Located on a mountain plateau at an altitude of 2,600m, Gulmarg is India’s leading ski resort. In the days when India was part of the British Empire, this mountain retreat is where the elite would escape the summer heat. Today, however, it’s where folk come in search of brilliant powder. If you’ve ever dreamed of skiing in the Himalayas, then this is the place to come for the snow in Gulmarg is out of this world.
In this guest post, Sarah and her three children (one of who was a tiny baby at the time of their trip) visited Gulmarg from Delhi for a long weekend of skiing, snowboarding and riding the Gulmarg gondola.
This post has more ideas on where to travel in India with kids.
Skiing in the Himalayas
I once went to Barcelona with 1 handbag, 1 passport, 1 dress, 1 pair of flats and 1 bikini, and returned one week later with the same (plus a rather sore head, blistered dancing feet and laryngitis). Our second family holiday to Gulmarg, Kashmir comprised of 5 family members (kids 6wks, 2yrs & 4yrs), 2 nannies, 7 pieces of carry on luggage, 2 snowboard sets, 3 suitcases, 1 travel cot, 2 portable DVD players, 1 laptop, more nappies/games/books/toiletries than a general store and not nearly enough patience for the lack of decent caffeine options in Delhi airport at 5am.
Lack of spontaneous singledom travel aside, Gulmarg was an easy, picturesque and fun filled holiday for everyone. The kids loved being pulled on sleds and carried on the shoulders of porters (as did their parents who didn’t have to). We loved the powder and incredible mountain trails, and the remoteness, yet ease of access that makes Gulmarg an incredible experience. As the ski runs don’t open until 10am, mornings at Hotel Highlands Park were spent lazing in bed whilst our cabin attendant stoked up our bukharis (traditional stoves) and served tea. This was followed by a sustaining breakfast at the dining room, followed by kitting up for morning powder.
Up at Phase II of the Gondola the powder is some of the best in the world. I found it buried me rather nicely, others actually skied on top of it! The kids would stay behind at the hotel to attack each other and unsuspecting passersby with snowballs, build wonky snowmen and sledge down the beginner slopes right next to the hotel. We met again for lunch and gondola rides in the afternoon. Evenings were spent having stiff legs massaged, playing board games and meeting other visitors around the central bukhari at the bar.
Why we love Gulmarg
Knowing that you are skiing in India! When one thinks of Indian holidays, divine, empty ski fields aren’t usually the first images that come to mind. Mixed with the mountain views way up from the world’s highest gondola, overlooking Kashmir and beyond (then knowing it’s a steep exciting trip back down!), the Kashmiri hospitality, big smiles and helpful assistance everywhere you go, topped off by the warming food, Khawa chai and home comforts of Hotel Highlands Park where nothing is too much trouble.
Three things you should definitely do in Gulmarg
1. Bring all your personal warm clothing and ski equipment. Ski and snowboarding gear can be hired, but there aren’t any shops selling clothing and accessories.
2. Get out and about, go for walks, ice skating, car trips, sledge rides, take the gondola even if you can’t ski. Remember to take the smaller trails if you can, and ski down to other villages for tea and soup – and then grab a lift back up to do it all again!
3. Stay longer than originally planned. Once you get to Hotel Highlands Park, the rest of India and the world seem so far away, you’ll never want to leave.
[Tweet “Take the family snowboarding in #Gulmarg! @incredibleindia #familytravel #India”]
Skiing in Gulmarg
The Gulmarg ski season runs from January to March and offers miles and miles of empty slopes; if conditions are stable then they will extend the season either side. The world’s highest two-tier gondola is located in Gulmarg, taking skiers up to 3,747m for panoramic views. There’s a central section of the mountain that is groomed, patrolled and avalanche-controlled and the rest of the mountain is off-piste (guides are available and recommended in you’re not familiar with the area).
Although not a huge ski resort (by US or European standards, anyway), Gulmarg offers some fantastic opportunities for advanced skiers and boarders. There are plenty of off-piste powder runs and there is even the option to go heli-skiing. The main Alpine slopes offer runs 2km in length with a stunning altitude drop of over 700m. For intermediate skiers, Phase 1 is a 3km long trail through wooded hills.
There are three baby slopes perfect for learner skiers. Instructors can be hired for the day, the week or for a one-off lesson and they tend to be very good with kids. Equipment is available to rent in Gulmarg but if you are particular about your ski gear you should bring it with you.
Where to Stay in Gulmarg
The two best hotels in Gulmarg are the Hotel Highlands Park, which first opened in the early 1960s by fifth generation hotelier and retired cavalry major, Benjie Nedou. It has played host to Presidents, Prime Ministers and visiting royalty. Highlands Park is made up of several wooden cottages, each with dedicated staff to look after you (they also serve you ‘bed tea’ in the mornings). The décor is very much one of a glamorous yesteryear; plaques and memorabilia from various army regiments decorate the walls as well as snapshots of Bollywood personalities on location at the hotel. It’s homely, charming and great fun, and regarded by many as the place to stay in Gulmarg. Check current rates and reviews on TripAdvisor
The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels group that opened in 2012. Parents will love this mountain retreat for the delicious Kashmiri food, stunning mountain views, plush bathrooms and the friendly and attentive staff. The snooker room and hookah bar are also perfect après ski spots. Check current rates and reviews on TripAdvisor
When to go to Gulmarg
The Gulmarg ski season runs from January 1st to March 31st. If conditions are good and the snow is safe and stable then the season might be expected. The best time to visit is between the third week of January to late February, when there is typically the most snow. Gulmarg temperatures can dip to around -14C during the peak of the winter season. To check the current temperature in Gulmarg and the weather forecast, take a look here.
How to get to Gulmarg
The nearest airport to Gulmarg is the domestic airport in Srinagar, 56 kilometres away. It takes 1-2 hours to reach Gulmarg from Srinagar owing to the windy mountain roads. Srinagar airport is well connected to major cities in India with regular flights to Delhi, Mumbai and more. There are prepaid cabs at the airport, which will take you to Srinagar.
IMPORTANT! There is a long history of conflict within the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Remember to consult your own government’s travel advisory for safety advice such as www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/india
Guest post and photos by Sarah Mangelsdorf.