Snowboarding and Skiing in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India: Dos and Don'ts
Words and pictures by Sam Baldwin
Published Feb 2008
The SnowSphere.com team has returned from India, surviving monkeys and machine guns during our snowboarding extravaganza to Gulmarg, Kashmir. It was an incredible trip, with quite possibly the finest powder riding that we had ever experienced, not to mention an exotic adventure into a country and culture that we knew very little of.
We will be writing a full report on SnowSphere.com soon, as well as creating a photo story and a short film of the trip, but for now, here is a little advice for anyone who is thinking of heading out to cool Kashmir to sample snow in the Indian Himalaya.
- Come with the right attitude; this is Kashmir, not Kitzbuhel, so don't expect things to run as smoothly or efficiently as you're used to. The power cuts, water shortages and delays are all part of the Gulmarg skiing and snowboarding adventure.
- Hire a local guide; (we used the Kashmir Powder Cats) not only will you benefit in terms of avalanche safety and finding the best terrain on the mountain, but when the upper gondola is down (which is often), the guides will arrange for forest skiing with vehicle transport. Forget the helicopter; the crazy ride up in a Tata Sumo (India's answer to the Land Rover) is as exhilarating as the ski down.
- Bring backcountry safety gear (shovel, probe, transceiver) and know how to use it. The best terrain on Gulmarg's Mount Apharwat is beyond the patrolled zones, and avalanches are a genuine danger. An Australian man was caught and killed in an avalanche in the winter of 2006/2007.
- Learn some local lingo; whether it's a hotel waiter or a gun touting soldier, uttering the Kashmiri greeting "salam aleikum" (literally "may God be with you") will always bring a smile.
- Bring a torch; power cuts are a daily reality in Gulmarg.
- Bring some small items to give away as gifts; some stickers or sweets unique to your home country will be gratefully accepted.
- Watch out for barbed wire and metal stakes on the slopes; these remnants of fighting in the mountains are still a danger to skiers and snowboarders, and at the very least, your p-tex.
- Share the wealth; Kashmir is one of India's poorest regions and the violence that Kashmiris have suffered has severely hampered the area's economic development. Hand over a few Rupee notes for good service, leave behind some of your ski or snowboarding gear if you can, (we gave our guide a helmet, gloves and pants) and buy from the locals.
- Enjoy the powder, perfect pitch and lack of people, while it lasts. Right now Gulmarg offers heli-skiing quality runs for the cost of a gondola ride, but word of India's eastern promise is spreading so the untracked powder and empty mountains are unlikely to last forever.
- Check recent FCO India Travel Advice ; though Kashmir is safer than it has been for several years, bombings and grenade attacks in certain parts of the Kashmir Valley are still going on, with almost daily skirmishes at the Line of Control (Pakistan - India border). It ain't a no-go zone for nothing.
- Forget to bring laxatives as well as Immodium. The Gulmarg guts can strike at any time (though we thankfully largely escaped it), but it's also common to have the opposite problem.
- Miss out on Kashmiri Khawa, the local sweet tea made with cardamom and cinnamon; warms your cockles after a day in the snow.
- Get overcharged for goods; in Kashmir, like the rest of India and most of Asia, buyers are expected to haggle on price. As a Westerner, the local people will see you as a honey pot, so bargain hard and don't be afraid to walk off if the price isn't right.
- Come to Gulmarg for the nightlife: Kashmir is largely a Muslim region and alcohol is in limited supply, only available through hotels who get clandestine supplies from the Indian army bases.
- Expect to get any female action; you'll see very few Kashmiri women out and about (they all seem to be hidden away) and the few foreign ladies that come to Gulmarg are invariably attached.
- Come to Gulmarg as a beginner; this place is best enjoyed by intermediate to advanced snowboarders and skiers. There is only one groomed run on Mount Apharwat plus three short drag accessed runs at the other end of the village - not exactly ideal for your first time on snow.
- Leave without a stay on a house boat in Dal Lake, Srinagar (we stayed at the Pakhtoon). With underwater gardens, crystal clear H2O and a backdrop of spiky snow covered Himalayan peaks, this is one of the most chilled out places on earth, winning high praise from The Beatles and world traveller, Michael Palin.
DO: Buy the exclusive SnowSphere snowboard Kashmir tuk-tuk t-shirts - inspired by our visit