Enchanting Afarwat: On the top of the world, literally

The world’s highest gondola ski-lift first crosses the tree, then the cloud line and for once you do not have to look up to see the clouds on your way to Kashmir’s Afarwat

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

July 13, 2008

From Afarwat peak — 4, 390 m above the sea-level — of the Pir Panjal Range in the majestic Himalayas, Kashmir looks much better than how Mughal emperor Jehangir described the Valley: “Agar Janat Baroi Zamee Ast, Hami Asto, Hami Asto, Hami Aast (If there is paradise on earth…it’s here, it’s here).”

Afarwat, in the upper reaches of north Kashmir’s scenic resort town of Gulmarg, is the newest additions to similar enchanting locations across the Valley, where one seems to be at a handshaking distance with nature. The snow-clad peak has been a major attraction for skiers and adventure tourists from around the world after it was connected with Gulmarg via cable car in 2005.

The journey to Afarwat on the world’s highest gondola ski-lift is a breathtaking experience in itself as one first crosses the tree line and then the cloud line and for once you do not have to look up to see the clouds. The ropeway stretching 2.5 km connects the bowl-shaped Kongdoori valley with Afarwat. It is the world’s highest cable car using gondolas and the only one in the world that takes skiers and tourists to a height of 4,390 m. The return journey of 26-km costs Rs 300 on the ropeway, which ferries about 600 people per hour to and from Gulmarg.

Skiing experts say slopes at Afarwat are “beyond a skier’s imagination”. And then there is the price advantage in a sport that is often considered an expensive hobby. Afarwat is the cheapest ski destination — for Rs 1,000 rupees, a skier can have the skiing equipment, a gondola ride and accommodation for a day. The area also houses the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg. Afarwat is also a major attraction for other winter sports such as snow boarding.

The area’s charm does not end here; there is much in store for tourists just down the slope at Gulmarg. Gulmarg or the meadow of flowers is described as one of the most beautiful hill stations in India. It offers many opportunities to adventure seekers, including trekking through its green hills. Located in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, Gulmarg stands at a height of 2,730 meters above sea level. It’s about 57 km from Srinagar, the capital city. True to the Kashmir’s secular ethos, the town, otherwise a notified area, has a mosque, temple, church and a gurudwara.

Other attractions in Gulmarg include Khilanmarg, which is a famous skiing spot. It also offers a great view of the Kashmir Valley and the Himalayan range. You can also take a tour of the Alpather Lake, which usually remains frozen till June. The Lake lies across the Apharwat peak. You may also pay a visit to the shrine of Baba Reshi, a Muslim mystic saint, while you are on a tour of Gulmarg. Visitors can also enjoy golf in Gulmarg, which has the world’s highest golf course.

The journey to Gulmarg from Srinagar is a treat for the lovers of nature. The road to Gulmarg has freshwater streams running on either side and from Tangmarg, the road cuts through jungles with pine and deodar making it a breathtaking experience. A stone’s throw from Tangmarg is Drang, which is being developed into a resort. Drang has a freshwater stream cutting across two hillocks. The tourists throng Drang to savour the sunset. Importantly, Gulmarg — the base camp to Afarwat — has remained untouched by the two-decade-long insurgency.

Courtesy: The Economic Times




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