Guest post by Anu Anand Hall
Why you’ll love the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa
Gulmarg is one of Kashmir’s most picturesque spots with a prodigious amount of snowfall in winter and beautiful green pastures in summer. It’s also one of the few places in India to go skiing.
Beginners will love the gentle slopes accessed by Poma lifts; these are manned by willing porters who will help you when you fall or get stuck. More advanced skiers can ride the Gulmarg Gondola to a height of nearly 4,000 metres and ski down virgin tracts.
Standing just minutes away from the gondola doors is The Khyber, Gulmarg’s newest hotel, and 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. This hotel has the potential to be Gulmarg’s best one-stop shop for winter sports.
Why the kids will love the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa
In winter, you can’t beat Gulmarg for miles and miles of lovely, pristine snow! No matter whether it’s your children’s first time in the mountains or if they’re the next Alberto Tomba, Gulmarg is guaranteed to please.
The Khyber is a great place to base your family and kids are warmly welcomed here. There’s plenty of space to run around the expansive lobby and reception and the outdoor terraces upstairs are studded with enormous icicles in wintertime. There’s a private movie room with a good selection of Disney and Pixar DVDs on offer and Igloo, a children’s activity centre, is scheduled to open sometime in late 2013.
Other activities in the area including snowboarding, sledding and snowshoeing and in the summer months guided tours on horseback, complete with picnic lunch, are a family favourite. After hours of snowball fights, our kids loved the delicious tea time Kashmiri biscuits and splashing about in the enormous bath.
The Khyber has 81 rooms, 40 Premium or Standard rooms, 40 Luxury rooms and 1 Presidential Suite. There are also 4 luxury cottages with full service kitchens. All rooms offer spellbinding views of the Affarwat Peaks or evergreen valleys.
The interiors have been designed to blend old with new and showcase Kashmiri crafts. You’ll find carved Kashmiri wooden furniture traditional crewelwork embroidered textiles, papier mache wall panels and beautiful photos original photography of the valley. The floors are part wood and part carpet, the beds are extremely comfortable and the linen is top range.
The Luxury rooms have private balconies where you can enjoy your morning tea overlooking the beautiful countryside.
All rooms come with tea and coffee making facilities, a mini fridge, flat screen TV with satellite, in-room thermostat, and a hair dryer and electronic safe. USB chargers are built-in and DVD players are available on request.
Best Rooms For Families
All room categories are suitable for families. What’s more, all rooms come with thick curtains (to make the room dark enough for sleeping children) and large bathtubs. The sunken baths in the Luxury Rooms come with views and are a real treat. Two sets of double doors leading to the sunken tubs can be closed, making it safe for toddlers.
All rooms have TVs with kids’ channels included and sofa beds. One extra bed is permitted per room. Children under 5-years-old are free; children 6 and older will be charged a fee for making up the sofa bed and their own buffet breakfast.
The ground floor rooms are easiest for those with smaller children. Inter-connected rooms are easily available, but there are no infant cots at present (best to check as the hotel is new and they are adding features).
At present there is one all-day dining restaurant and one tea lounge at the Khyber. Cloves, located in the front lobby, serves a buffet breakfast, an a la carte or buffet lunch and dinner menu as well as snacks. There are plans for a terrace grille, Nouf, to open Summer 2013. Check when you book.
Breakfast The breakfast buffet features cereal, pastries, toast, south Indian and Indian breakfast fare like steamed rice idlis and paranthas; and eggs cooked to order. There is also fruit, juice, tea and coffee.
Lunch & Dinner The lunch menu includes Kashmiri, Indian and international food, as well as sandwiches. The Kashmiri thali is recommended and big enough to two to share. The mezze plate, however, was disappointingly small! The a la carte dining at the Khyber, given that it’s a five star hotel, is pretty expensive. However, there is an option to pay for a set price lunch and dinner buffet, but check details when you book.
Kids’ Menu There is no dedicated kids menu, although the staff are extremely accommodating and will cook to order. They have no problem whipping up pasta with cheese or omelettes for young children and will provide crayons and colouring books. At present, there are no high chairs, though the manager said they were in the process of buying some, so check before you go. As the hotel is all enclosed, there are no worries that children can run off unattended, nor do you have to suit up in winter just to reach the restaurant, as it’s all indoors!
Afternoon Tea Kashmiri kahwa, coffee and tea, as well as a delicious tray of local almond and coconut biscuits are served in Chaikash, the tea lounge, with great views of snow in winter.
All Day Dining Menu: Salads, soups, kebabs, sandwiches and snacks are available throughout the day and room service is available.
In winter, there’s skiing with local porters available to help with younger children. Three beginner slopes with intermittently running Poma lifts operate close by.
A gondola ride up to a height of 4,000 meters offers views up the mountain and the chance to ski off-piste in virgin, powder snow for a distance of about 5 kilometres. Daily, weekly and seasonal passes can be purchased for the gondola.
The gym offers a place to work out and coming in Summer 2013, the hotel is scheduled to open its indoor, heated swimming pool and spa.
Grab a guide and arrange a trek to St. Mary’s Church, constructed by English soldiers more than a century ago. Just 6km from the hotel are the green meadows of Khilanmarg; in winter it’s a popular destination for skiers and paragliders.
In the evening, relax in the hookah bar or ask to watch a DVD in the hotel’s big-screen movie room, free for residents.
Smaller children can enjoy being pulled on a sled up and down bright white hillsides laden with snow.
Snow angels, snowmen, snowball fights are also de rigeur!
Older children can try out the very kid-friendly ski slopes with porters to help when they topple over. There are ski rental shops and instructors for hire.
The gondola ride is a treat for all ages.
The hotel offers a range of board games, DVD players that can be used in the room, as well as a range of Disney and Pixar films that can be viewed in the mini-theatre.
Igloo, a children’s activity centre was not yet open when we visited but should be open now.
Air-conditioning, central heating, common rooms, doctor on premises, small clinic in Gulmarg. The nearest small hospital is 30 minutes away. There is a sofa bed in every room, inter-connecting rooms, kids’ activities, laundry, shops, spa, swimming pool, travel desk, wheelchair access, WiFi.
When to go:
The winter months (November to February) are cold with daytime temperatures ranging from 4C – 11C and below freezing at night. The ski season runs from mid-December to mid-March and more often that not you’ll be greeted with powder perfect slopes. For snow and safety conditions check skigulmarg.com
Summer runs from March to May and is a wonderful time for walking, trekking, horse riding and playing golf. Daytime temperatures range from 13C – 29C. The mild monsoon arrives in July and lasts until August, but there is little rain and this is still a good time to visit.
Gulmarg sits at an altitude of 2600m and while altitude sickness is very uncommon at this height it’s worth keeping in mind. The top of the gondola lies just below 4000m and mild symptoms may be experienced at this altitude
Location & Travel:
The Khyber is located on a hilltop next to the gondola in Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir. There are regular daily flights in and out of Srinagar to Delhi, Mumbai and Jammu. Domestic airlines servicing Srinagar Airport include GoAir, Air India, Jet Airways and SpiceJet. Security is very tight flying to and from Srinagar so make sure to allow plenty of check-in time and be warned that hand baggage is restricted.
Gulmarg is 56km west of Srinagar, roughly a two-hour drive from the airport. This includes time required changing to a 4×4/chain vehicle half way up the mountain if necessary. The Khyber offers a direct airport to hotel service for an additional charge. This is highly recommended when travelling with small children.
The nearest major train station is Jammu Tawi, in Jammu, 300km away from Srinagar. Overnight trains run from Delhi to Jammu Tawi from where you can get a car or a bus to Srinagar but this is by no means the quickest and most reliable way of reaching Gulmarg! From Srinagar, Highlands Park can arrange transfers for an additional charge.
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