Gulmarg Turns Paradise For Foreign Tourists

15 February 2009
The Hindu

Gulmarg: This winter, Gulmarg is humming with life under a thick blanket of snow as hundreds of foreign tourists have made it their destination for skiing. The number of domestic tourists has also gone up and authorities are looking forward to a path-breaking tourist inflow in summer. For nearly 300 foreigners mostly from New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Sweden and the Netherlands, Gulmarg is a paradise for them considering their favourite sport like ski, snow-boarding and ice-skating. Gulmarg Gondola, the world’s highest cable car is proving to be a boon for them. They use it frequently to reach the 14,000 ft. peak and then come down the white slopes. “This run continues for many times a day,” said an official of the Jammu and Kashmir State Cable Car Corporation which runs the service. William Steed, a skier from New Zealand says that he has been to many countries but “I think Gulmarg is the best place for skiing.” This is because the slopes are good, the place is cheap in every respect and people are courteous, he adds. Mr. Steed has come along with nine others and has been camping here for the last 10 days. His companion Syriah Kerby shares his enthusiasm for the place. Australian skier A. Ponello is of the same view. “Slopes of Gulmarg offer steep and soft snow,” he says. The powder snow and other features of this resort are breathtaking, he adds. Russia’s Alexander has been a regular visitor and this time he has succeeded in getting 49 of his friends to this place. Wearing the full skiing gear, he says that it is a new destination for the group and the place is affordable. “Language is the only problem,” he explains through his translator. “But we manage,” smiles Mr. Alexander. This is the first time such a large number of tourists from Russia have come to Gulmarg. Though countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. have issued travel advisories to their citizens against visiting Kashmir, many have defied them. David Watson is one such skier. Mr. Watson, who recently had a skiing trip in K2 Pakistan, said Gulmarg was one of the very few places where a skier could have a Gondola ride, reach higher altitudes and ski without a heavy crowd waiting at the mountain base. Main attractions Farooq Ahmad Lone, Chief Executive Officer of Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) believes that the quality of snow and affordable prices are the main attractions for the foreigners. “We have opened up Gulmarg to them in a big way and the response is good. Last year also we received a good number of tourists,” he said. For a group of four people who would ski somewhere in Canada, U.S. or other known destinations, the dinner in a special hotel would cost them around $350, while in Gulmarg, it floats between Rs. 600-800. Tourists from within India are also heading to Gulmarg to enjoy the snow. Rakesh Kumar from Mumbai is here with his family and has had a good time. “Kashmir is now without any problem and all should come here,” he laughs. With the International Airport thrown open on Saturday with the inaugural flight to Dubai, officials are expecting a tourist boom this year.