Gulmarg in Summer – A Floral Paradise
I have never known a place justifying its name as well as Gulmarg. Literally transalting to “Meadow of flowers”, Gulmarg turns into a floral heaven at the onset of Summer. The hills turn White smothered in Daisies, Lupines bloom everywhere in lush spires of vivid colours and unnamed wild flowers adorn the higher mountain slopes. The glittering white snow in the towering mountains complement the viridescent valley peppered with bright-coloured flowers. Having been to Gulmarg in both seasons, I would say, Yes, Gulmarg is beautiful in Winter. But Summer (ah the Summer!!) is the season when this gorgeous hill town truly comes alive in its most buoyant form.
Experiences not to miss in Gulmarg in Summer
You simply can not leave Gulmarg without riding the Gondola (cable car). It is the 2nd highest cable car in the world and is the most unique attraction of the hill town. Divided in to 2 phases (Phase 1 and Phase 2), it can take you as high as 3980 metres(13058 feet). Slowly riding up in the glass paneled cable car looking out at the beautiful scenery is a different experience altogether.
Both Phase 1 (Gulmarg-Kongdori) and Phase 2(Kongdori-Aphrawat) offer stunning views. In Summer, the landscape of Phase 1 is lush with neon green grass covering the ground and surroundings dotted with Pine trees. Phase 2 is more of a stark beauty without any trees in sight but rimmed by lofty snow clad peaks. In July 1st week, there were still some snow left a little up ahead of Phase 2 and also in the skiing slope. At the same time the other parts were teeming with wild flowers. So visit both phases on your trip as they have their own distinctive charm.
Know before you go
- Now Gondola tickets are only available online on the official website (jammu kashmir cable car link). So you do not need any guide or third party for booking the tickets anymore.
- Book your Gondola tickets online at least before a month. Remember to book both Phase 1 and Phase 2 tickets separately as the platform does not allow booking both at one go.
- Even with a ticket, the queue for the Gondola ride may be very long in the peak season and also depending on the slot chosen. Especially for Phase 2, the queue was quite long during our visit for the 9am slot. Be at the entry gate at least 30-45 mins before in the busy season to get on the Gondola on time.
- If you are staying the previous night at Gulmarg, I recommend booking the 8-9am slot for Gondola ride. This is the time when other tourists would not have arrived in Gulmarg yet. So you can avoid the crowd and longer queues.
- Keep at least 3-4 hours for the Gondola ride as well as time spent at both phases. The actual ride is 21 mins long including both phase 1 and 2. But you will be spending a lot of time in the queue for the return jounrey. On our way back, We waited for around 1 hour at Phase 1 itself.
Outer Circle and the Attractions
The outer circle is actually the road encircling Gulmarg with most of the attractions lying across the path. You can check out the erstwhile Maharaja’s palace, Children’s park, the Golf Course and the temples on your way. Not only the attractions, but this route also offers some of the most gorgeous views of the snow clad peaks and the lush meadows.
If you have time and are fit enough, I recommend taking a walk along the outer circle. Do remember that this is also the path for vehicles and ponies. So most suitable early in the morning before the tourists start pouring in. As it covers a distance of approx. 10 kilometers, a pony ride is also a good option.
St Mary’s Church
We still consider this our top most experience in Gulmarg. And definitely recommend it if you are an adventurous soul with a good level of physical fitness. This gorgeous mountain lake lies at the foot of Apharawat peak and can only be reached by a short trek (an hour from Gondola phase 2 station). Since it stays frozen most of the year (except 3-4 months), it is more popularly known as Frozen Lake among the locals. In Summer, the lake starts to melt, revealing its enchanting bluish water. Not just the lake, but the trek to the lake is an adventure in itself with stunning views for company. Refer our blog on Alpather Lake Trek for more details.
Trek to Alpather Lake
We still consider this our top most experience in Gulmarg. And definitely recommend it if you are an adventurous soul with a good level of physical fitness. This gorgeous mountain lake lies at the foot of Apharawat peak and can only be reached by a short trek (an hour from Gondola phase 2 station). Since it stays frozen most of the year (except 3-4 months), it is more popularly known as Frozen Lake among the locals. In Summer, the lake starts to melt, revealing its enchanting bluish water. Not just the lake, but the trek to the lake is an adventure in itself with stunning views for company.
Bota Pathri (also Botapathri)
This is a picturesque meadow in the Nagin valley, roughly 10 kms way from Gulmarg. While Gulmarg is touristy, Bota Pathri is not visited by many and is a perfect offbeat spot for nature lovers. In Spring/Summer, the place looks stunning with the mountains and the whole meadow covered in a fresh layer of green and wild flowers. We could not personally visit Bota Pathri, but have read all good things about it and seen amazing pictures too.
In order to visit Botapathri, you can either rent a cab from Gulmarg or use Ponies. Taxis charge approx. 2500 Rs (bargain for a better price if they quote more). You need a guide and permission from Army (you can get this at the checkpost on the way) to visit Botapathri. Try and visit max by early afternoon since its close to border area and you may not get permission to visit in the later part of the day.
Drung (also Drang) Waterfall
We had visited Drung Waterfall in the 1st week of December 2021. Though it looks prettiest during peak Winter months (Late Dec-Feb) when the waterfall is frozen, we liked it nevertheless. It is indeed the only waterfall around Gulmarg that is worth a visit. The whole setting of the waterfall is beautiful where the water passes through a pebble strewn floor under a cutesy bridge. However this is not a natural waterfall and is fed by the water release from the hydropower plant. So your experience may vary depending on the waterflow during the time of your visit.
In order to visit the waterfall, you need to take a detour from Tangmarg towards Drung village. It is around 3 kms from Tangmarg and takes 20 mins by taxi through a very scenic winding road. If you have additional time in hand, do visit the village too which is being promoted as a tourist destination by J&K Govt. You can cover this on your way to Gulmarg or on the way back. Visit early in the morning to avoid the crowd.
Wandering in the flowers laden meadows
If you are a flower lover, then Gulmarg in Summer will make your heart dance with unbound joy. The Lupine and Daisy covered meadows look almost unreal. The Goldfinch and numerous bees keep hovering over the flowers. And the summer breeze carries the intoxicating scent of the flowers. So take your time strolling along the meadows and relishing the beauty. The flower fields are also perfect for some nice photographs.
The most convenient way to reach Gulmarg is by renting a taxi from Srinagar. The journey takes approx. 2 hours to cover the odd 50-55 km distance. The road is in great condition and the last stretch is the hilly road with gorgeous views. In Summer, hills at both sides of the road were covered in flowers.
Taxi Fare – 2500 to 3000 depending on the type of vehicle. [We paid 2500 for a sedan.]
Note: You would not be able to use the same vehicle for sightseeing in Gulmarg. The taxi will take you maximum till your hotel or the taxi stand. All local sightseeing needs to be done with local taxis or on pony.
Stay or not to stay
A lot of people visit Gulmarg on day trip from Srinagar, which is very much doable. But I would recommend at least a night’s stay if you have the time and budget. Because, you miss out on a lot of things when you visit Gulmarg on day trip as most of your time will go away in Gondola ride. The journey from Srinagar and back also needs approx. 4 hours sqeezing the time even more. I understood from fellow travelers/tourists on the Gondola how they had to hurry up to cover everything in the limited time which tends to take away the fun. And Summer in Gulmarg is not about hurrying up to tick off attractions, but to slow down and smell the flowers, taking little strolls and sipping Kahwa leisurely during the cool evenings.
Do you need a Guide
No, you do not need a guide for Gulmarg. All the points of interest are on the outer circle and need no guidance. And if you are taking a pony, then the ponywala will show you the places. Even for the Gondola, since the ticket booking is now online, there is no need for a guide when you visit Phase 1 and 2. Indeed it is better without a guide since they keep pushing you for the activities for their own commission. In December 1st week, when there was very less snow in Phase 1, our guide forced us for Skiing and it was a very very scary and unpleasant experience. You may need a guide for Alpather Lake trek depending on the time of your visit and also for visiting Botapathri.
Know before you go
- Pony Walas: Gulmarg is heavenly, but the pony owners sometimes spoil the whole experience. I do understand that it is their lifeline, but there is a thin line between requesting and harassment which they seem to keep forgetting. They will pester you consistently following along to take a ride and some even get rude when you deny their services. One old pony uncle even went on to tell me that I look like “bade baap ki beti (from a rich family)”. Then what’s wrong in giving him some money.
- Amarnath Yatra Restrictions: If you visit during July-August, during Amarnath Yatra, there will be restrictions in vehicle movement in and out of Gulmarg. During our visit, the authorities had made it mandatory to leave Gulmarg by 3pm. This may create difficulties if you are visiting on a day trip. So plan accordingly.
Best time to see flowers in Gulmarg
June – August: This is the Summer time when Daisies, Lupines, Lavenders and other wild flowers bloom abundantly. For seeing Lupines, visit during Late June-Late July.
July onwards brings some rainy days too. So go prepared.
Accommodation in Gulmarg is pretty expensive compared to rest of Kashmir. But if you book a little early, like 1.5-2 months in advance, it is easier to find a suitable one in a reasonable price. We have stayed in Gulmarg twice already, once in Summer and then in Winter, both times in different places. Here is a little insight to the places you could choose to stay in Gulmarg.
Khyber Himalayan Resort: Definitely the best in terms of location and facilities. Here you wake up to the view of snow capped mountains and the temperature controlled pool is an absolute delight. But this is a luxury accommodation and one of the most expensive ones that would burn a hole in your pocket. If you can afford it, then worth trying once for the experience. Just 5 mins walking distance from Gondola station.
Note: The categorisation of stay options given below is purely on the basis of charges per night and not in terms of facilities.
Hotel Hilltop: Located very close to the Gondola station (just a min or two by walk) opposite the ice skating rink. Has spacious rooms and a lawn with beautiful views. Our room opened to lovely views of the Golf course in the morning. It has a good cafe that serves nice coffee and food. The only negative was the breakfast where almost every dish was cold and some even tasted stale. And the restaurant staff did not look very energetic to cater to the guests. Looking at the amount they charge, it was a bit disappointing. But the stay was comfortable and satisafctory. And the reception staff were very helpful and accommodating.
Gulmarg Woods: This is another property located at a close distance from Gondola station. The cottages looked pretty from outside overlooking the Golf course and the gorgeous mountain range as the backdrop. We did not stay here, but got good feeedback from one of our acquaintances who stayed there with family.
JKTDC Huts: A Govt managed accommodation that is easy on the pocket. They have one, two, three and five bedroom cottages as well as some suites scattered across the town. Dormitories are available too. Some of the cottages overlooking the Golf Course are closer to both Gondola station and market whereas some are located a little farther. All the cottages are beautifully located, perched on the meadows.
We did not stay here, but we used JKTDC Huts in Yusmarg (though it was not great) and came to know from the manager there (who was in Gulmarg before) that the Huts in Gulmarg are better maintained. Since it is a Govt managed property, you may not get the service as in a hotel. But looking at the high prices charged by hotels in Gulmarg, this is a good option specially for families. May not be suitable for older people considering the walking path to the cottages.
Thats all from our Summer visit to Gulmarg. Hope you find it useful for planning your next trip to this beautiful hill town. For any queries, leave us a comment below.
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