Finding Ourselves Suspended at 13,500 Feet Above Sea Level

gondola ride in india

It’s minus 3°C and the visibility is getting lower with each passing minute. “They closed Phase 2 this morning,” announced the guide as he leads the way toward the Gondola platform. Because of the bad weather, my walking abilities severely affected by the slippery snow, and the guide’s persistent reminder that we’d be completely lost without his services, we reluctantly allow him to show us the way. Turns out the gondola is a mere 15-minute walk from our hotel.

Gulmarg’s gondola operates in two stages. The first one takes us 8,530 ft to Kongdoori Station, while the next stage goes way up to 13,780 ft on Kongdoori Mountain, a shoulder of nearby Afarwat Peak. The latter stage is highly dependent on weather conditions. Disappointed though I am for phase 2 being inaccessible, there isn’t much choice. Few minutes later, up in Kongdoori station, the visibility drops to less than 10 feet. And then, since it snowed all night, we’re now standing on 8 ft of snow, each step sinking 2 feet deep as we slowly inch forward. It takes us twenty-five minutes to walk a distance that would have otherwise taken us ten minutes to accomplish in normal weather conditions. But the experience of dining at 8000 feet with snow all around us is priceless.

The guide looks at me disgruntledly when I inform him that I have checked the weather report whilst planning this trip and that the weather is predicted to clear up the next day.  “Only God can tell what the weather will be like tomorrow,” he says. I decide to leave the conversation at that and enjoy my lunch.

gondola phase 2

The weather clears up the next morning. I jump out of my heated bed and draw the curtains to find glorious sunlight shining outside. There is already a queue at eight in the morning when we arrive at the gondola’s phase 2 platform, all of them geared to ski the slopes. I notice there are no benches to sit on while waiting for the car to arrive. This could be a major issue during the peak season in summer when the schools are off and local tourists flock this part of the country. I’m told people end up waiting three to four hours for their turn on the gondola!

gondola gulmarg

There is an option to buy tickets online, but since you still have to fall in line to collect boarding passes and show some ID at the same window where they sell the tickets, I don’t really understand what the benefit is of purchasing the tickets in advance. The disadvantage of going up the second phase the following day is that we have to repurchase the phase one tickets again. But it’s totally worth it.

At one point—two minutes before setting foot inside the cable car that sits 4 adults with ski gear, to be specific—we question the safety of Gulmarg’s gondola. However, since we have already paid quite an amount for the journey and queued for over an hour, we quickly climb in with another couple, the door automatically closing itself.

gulmarg in winter

The gondola literally creaks its way, hanging from the cable. There are moments of nervousness, specially when I focus on the height and begin having doubts about the gondola’s safety. The breathtaking view, however, distracts me from my silly thoughts. There’s a couple sitting behind us, all geared up to ski the slopes, and I pick up snippets of their conversation as I take pictures of the mountain in front of me. I overhear them comment about how fresh and perfect the powder is for skiing.

Just a few meters toward the end of our phase 2 ride, the gondola abruptly comes to a halt. We choose to ignore this for the next couple of minutes, busying ourselves by looking down at the skiers gliding swiftly on the snow beneath us. A few more minutes later, realizing we’re still not moving, my imagination begins to run wild. Outside, a strong gust of wind gently rocks the car we’re in. I wonder what happens if someone falls from such a height. Will the soft and deep snow provide enough support so that the bones aren’t crushed? Will it bury the entire cable car in its frozen embrace so that no rescue team can find whoever is in there? Is there a rescue team in Gulmarg?

kashmir snow

We’re still suspended and we don’t know what’s happening. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t scared because there are few seconds where I was truly frightened. Knowing how to find ways to distract the mind with pleasant thoughts is such a blessing! Finally, after what seems to be an eternity, we begin to move forward and upward toward our destination.

Stepping out of the car, I turn around to see where we’d come from. A young man stands with one hand on his hip and another holding a shovel. Working here on a regular basis, the clouds floating about the majestic snow-swept peaks must appear as normal for him as it is for me to see a caravan of camels relaxing in the great expanse of the Arabian desert.

working on top of the world

The LOC or Line of Control is the border that separates the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir and this is only a few kilometers from where I am standing. Armed military men roam the area. I notice a camp in the distance and wonder how these men handle the extreme temperature. I suppose one of their duties is to make sure tourists and skiers like us do not wander off across the border. Although they appear intimidating at first—with their scrutinizing looks and armed uniforms—they eventually smile and try to make small talk with Masood.

skiing in kashmir

Skiing in this part of Gulmarg is not for the amateur. First off, the quick change in altitude can wreck havoc to a person’s body, causing labored breathing, increased heart rate, and fatigue. Then there’s the risk of an avalanche.

A young Kashmiri man skis past us. I have great admiration for these local men who can expertly maneuver their way on these dangerously vertical slopes. These Kashmiri men, with their good knowledge of the terrain, act as avalanche experts and guides for the foreign skiers.

powder snow in kashmir

I envy these people who seem to be enjoying skiing from such a high point. Masood and I stay at the top of the mountain and watch them glide down the slopes one by one. We don’t talk much, too mesmerized by the incredible view. It’s such a surreal feeling to be standing above the clouds, at the level of the snow-capped mountain. If I only focus on the view in front of me and forget than I’m standing on solid ground, it feels like I’m flying. It feels like I’m weightless and floating with the clouds. It’s the most incredible feeling.

ski in kashmir

Eventually, it takes a lot of effort to breathe and my nose is frozen and numb. The rays of the sun bounce off harshly against the white snow, forcing us to squint and quickly put our sunglasses back on. We take the next available car and head back down. Fortunately, the return trip is uneventful and I am able to take a lot of pictures. My favorites are the ones below:

DSCN0990

gulmarg in winter

honeymoon in kashmir

26 comments

  1. At first I thought you have posted your hiking experience, and then I began to wonder *OMG! When did that happen why didn’t I know she has been to hiking* and then I realised its not about hiking and then I got more excited as I read further!
    “The LOC or Line of Control is the border that separates the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir and this is only a few kilometers from where I am standing.” OH-MY-GOD! This line had me jump over my bed! You’re so cool! I love the pictures. I simply love this post. The second last and 3rd last picture is just too over whelming.
    Khanum recently posted..Young & Hungry: Italian Fettuccine at Midnight

    1. Thank you so much, Khanum! When our guide told us about the LOC information, it got me all excited (the excitement further fueled by the fact that armed military men are roaming around 24/7 to make sure nobody crosses the border).

  2. I read about the gondola and I am looking for a boat! hihih So the gondola in Kashmir is a cable car then? I see..

    I showed my husband the instagram photo and asked him to tell me which country it is. His immediate reply was the Alps. Wrong, I say this is in India, Kashmir to be exact. His jaw dropped. And in an outrage, he says why don’t we hear this places? Why do we have only hear Europe and America to be the best ski destination?

    That my dear is because India doesn’t have CNN but they can thank dedicated bloggers like Nadia to give the world a whole new perspective of their country.

    I am wonderstruck. It’s so dreamy, and magical, I am in awe and I am looking at India in a whole new light! Thank you, my dear. Kashmir is on our bucket list.
    Kero Pinkihan recently posted..Stop Germs with Vaseline 2-in-1 Healthy Handwash

      1. Kero, you are most welcome! Your husband’s outrage is justified because he is absolutely right! Kashmir should get due recognition because its winter sport and scenery are at par with Europe and the US (at a much cheaper rate!). I suppose it’s the security issues that make people a little nervous about visiting this gorgeous place.

        Khanum is right – Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. But both countries are still not satisfied with the division, making poor Kashmir an area of chronic dispute (hence the LOC and all the armed military men roaming around the place).

        1. You are absolutely right, Thanks for that explanation, Nadoo.

          Dear Kero, The situation in our areas is not that horrible security wise, as they show on International media. When I was at Bayal Camp of Nanga Parbat, I stopped to have some hot soup in the cold and started a conversation with the canteen owner. He told us that how negative media has damaged the reputation of tourists our way. This year no foreign climber submitted the application to have permission for the Nanga Parbat climb all the way up to the top.
          However, I did meet few Australians there on their way to the Basecamp of the Killer Mountain. They were all surprised by the beauty of the place and couldn’t believe it’s not Europe.

          You are welcome to explore Pakistan and India. You’ll fall in love with the places 🙂
          Khanum recently posted..Young & Hungry: Italian Fettuccine at Midnight

    1. Thank you, ‘San. You may certainly join us next time we visit Kashmir (I’m still in the process of convincing the husband to migrate there so I could take proper skiing classes, haha). Taking photographs isn’t an issue (although I was worried about the camera getting wet). I would remove my warm gloves for a few minutes to take a few pictures then either put the gloves back on or stuff my hand inside the pocket of my jacket.

  3. Till the very last paragraph, I kept waiting for the words, “.. and then we skied down!”

    Also, as I far can recognize, the mountain dominating the skyline in photo #5 and #6 is Nanga Parbat. Were you looking northwards while capturing these shots?

    1. Raheel, you will not read the words “…and then we skied down” and “Afarwat mountain” in the same sentence ever. I can barely go more than a few feet with the skis on (that’s the level of my amateur-pan) without stumbling.

      Yes, I was looking northwards while taking those pictures.

      1. Strange that guides/visitors there were not discussing the Nanga Parbat sighting. It’s is one of the most gorgeous mountains on earth.

    1. Thank you, Humaira. Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine (once you’re there). But do try to be completely still while having that panic attack though – you don’t want the already swaying car to be swinging like crazy from the cable 😀

  4. This. Is. Breathtakingly. Beautiful!!!
    You are so lucky,you get to go to amazing places mashaAllah!!
    Pictures are AHMAZING!!!
    Aur ek hum hyderabad to riyadh, zyada se zyada dubai and the distrcts around Hyderabad. I am on a dharna aajkal, I confronted my parents saying “I am not gonna leave Hyderabad unless and until you are taking me out of Andhra Pradesh/Telengana. Kashmir, mussorie, anyother hill station heck take me to Bangalore but nowhere else in the state”. Ab dekhna yeh hai who’s gonna win. I am sick and tired pf this place Nadia baji. :@
    Miss Maqsood recently posted..Main aur Baarish!

    1. Thank you so much, Miss Maqsood!

      I sincerely hope that you win this dharma and that your parents plan some out-of-state adventure soon 🙂

      India is such a beautiful country and it makes it even more convenient to be a local tourist because you speak the same language and understand the culture. I hope you get to see all these lovely places, insha’Allah.

      In the meantime, enjoy the baarish. I’m so jealous 🙂

  5. This may sound silly but I had tears in my eyes whilst looking at your photos, especially the last one. My God, what beauty there is in the world! I am amazed. I am a big fan of snow, so I’m putting this incredible place on my to-visit list! Did you put the address of this cable car place at the end of the post? I will have to pin this!

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