that is. So before you check in, do ask the hotel owner if they are serving non-veg or not if that is what you want to eat.
Also Read: How to Plan a Gulmarg Gondola Ride
And that is Gulmarg for you which despite of all the four above mentioned points still seems like a charmingly magical place. It is a year-round tourist magnet that is bound to leave you craving for more. Same thing happened with us. As per the original itinerary, we were supposed to have been on our way back to Srinagar today; but once we arrived in Gulmarg yesterday, the plan immediately changed. Now we were going to stay here for an entire day today and use it for enjoying a Gondola ride and trekking to Alpather lake; something which was not part of our initial plan.
Day 2 – Sightseeing in Gulmarg
I was the first one to be up in the morning which usually happens with me almost on every trip. No matter how late I sleep, I am wide awake in the morning always. Lavish woke next and we decided to step out and get some tea. We tried waking up Shoaib as well but he refused to get up and continued to snore for a little longer.
Our stop was a small shop called Malik hotel at main Gulmarg chowk. We were at this place the day before well and became kind of friends with the owner; a friendly guy called Sohail Mir. If you are able to locate this place, give it a try. Food was good here. It is in fact right at the main chowk as you enter Gulmarg so should not be hard to find. Sohail is a good person to talk. He would love to tell you tales of Kashmir if you asked.
After a couple of cups of tea, we started to walk back to the hotel and met an elderly gentleman on the way. Surprisingly, we were the only tourists in Gulmarg at this time; or maybe we were the only ones from outside of Kashmir because I did not notice any others. As a result of this, we were the focus of everyone passing by due to a huge camera hanging around my neck. People either wanted to know where we were from; or wanted to be our guide; or wanted us to get on their ponies. Kind of annoying really.
Also Read: When is the Best time to visit Gulmarg?
Where is Alpather Lake?
Nevertheless, the elderly gentleman got talking to us and asked us about where we were from; how we liked the place; and what our plans were. We told him about the Gondola plan and Alpather Lake and asked for the best way. Now the place where we were standing was right in front of Apharwat peak. This made it easy for the old man to point us which way to go after getting off the Gondola in order to reach Alpather Lake. I will post the picture that I clicked at that time and the direction the old man gave us.
In the image above, the place I have written 1 is the booking counter. 2 is the the phase 1 site and 3 is the phase 2 site. From there, towards the right, # 4 is where Alpather lake is.
Also Read: How to Trek to Alpather Lake
After talking to him, we came back to hotel, freshened up and got ready. Shoaib too was up by then. My biggest worry at that time were the horrible tales of endless queues for Gondola that I had read over the web. I asked a few people if it was going to be too crowded and everyone said that it wasn’t. Still, we did not want to take any chances. Gondola timings as I was told by the locals was 10 AM so our plan was to be there well in time to be the first ones to get the tickets; and get on the Gondola. To see it happening, we stepped out of the hotel at around 8 AM. Plan was to first go back to Malik Hotel, get some breakfast and then start walking towards the Gondola station.
Breakfast was delicious, consisting of toast, aaloo parantha and Kashmiri roti. Yep, this is the scary looking aaloo parantha I ate for breakfast.
With our bellies full, we started walking towards the Gondola entry point and the booking counter which was about 2 kilometers from where we were. In this short distance however, we were asked by at least 10-15 pony owners if we wanted to get on their ponies and have them drop us to the Gondola station. We just refused and continued walking. Next in line were the hotel and restaurant owners inviting us for breakfast. When we told them that we already ate, they had us promise them that we will stop by their shops for lunch on our way back. And when I say “promise”, I mean it as literally as I can. They actually used phrases like, “Pakka wada hai na? Rukna hai aate hue. Promise?
Kashmir – The Ugly Truth
To be honest, this is where you actually get to see the brutal reality of Kashmir; a picture of how a common man suffers in the politics of all of it. Due to all the terrorism and unrest, there are no companies here and no job opportunities. Majority of the youth in local villages is uneducated; and they rely heavily on either farming or tourism for livelihood. And that is why you will see so many guides and pony owners desperate to get a customer. I was talking to Sohail, the friendly owner of Malik Hotel and in his words,
“Yahan karne ko kuchh hai nahi. Koi naukri nahi hai, koi business nahi hai. Tourism par hi chalta hai sab par vo bhi kitna? Ladke zyada padhe likhe bhi nahi hain. Phir aise mein jab paise bachta nahi jeb mein, aur karne ko kuchh hota nahi, toh phir thode se paiso ke liye bandook utha lete hain. 100 ka note leke Patthar maarne khade ho jaate hain. Kya karenge? Bhookh sabko lagti hai aur sham ko 2 roti khake sone ke liye paisa sabko chahiye. Ek berozgar aur bhookhe ko behkana aasan hai. Yahi ho raha hai yahan. Aap in sabko kaam dilva do, naukriyon par laga do. Aur phir dekho ke kaun hai pagal jo apni naukri chhodke fizool marne ko khada hoga”
And that is true. I don’t want to get in the whole political or moral argument of it but the desperation for money is clearly visible in the people here. These young men of remote villages of Kashmir know little outside of the mountains they live in. Livelihood is hard indeed.
And then someone comes along; offering freedom, better livelihood and some hard cash as an advance payment of that promise. They don’t see India or Pakistan, neither do they care about Kashmir to be honest really. That is just the political side that media reports. All they see is that hard cash offered upfront, and they take it; completely oblivious of the fact that it will limit their lives to just a few months more.
It is much like the young men joining underworld and mafia for promise of quick cash and better livelihood. What’s different is that out here, it is terrorism and the results are much more sinister. But the ground reality is the same. The only difference in unemployed youth of elsewhere in our country taking up a criminal career; and youth of Kashmir joining militancy is that in the latter, they just pick up larger guns.
Time for Gondola Ride
Nevertheless, we arrived at Gondola station little past 9 AM to find it still closed. I was under the impression that the Gondola ride would start at 10 so they will open the booking counter a little advance. Turns out, that even the ticket counter opens at 10 AM. The board below read 9 AM in summer and we were there in August, but even then, it opened only at 10.
So now we had an entire hour of sitting and waiting; while saying no to numerous guides and hawkers trying to sell all kinds of stuff. I decided to buy this “Govinda” style goggle though, the one that I am wearing in the picture below, for a couple hundred bucks. Why did I buy it? Because Lavish and Shoaib both bought their sunglasses in and I didn’t. And this was the only one on sale. God I hate this picture so much. Makes me look like an actor from B-Grade movie, doesn’t it?
Please read Gondola Ride in Gulmarg & Trek to Alpather Lake to read next part of this travelogue. Incorporating more details and pictures on this page would have just made it heavier; hence I have continued this travelogue on the next page. If you have any questions; or need my help in planning your trip to Gulmarg; please feel free to ask in the comments section below; or at our Community Forum; and I will be glad to answer.