Gulmarg 2012

I’m from Australia where my friends and I get excited about a 5cm snow storm. That was until I started to snowboard overseas. Now I’m in Gulmarg where it’s common for a snow storm to dump three metres.

Gulmarg is a village in Kashmir, the state between India and Pakistan. Most Kashmiris are Muslim, but despite their religion most Kashmiris have a better relationship with Hindu Indians than with Pakistan.

Gulmarg sits five kilometres from the militarized Line of Control. It’s one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world. There are 700,000 Indian army troops that are in this state and I would imagine there is a similar number of troops over the Pakistan border. Gulmarg isn’t a very commercial ski resort, more a backcountry paradise for those who are willing to work hard for their lines or who don’t mind playing a game of cheat with mother nature.

The Aussie government currently have a travel warning out not to travel here. Yet since I’ve been in Gulmarg the only violence I’ve witnessed has been between the Australian and the Russian tourists. Most Russian tourists only stay for a short period and itching to get the freshest lines, they rudely make every effort to push and shove in the gondola line. Many Australians I’m embarrassed to say are obnoxious.

I’m not denying the fact that there are thousands of weapons in the area, nor that it’s a dangerous territory. There is an Indian army base on the mountain that we ski past and they stay there in case Pakistan decides to invade the precious land. I wouldn’t dare try to see what is on the other side of the Line of Control, which is where they call Pakistani Kashmir. Many Kashmiri people tell me there are small villages there and they have relatives who live there.

So far most Indian solders with guns in Gulmarg that I have come across have either, A, minded their own business or B, smiled at me and asked to have a photo. I believe the real danger for tourists is in the stupidity of the people that come here. People who come without any real knowledge of the backcountry or without the right equipment. Myself included.

Most local Kashmiris now understand that tourism can build up their economy and give a positive future to their war torn past. Currently a Kashmiri waiter in a hotel who works a 12 hour days gets paid approximately 3,700 Indian Rupees for a fortnights work. Approximately 70 Aussie dollars. While during the ski season a local guide here can earn up to 4,000 rupees per day. Approx 80 Aussie dollars. Every young Kashmiri man wants to be a ski guide. Though there are few on the mountain who are educated enough and who I would trust to save my life in the backcountry.

Coming to Gulmarg you need to leave all your expectations at home. I left mine next to my hair straighter. While it can be pretty rough, there’s heaps of fun and exciting things to do here too. Whether you’re street skiing behind a taxi, taking a fresh line, talking with locals, visiting the doctors, watching cars without chains slide over the road, shopping at the market or trying to find your way home after a big night out. There’s always something new to experience here.

From my knowledge, at present Gulmarg is the cheapest snow resort in the world. Currently a ride to the top of the gondola, 4,000 metres, will cost a tourist 350 Indian rupees (about six Aussie dollars). The runs are so exhausting that you are lucky to make more than four in a day. Beer in Kashmir, purchased from a bar is a few Aussie dollars and food is pretty cheap too. Hotels by the Gondola is far more expensive than by the Gulmarg market, which is about one and a half kilometres down the mountain.

What to pack

Patience and a sense of humour because you do a lot of waiting around in Gulmarg. You can be waiting for the hot water to come on, waiting for the electricity to work, waiting for the gondola to start turning or waiting for your friends to dig their way out of the snow.

A small set of binoculars. After a powder storm Gulmarg Snow Safety operations will bomb the inbounds area of the mountain. During peak season about 300 skiers and snowboarders wait in line for the Gondola to open. Phase 2 only opens after the explosives are set off and Kashmiri Ski Patrol announces something in Kashmiri over a loud speaker, which usually means the area is safe to ski in. If you have a set of binoculars at least you can watch the snow slides after the bombs goes off. Sometimes you can wait until mid day to get in the gondolla, but it’s totally worth it.

Head torch. There are no lights in the village and it gets quite dark and hairy at night. Often times the electricity at the hotels will go out. If you’re lucky your hotel will have a back up generator.

A very thorough first aid kit including cold and flu tablets, Imodium and electrolyte tablets.

Vitamins – good quality fresh food and vegetables are hard to come by in Gulmarg. Most of the vegetables served in restaurants have been frozen. At the market you can buy raw vegetables and fruit, but it’s far from fresh.

At the least a shovel, probe and beacon. Beacons can be rented for about ten Aussie dollars per day, but they are not digital. It’s best to bring a newer one that you can trust. Make sure to test them at home before you arrive to Gulmarg. Batteries can also be purchased from Jaan’s shop, although they’re not the best quality.

Spare snowboard screws and any other parts for your bindings. P tex and wax and a wax iron. This stuff is like diamonds in Kashmir.

What you can buy here.

At the local Gulmarg markets you purchase woollen gloves, scarves, beanies as well as any tailor made garments.

Tanmarg, the village at the bottom of the mountain has a pharmacy and hospital. Although most times getting a taxi down the mountain can be difficult.

Everyone sells or has hash, (it comes across from Afghanistan) but green weed is hard to come by. If you want alcohol you should pick it up in Srinagar. Gulmarg is predominately a Muslim village so many shop and hotel owners refuse to sell it here.

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