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




Amritsar: City of golden grandeur

Sikhism weaved liberal, inclusive commonalities of Islam and Hinduism

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Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Jun 03, 2007

If you are looking to beat the heat, Amritsar is perhaps not the place to go. But, if you are interested in history, want to celebrate diversity, and if you are looking for a hair-raising experience of nationalism, the city of Golden Temple is the place to go.

Though the city offers a combination of charms, Golden Temple attracts maximum tourists to Amritsar. Drawn by the majestic pull of the Golden Temple, diverse devotees add to the grandeur of the place.

Among other things, the sanctum sanctorum of the temple has an uncanny resemblance to a Sufi Dargah, understandably so, the genesis of Sikhism can be traced to a critical point of time in history, when the subcontinent was fragmented on communal lines.

The religion beautifully, as illustrated by the Sufi Imprint, weaved the liberal, inclusive commonalities of Islam and Hinduism to leave an indelible impression on India, at the height of Bhakti and Sufi movements.

While you may get engrossed in realms of devotion, don’t forget to taste the modest but delicious langhar, inside the temple premises. The langhar —  served on the extreme left corner of the temple — represents the essence of Sikhism. I find it an affirmation of inclusiveness and equality of human beings — the cornerstones of Sikhism and the reasons for its birth.

Another religious attraction in Amritsar is the Durgiana Temple. It is unique; unlike a Hindu Temple. Built in the 1930s, its architecture is influenced by the Golden Temple. The Temple rises from the midst of a tank and has canopies and the central dome in the style of a Sikh Temple. Politician and educationist Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya had laid its foundation stone.

The Jallianwala Bagh in the vicinity of Golden Temple is another major attraction in Amritsar. Walking down the path of the Bagh, I was transported back in time to the centre of India’s nationalist movement. It is where a brutal General of the British Army slaughtered scores of men, women and children. The massacre, however, roused the conscience of a subjugated nation and intensified the urge for freedom.

I rounded off my visit to Amritsar with a visit to the Wagah border. It hosts a unique ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony; probably unparallel anywhere else in the world. The soldiers on either side of the international border virtually stamp their authority on their respective sides of the border. The atmosphere is virtually filled by the nationalistic fervour, with patriotic songs and sloganeering trying to outdo the same on the Pakistani side.

While the sun sets on the Pakistani side, the numerical strength of Indians outdoes Pakistani and overwhelms the audience with the ferocity of the patriotism and raises them in one go to salute the unfurling national flag and chant in one voice: “Bharat Mata Ki Jai’’.

Courtesy: The Economic Times