(Even as I pen this, Kashmir is struggling under terrible onslaught of nature. I wish fervently that we have this beautiful place back to its normal pace and may the spirited effort of the people be blessed and supported by God.)
We started for Gulmarg at 8 in the morning from Srinagar. As predicted, it was quite hot but as we continued on our journey the breeze became cooler. Umer, our guide / driver of the car we had hired, introduced us to the different landmarks on the highway. Only 52 kilometers from Srinagar, Gulmarg is connected through NH-1. We stopped to stretch our legs at Magam at a roadside hotel, where we took tea and a bit of breakfast.
After being treated to a good tea and a double edged mysterious thing called ‘Aloo ka paratha’,we continued on our way . Well ,here I must give a brief introduction of our chauffeur, Umer. Having a clinical psychologist as a travelling companion often helps in bringing interesting insights into lives of people around us.
As we had boarded the car in the morning , we were quite impressed with Umer’s courteous and co-operative behavior. He further captured our attention when he started playing all the right songs in the car. The soft spoken courteous , warm and affectionate behavior is a stamp of true Kashmiri. We both decided that indeed Umer had a very high EQ(Emotional Quotient) and continued to be impressed throughout our journey with this intuitive person.
We left our car in Gulmarg’s car park and decided to walk to the first phase of the cable car ride to Afarwat top.The most popular sight-seeing spots in Gulmarg would be Kongdori 3050 m and Afarwat 4200 m in the Gondola Cable Trolley ride.
Vehicle parking lot at Gulmarg
Journey to Afarvat……
We took a 15 mins walk to the Gondola (cable car) rides . Surrounded with beautiful greenery , we enjoyed our walk thoroughly and then started the Gondola ride.
If I could walk to heaven with all my faculties alive, may be my journey would be like the Gondola ride. Up up and up we went to meet the snow-capped tips of Afarwat.
The two-stage rope-way ferries about 600 people per hour to and from the gondola main station in Gulmarg to a shoulder of nearby Mt. Afarwat Summit (4,200 m (13,780 ft)). The rope way project is a joint venture of the Jammu and Kashmir government and French firm Pomagalski. The first stage transfers from the Gulmarg resort at 2,600 m (8,530 ft) to Kongdoori Station at 3,080 m in the bowl-shaped Kongdori valley. The second stage of the ropeway, which has 36 cabins and 18 towers, takes skiers to a height of 3,950 m (12,959 ft) on Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Mt. Afarwat Peak (4,200 m (13,780 ft)). (source: Wiki)
So up we went. As we landed at the end of the second phase of the Gondola ride, we were informed of a 2 km climb to the tip of the snow capped mountain. Had anyone told me about two days back that I could climb mountains, I would have been quite impressed with his creative flights. But our benevolent guide Shaukat and J made sure that I would lay my own share of claim to being famous and may shine as a mountaineer in near future.
Nature had not left anything in its bag while distributing beauty to Kashmir. Gulmarg is a proof of that. Cliffs and valleys all overlaying each other and streams with serene greenery lined at the both sides of the gentle stream. We were guided to an edge of the mountain, where we sat with our feet dangling from the edge of the cliff and drank in the beauty of the scene before us.
Food and to resort :
A slide down in Gondola to the valley and lunch took us to hotel Hill top. All Kashmiri cuisines are served with lot of colored spices. So our lunch of chicken biriyani came with a deep yellow tan but was palatable. In Kashmir ,the best traditional dishes are served at homes. But hotels have lot to improvise on, as what makes a tourist place worth its soil are three P’s : 1. Place, 2. People 3. Palate. Kashmir excels in first two but yet to improve on its last P. ( Had seriously considered asking Arsalaan to open an outlet in Srinagar).
A Surprise: DRUNG
As we were about to take our lunch, I received a message from a friend in What’s App about a place called Drung. On asking the local people ,we found that it was a place with a river and picturesque scenic beauty just 3 kms away from Gulmarg. Of course we jumped and immediately decided on a visit. On the way to Drung, we stopped at a local bakery with fragrance of freshly baked ‘Kulchas’ wafting and teasing our taste buds. Just stopped the car and bought some for our onward journey.
Drung again was loaded with flowing stream mountain side and dense greenery. The cottage uphill looked as if Little Red Riding Hood would come out soon with her basket of goodies for her walk to her grandmother’s cottage. We went a bit uphill following a trekking trail and then when courage deserted ,we climbed back to the car park after an intricate walk between the trees and plants, following a serpentine ribboned road.
Apple Tree Resort: Our night stay.Will not visit ever. But remember the morning walk and a wonderful cup of tea at a roadside stall under a cashew tree. Amazing experience.
To be continued for Pahalgaum.