Gulmarg's legendary beauty, prime location and proximity to Srinagar naturally make it one of Asia's premier hill resorts. Originally called 'Gaurimarg' by shepherds, Gulmarg was discovered in the 16th century by Sultan Yusuf Shah, who was inspired by the sight of its grassy slopes emblazoned with wild flowers. It was also a favourite resort of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Today, Gulmarg is not merely a mountain resort of exceptional beauty but also the country's premier ski resort in winter when it is covered in snow and takes on the appearance of a picture postcard.
Skiing & Winter Sports
Gulmarg was first established as a ski resort by the British who had set up the Ski Club of India here in 1927. Skiing at Gulmarg had become very popular during the pre-independence years. The resort used to host two major skiing events, one each during Christmas and Easter. In 1938-39, about 500 skiers are said to have participated in Christmas and Easter ski races. Gulmarg's atmosphere was identified with European ski resorts of the 1940's and 50's - the 'Alps of good old days'. It has good sunshine as well as good snow.
The skiing season usually commences just before Christmas (mid December) and continues till early April. During 1998, Gulmarg hosted the first National Winter Games of India, as also the first phase of the Gulmarg Gondola Cable Car was commissioned. The resort facilities were further improved and upgraded for the 4th National Winter Games, which were also held here during 2003-2004.
Gulmarg is well suited for learning skiing. It has some of the best slopes for beginners and intermediate skiers, all serviced by ski lifts and chair lifts. Most of the skiing activities are centred on these slopes, which have ski runs ranging from 200 to 900 mts. Good quality equipment including skis, boots, sticks, gloves and goggles, are all available on hire from the Government-run ski shop. Trained instructors are at hand for guiding amateur skiers.
However, not all tourists who visit Gulmarg in winter come for skiing - some are simply there to watch the skiing or to enjoy a holiday in the snow. Many of them infected with the excitement of the skiers don their first pair of skis within a short while of their arrival.
Among the numerous slopes are some which are not serviced by ski lifts. These are quieter than those immensely popular with average skiers. Trained skiers take to these slopes and even trek in the snow for several hours to the top of the Apharwat range, to make a descent lasting no more than 30 minutes. And now with the setting up of the Gondola Cable Car, Gulmarg has become the highest lift-served ski resort in the world providing a downhill ski run of 5.2 km from a height of 14,000 ft in the Apharwat range. It is also the longest gondola served ski-lift in Asia.
Gulmarg also offers a host of other snow sports at this time of the year. The most popular among the tourists is riding a sledge and being pulled along the snow covered roads or gentler slopes. Tobogganing also does not require any skill - a flat wooden board is taken up the hill and then allowed to slide downhill. Snowboarding, another exciting winter sport is also being introduced and promoted here. Making a snowman and holding camp fires around it amidst music and feasting is another popular activity indulged by the tourists. But the most enjoyable aspect of a winter sojourn in Gulmarg is the friendly atmosphere. It is like being in a family where everybody knows everyone else.
Heli-skiing was introduced in Gulmarg, for the first time in India during the mid 1980s in collaboration with the world renowned French skier, Sylvain Saudan of Himalaya Heli-Ski Club of France. For this highly exciting sport, skiers are taken to the top of mountain ridges by helicopters from where they ski down the immense Himalayan slopes. Initially, the programme was started at Apharwat in Gulmarg. Subsequently, other sites in the Kashmir Himalayas were also used for the purpose. The programme was suspended during the 1990s, but now it is has been revived again.
Many foreign skiers visit Gulmarg and stay there for extended periods. For managing mountain operations, every year the Tourism Department engages a Ski Patrol Team, headed by accredited foreign experts.