Tourists visiting Kashmir proceed to Gulmarg after their sight seeing trips from their base in Pahalgam. Gulmarg is a hill station in a cup shaped valley of the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayan mountains. It is at a distance of about 140 kilometers from Pahalgam and the journey by road takes about 3 to 4 hours, depending the stops on the way. Gulmarg can also be reached directly from Srinagar by covering a distance of 56 kilometers in about 2 hours. This place in the Baramulla district is one of the main tourist attractions and a visit to Kashmir is incomplete without a Gondola ride at Gulmarg.
Gulmarg's original name was "Gauri marg", named after Godess Parvati, meaning the "Fair one". This was later changed as "Gulmarg", meaning "Meadow of flowers", thus indicating several types of wild flowers that bloom in the valley during the spring and summer months. The area is snow-clad in the winter months and is hence a favored destination for skiing and other winter sports. Gulmarg has the world's highest Golf Course at 8700 feet from sea level. The nature's bounty with the background of white snow and greenery around is a treat to the tourists and especially joyous to the children.
From the base of Gulmarg town, tourists can reach higher levels in the snow clad peaks by taking a ride in Gulmarg Gondola. The gondola ride can be had in two stages; the first of 400 meters or 1312 feet from Gulmarg to Kongdori and the second of 880 meters or 2887 feet from Kongdori to Aphawat peak. Gondola company charges a fare of Rupees 600 and 800 respectively for the two rides. This is the highest ropeway in the world and travel in the Gondola is indeed a pleasure. Tourists need warm winter dress to enjoy the cool weather at the top of the peaks and the dresses are available for hire in the town as well as near the gondola station.
The Gondola project was completed about 8 years ago and is a safe and covered travel aid to the higher levels. One can see the old cable car pillars of yesteryears alongside the new Gondola pillars which provided uncovered two-seater cable rides. The ride up to Kongdori opens up vast snow areas for the tourists to play in the snow and have other attractions like sledge ride, motorized sledge rides to higher levels and similar snow rides. Tourists are mobbed by the local sledge operators and they try their best to persuade even the old and unwilling to take sledge rides.
"Sledge" is usually a vehicle mounted on runners and drawn by animals or horses. But in Gulmarg, sledge is actually a wooden implement that is drawn by a person by pulling a rope tied to the sledge. It is rather difficult to sit on them for the aged people. The marketing tricks used by the sledge operators makes a wonderful study in "Sales and marketing". They have a ready answer for every query or doubt and never quit at any stage of argument or bargaining. They find the weaker link in the family groups to convince the other unwilling members of the family and almost always succeed in catching their quota of tourists. The tourist is made to sit on them and pulled up to a higher level as agreed for a fare. On the return journey, the sliding is quite fast and the base is reached in a matter of seconds.
Tourists coming from other parts of Kashmir cannot use the vehicles hired from there in Gulmarg. They have to use the horses available locally for traveling small distances to their hotels after returning from Gondola rides, in case they are unable to walk back. A one day trip to Gulmarg is highly rewarding provided the weather is pleasant. Otherwise, an extended day's stay will be required if the schedule so permits.