18 Nov Best Places to visit in Gulmarg, Kashmir
Gulmarg is probably the place in Kashmir that made someone call it ‘Paradise on Earth’. Gulmarg is gorgeous in every season – winters, springs, summer and autumn. The valley just changes colour with different degrees of clouds and mist hanging around.
I am sure the place looks mindblowing in winters (and expensive as hell) but it looks pretty fantastic in summers too. You see these huge green meadows with horses and sheeps grazing with a perfect blue sky. I don’t see why so many people would want to go to Switzerland.
But to diffuse some of your excitement, Gulmarg is also extremely touristy. It may even surprise you to know that locals don’t live in Gulmarg at all. In fact, only tourists and the Indian army are allowed in the area. No doubt people only come there to earn from the tourist activities and that means stalker tour guides and salesy almost everyone you meet.
But either way, if you are visiting Kashmir for the first time in your life, you cannot miss Gulmarg. Here is everything you need to know about this beautiful town.
How to reach Gulmarg?
To reach Gulmarg, you will have to reach Srinagar first. Srinagar is connected to other major Indian cities by flight. You can also make the journey by road but it can be pretty tiresome. No trains connect Srinagar as of now.
Public transport to Gulmarg
If you are travelling solo or a couple, you may want to take public transport in Kashmir. However, note that the journey with public transport will take more time and could be unreliable at times. So don’t count on it on a very tight itinerary.
There are no direct buses to Gulmarg. But you can take a bus from Srinagar to Tangmarg. From there you will have to switch to shared sumo to take the rest of the journey onwards.
If you want something faster, you can hail a shared sumo service near the Srinagar bus stand or ask someone around. The sumo cabs can cost you somewhere between ₹150-200 per person. The journey usually takes between 1.5 – 2 hours of travel time.
Although during winters, shared sumo is the only option since large vehicles are not permitted in the highlands of Gulmarg due to so much snow. Only 4×4 vehicles with snowchains on the wheels are allowed. This can shoot up your cost to as much as ₹700 per person.
Private transport to Gulmarg
If you are travelling in a group, it is just way more convenient to hire a private vehicle in Kashmir. Why do I suggest hiring in Kashmir? Because there are just too many places in the area where cars/vehicles outside Kashmir are not allowed and you may have to rent one anyway.
If you are travelling to Gulmarg for a single day from Srinagar, you can take a cab from the tourist taxi stand near Nehru Park. A board there lays out the standard cost of a taxi as per destination.
To give you a brief idea, a return cab to Gulmarg can cost you around ₹2050 (in 2020-21) and will be between ₹3000-3500 for a two-day trip. An Innova will cost you some more and a tempo traveller should be somewhere around ₹5500-6000 per day. Refer to this article to find out more details on the standard taxi rates.
Again, expect to pay steeper prices during winters. Since you cannot hire large vehicles, divide yourself into smaller cars to make the journey.
Planning your trip to Kashmir? Checkout our 6-9 days itinerary for Kashmir
How to get around in Gulmarg?
There is absolutely no public transport in Gulmarg, so don’t waste your time figuring that out. You will have to hire a private vehicle in Gulmarg to go around. So it can make sense to hire one from your origin city as well (that will probably be Srinagar).
If you are travelling in your own car and have a registration number outside of Kashmir, you may not be allowed to travel to some areas. In that case, switch to a local vehicle. To be honest, I think it’s just better to hire a local vehicle in most cases.
Gulmarg is large, a combination of dozens of vast meadows. So it’s definitely not possible to walk around on your own. Plus a lot of interesting places are located outside Gulmarg, so you will have to travel a few kilometres.
There is also an abundance of ponies in Gulmarg (and all of Kashmir). If you haven’t yet, you must take at least one ride here. It is also a necessity for some places if you want to cover a lot of activities in a single day.
But ponies on hire and tour guides are so pestering and aggressive that they can ruin your experience. They also tend to overcharge enormously. Read this article on the common tourist scams in Kashmir so that you know what to expect.
You can also rent ATVs at the tourist spots and hotels like The Khyber have them available for their guests at the hotel itself.
Places to see in Gulmarg
Gulmarg is mostly open fields and countryside. The tourist attractions in the area are rather spread out. So you will need some time to go around as well.
While a lot of people do a day trip from Srinagar to Gulmarg, I would suggest spending at least two days here. Here are some of the best places in Gulmarg to check out.
1. Apharwat Peak
Apharwat Peak is one of the major tourist attractions of Gulmarg. The peak is usually covered with snow for the most part of the year. It is also the place where you will find the famous gondola in Gulmarg that takes you all the way up to the top of more than 14,000 ft.
The peak is the hotspot for skiing activities during the winter season. It remains green and clear during the peak of summers. So if you are looking for a good hike, you can even try hiking to the first level of Apharwat Peak.
You may occasionally find a fellow hiker or plenty of local shepherds and herdsmen who make their homes on the slopes of this mountain during the summers. They take their cattle with them so that they can feed on the grassland and return back to the base as the snowfalls.
At the top of Apharwat peak, which is also the endpoint of the second level of the gondola ride, you will find an Indian army base. The LOC is just a few kilometres from this place. The top of the peak is more accessible during the summers since winters make it too cold and harsh to stay at the top.
You may also feel slight dizziness due to the lack of oxygen but you get used to it after a while. Pack warm clothes regardless of the season. There are also a few small stalls on the first as well as the second level that serve basic snacks, tea, coffee and Kashmiri kahwa.
2. Gulmarg Gondola
We are still talking about Apharwat but let me tell you more about the gondola ride. The gondola ropeway has two levels on the Apharwat Peak. Both these levels have separate tickets. You can buy the ticket to the first level at the base of the peak and then take the ride to the first level that takes 12 minutes.
Once there, you can take a stroll around and enjoy the view. While it is lovely during the summers, it’s absolutely stunning after a snowfall. This is the place where all the action takes place. There is a ski academy where you can enrol yourself for a day and learn a few basics of skiing.
If you aren’t much into it, there are other snow activities like snowboarding and bobsleigh. Although take note that the prices for all activities will be steep. So negotiate hard according to the prices capped by the government (mentioned in a post nearby). You can also find most of these at the base or near the golf course and at a much cheaper price.
There is a small area here where you can find a few restaurants. You will find the small ticket counter to the left where you can buy your gondola tickets for the second level.
The second level is even more beautiful but I would say you can skip it during the summers. After the snowfall, you can see miles of snow-covered mountains. Do not exert yourself here since the lack of oxygen can take a toll.
For advanced ski enthusiasts, there is a ski or a chairlift that runs parallel to the gondola. It drops you off at the top and you can ski your way back to the first level or the base. Do not try this if you are not an expert in it. Several accidents are reported every year in the area.
We visited the top during autumn and a lot of tour guides/locals imposed on us the fact that we cannot tour on our own and we need a guide. Moreover, they will take us around the top to the place where we can still find some snow. That is all a sham. Do read up on the common tourist scams in Kashmir
Don’t believe it. You can walk around on your own, just don’t try to cover steep ground. Also, there is hardly any snow during the summers and autumn, just a sad patch of ice that didn’t melt out from last winter. Stories like these are really common in the area.
Timings for Gulmarg Gondola:
Summer timings: Level 1 – 9am to 3pm, Level 2 – 10am to 4pm
Winter timings: Level 1 – 10am to 4pm, Level 2 – 10.30am to 3.30pm
Ticket cost for Gulmarg Gondola:
The price for the first level is ₹750 per person. The price for the second level is ₹950 per person (as of 2021). This is for both ways of your journey. Do not buy this at any other price. You can buy the tickets on the spot at the counters.
3. Alpather Lake
Alpather Lake is one of the alpine lakes in the region that remains frozen for the most part of the year. It is also fairly hard to access. The lake lies just 1.5km ahead of the Apharwat Peak’s top. So if you have made the journey to the second level, you can do this too.
The lake is beautiful and can range between several shades of blue and green depending upon the season. It is completely frozen during winters and the locals sometimes even use it for skating.
You can make the journey from Apharwat Peak to the lake by yourself in all seasons without a guide but with a little sense of direction. However, you will need some fitness levels for the return journey back.
Keep warm clothes with you along with a waterproof cover since the weather is extremely unpredictable. Do not overexert yourself since the air pressure is very low. Sports shoes are good enough during the summers but you will need snowshoes or boots during winters. Sometimes ponies are also available for the journey back.
It would take an hour’s time to do this trek. So it’s better done during the first half of the day. Also, take some water and food along for the journey for a quick boost of energy but do not leave the wrappers and plastic there.
Khilanmarg is a highland valley just 6 km from the Gulmarg Bus stand and is popular for its pine forest and rich flora and fauna that it is endowed with. The area is located at a slightly higher altitude of around 600m.
If you are visiting Gulmarg with a tour guide, this will probably be included in your list of places of interest. Most tour guides will meet you at the bus stop where they will probably hunt you down and insist that you take a tour with them on trained ponies.
They take you around a few tourist attractions including Khilanmarg. I think it’s a decent enough option since they know the way. Make sure that you pay the standard rates that are written on a board near the bus stop.
You can also trek the area on your own just by following the dirt path. However, note that the distance from the bus stop to Khilanmarg and back will be more than 12kms.
The trail leads into a slightly dense forest that gives a feeling that the evening has arrived early since sunlight is unable to penetrate the ground. As you enter the forest you will find old abandoned cabins, small streams directly coming from the glaciers and rare flowers and berries that you probably should keep a distance from.
Khilanmarg is also accessible from the level first the gondola of the Apharwat peak. You will find a few tour guides that will offer to take you on ponies to the forest and back.
It’s free to enter with no time restrictions, although it would be best if you don’t wander in the area after dark since wandering wild animals are common in the area.
5. Maharani Temple
Maharani Temple is extremely easy to spot. While most of the cabins and buildings in Gulmarg are painted a deep green colour to match the surroundings, the temple stands out from the rest with its rooftop painted in bright red colour.
Moreover, the temple is located on a prime hillock in the centre of Gulmarg that ensures that it is visible from almost all of Gulmarg.
The temple was commissioned by Mohini Bai Sisodia. She was the wife of ruler Hari Singh, the last king of the Dogra dynasty who ruled Kashmir that ended in 1915. The temple was considered a royal temple by Dogra kings and is also called Mohineshwar Shivalaya.
The shrine is dedicated to Shiva and Parvati, two of the rare beloved gods that hold special places in the hearts of the people of Kashmir, regardless of their religion. It is also the spot where the song ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ was shot.
Timings: The temple is open from 9 am to 6 pm and aarti takes place twice a day.
6. Ningle Nallah
Ningle Nallah is a water stream that flows downwards after the glaciers melt from the Apharwat peak. Although the water stream is also worth visiting at Shrunz waterfall that is just a few kilometres before between the Apharwat peak and Ningle Nallah.
Ningle Nallah also offers a bit of respite from the crowd that heads towards Gulmarg during the peak season. The area around the stream has wide beautiful meadows that are worth spending some time in both summers and winters.
However, summers have always been a popular time with people as well as the royalty (once upon a time) who enjoy a picnic at the banks of the stream. If that is something you wish to do, carry some food with you since you won’t find any eateries or restaurants in the area.
People and trekkers also prefer to camp around the area due to the availability of freshwater. Summers are also a good time if you would like to take a dip in the stream or at the waterfall. Although the water remains icy cold throughout the year.
7. Children’s Park
I am not going to describe the place as a ‘must visit’ or ‘cannot miss’. It is simply a park inside Gulmarg where most tourists make a stop. So you will probably find it buzzing with people.
The park is especially endowed with beautiful seasonal flowers that the local authority do well to maintain. There is also a small lake in the middle to spend some time around.
There is a parking area and a few food stalls outside the park selling biryanis, tea, snacks and momos. We grabbed a few plates and made a picnic out of it in the park.
You will also find activities like zorbing, boating and buggy rides at the other end of the park. Worth trying, if you haven’t done it yet.
Children’s park entry fees: ₹20 per adult, ₹5 per child
8. Saint Mary’s Church
This is a small vintage Victorian style church near the golf course in Gulmarg. While you may need to walk out in the snow during the winters, it is easily accessible in the summers.
The church can be easily mistaken for any other building in Gulmarg that all appear similar in their green roofs. But the interiors are far from it. The church is still intact with its stone walls, wooden roof structure and stained glass that is commonly derived from the gothic architectural styles.
Despite the fact that the church is abandoned today since there are no Christians in Gulmarg, it is still kept clean. The structure could use some maintenance though.
9. Maharaja Hari Singh’s Cottage
Ah, yet another landmark. I did not find any information about it online. Yet I think you must not miss this place. Located in the interiors of Gulmarg and out of the spotlight, you may need to take help from the locals to find it.
The cottage can look small on the outside, but it seems to be a small palace as you step inside. You need to pay for a ticket as you enter that leads you to the main hallway. After that, there is a gathering room with rich chandeliers that looks like the place where the king held his court.
As you keep walking inside, you will find several rooms on either side – bedrooms, living area, dining area, storage, guest rooms etc. Most of these rooms have been renovated recently.
While you can still see a rich collection of artefacts, most of it is lost with time as the dynasty’s rule ended. You can also access the basement from the front hallway to the right. The basement was once used as a stable for horses and even as a prison for political prisoners.
Apart from a summer retreat, the place was a hideout for the ruling family, one of the few that they used to keep their privacy, out of the eyes of the commoners.
10. Bota Pathri
The area of Bota Pathri lies in Nagin valley, a place that has been closed off to tourists till 2012 since it is just 5 kilometres from LOC. While you can visit this place, you will still need a permit from the army (that you can get at the checkpoint).
Bota Pathri is around 10km from Gulmarg and is another place that gives respite from the tourist crowd. The roads ahead are empty with beautiful meadows on both sides.
The place is also home to a few villages and rural shepherds that seemed so disconnected from the outside world. It is fascinating to see people paint their homes in bright neon colours that make the homes appear like a rainbow.
At the last checkpoint, you will see a wide stream of water where you can halt for a few pictures. There is also a small stall that serves Maggi, tea and kahwa and will probably hard sell them to you.
You will also come across some people who will offer you a pony ride and take you to the interiors. If you have time and are curious to know more about their lifestyles, go for it. Should cost around ₹500 per pony.
You need to be back by 5 pm unless you want trouble with the Indian Army (which you don’t).
Where to Stay in Gulmarg
To be honest, there is not a bounty of options for places to stay in Gulmarg. The primary reason is that even the locals don’t live here. So the few hotels available are usually pricier than other places.
I think the best place to stay are the JKTDC huts. We were a family of 7 people and we booked a 3-Bedroom cottage in traditional Kashmiri style that came with a huge living room, a common room, a kitchen and a huge private garden and backyard. You can book them here.
However, these huts are usually overbooked, especially during the peak season. So book them way in advance. We also found that booking online during the off-season can fetch you discounts up to 50%. So definitely plan your trip ahead.
I am sure there are a few that you can book offline, at the spot as well but I would suggest don’t count on it due to the huge number of tourists that visit Gulmarg all year round.
Looking to spot some local delicacies? Check out our blog on What to eat when in Kashmir
Best time to visit Gulmarg
This brings us to the topic of the best time to visit Gulmarg. And I will be plain honest to say that Gulmarg is beautiful all year round. In fact, I would suggest going twice to Gulmarg (I would) – once during the summers and once in winters
Winters in Gulmarg (November - February)
Winters are extremely cold in Gulmarg. Not to forget, it’s really pricey and hard to reach. However, it is just so beautiful that you cannot miss it. Snow covers the whole valley in a beautiful white blanket. The temperatures drop several degrees up to -9°C and sometimes beyond.
Be very careful of wearing appropriate clothing of several layers along with snowshoes and headgear or you don’t want to fall sick due to cold. Most hotels have the equipment to keep you warm and comfortable inside rooms. Definitely, one of the best times to go.
Spring in Gulmarg (March - April)
Gulmarg is usually still covered in snow in early spring and you can enjoy most of the winter wonderland during this time as well. The tourist crowd starts to disperse though.
Once the snow melts, it paves the way to beautiful blooming flowers in the valley that gives Gulmarg its name,‘Gul’ for flower and ‘Marg’ for meadows. The average temperature hovers between 8-18°C with minimal rain.
Summers in Gulmarg (May-August)
Summer is again a beautiful time to visit Gulmarg due to the respite it provides from the heat. Although it can also get pretty warm here sometimes. But the landscapes come to life after the snow vanishes completely.
You will find cattle grazing the wide beautiful meadows and miles of beautiful green landscapes speckled by tiny waterfalls on the way that is fed by the melting glaciers. It also gives you the ability to cover more ground and explore the interiors of Kashmir and spend more time outdoors.
The temperature during summers hovers between 16-24°C and the sky remains clear for the most part. You can expect some rainfall starting in July that can dampen your outdoor plans.
Autumn in Gulmarg (September - October)
Autumn arrives with a slight chill in the air and a lot of rainfall. The rainfall can be a little unexpected since the weather changes in the area very soon and drastically. For now, the estimates available online are usually close to accurate on many days.
Although, plenty of days remain clear as well. One of the major benefits of travelling during the autumn is the low season. It means huge discounts and availability in hotels, tickets and fewer tourists around. Gulmarg remains clear of snow almost all of autumn.