Last year I arrived in Gulmarg armed with a beacon, probe, shovel and few expectations. The snow base was shallow, people who had been there before told me I’d ski everything in a day, things had gotten violent in Kashmir only a few months earlier and I had very little backcountry experience. After three weeks I knew I had to come back for more. Armed with a shiny new splitboard, a bottle of 10 year old Talisker and the knowledge that Mr Salama was going to make me the best jacket in the entire world I arrived back in Gulmarg on March 2nd for Tour De Gnar 2012. What I found were some familiar faces, few tourists, fresh powder shouting “Shred me! Shred me!” and good times to be had.
The question begs: why travel halfway around the world to go snowboarding in Kashmir when you live in Whistler? Apart from the said fresh powder, lack of tourists, experiencing new cultures, reuniting with old friends, developing my outdoor backcountry skills further and enjoying the fact that I didn’t have to work for 2 weeks I wouldn’t know why anybody would ever want to go snowboarding in Kashmir. I mean, the J&K State Cable Car Corporation proudly proclaims Gulmarg Asia’s 7th Best Skiing Destination on the front page of it’s website. In fact, you really shouldn’t go to Gulmarg. Nope. Not at all.
If you do go to Gulmarg, however, life for the budget traveller (aka moi) is what I would call ‘glorified camping.’ Heat is provided by a bukari – a wood fired stove – and showers are out of a bucket. My 5am (and 6am) wake-up call came courtesy of the Mosque next door, a constant daily reminder that prayer is indeed better than sleep. In a very Kashmiri interpretation of my three favourite words – Improvise, Adapt and Overcome – the toilet seat in my bathroom was held on by two zip ties. Nevertheless the rent was cheap and the hospitality welcoming and familial.
While the hospitality and sense of community are enough to warrant a repeat visit, it’s the riding that will ultimately bring you back for more. Here is a small collection of photos from this years trip to give you a small glimpse of what Gulmarg offers the mountain sport enthusiast:
Some useful travel tips:
- You’ll need at least 2 weeks to get a good dose of what Gulmarg has to offer (and at least a week to acclimatise to the altitude).
- Share Sumo’s from Tangmarg to Gulmarg are few after 4pm, if nonexistent. You may have to hire a whole car to take you up after this, unless you’re stubborn like myself and hike it instead (takes about an hour). Bonus points if you can convince the army to take you up with them.
- Stock up on alcohol in Srinagar. It’s cheaper and more reliable to get it in Srinagar.
- Change your money/use the ATM in Srinagar as the ATM in Gulmarg is unreliable.
- Everybody in Gulmarg claims to be a guide, but only a few are accredited.
- Attend the avalanche talks at Pine Palace Heritage (Tuesdays at 7pm). Social and informative!
- Gulmarg Snow Safety is your friend (Buy a t-shirt! Support that shit!).
- Send postcards from the post office in Tangmarg. You’ll save a lot more time and hassle than in Srinagar.
- 10 points if you rock a one-piece available in the marketplace on a night out/on the hill.