Kashmir situated at the extreme north of India is the crown jewel of the country. Often called the Switzerland of India, the beauty of Kashmir has been lauded since time immemorial. Its mesmerizing valleys carrying lush green vegetation and surrounded by snow capped mountains attract hoards of local as well as foreign tourists seeking cool summer air, alpine scenery and Srinagar’s romantic houseboat accommodation. Kashmir’s natural beauty filled with land of cherry blossoms and saffron fields, of sparkling rivers and serene lakes, of stunning gardens and stately chinar trees, of flowering meadows and snow-capped peaks makes it the most famous tourist destination of the India. It which offers so many attractions such as lakes, monasteries, pilgrimages of kashmir, wildlife of kashmir and many other things. Located in a little corner of this paradise, is the scenic town of Gulmarg.
Gulmarg, or meadow of flowers, is an apt term indeed for this idyllic flower-laden meadow at an altitude of 2,730 metres, in Baramulla district. The towering peaks above the meadow are covered with dense forests of tall conifers and gigantic fir and pine trees, all vying with each other to touch the azure skies. An equally popular destination in winter, it is coated with a blanket of thick, soft snow, turning its gentle slopes into some of the finest ski slopes. Surrounded by crests of white, the air seems to sparkle against the ice as skiers flash past in the hush of the snow. Skating, curling, and ski bobbing are some of the activities offered. Gulmarg’s international lush green golf course is the highest in the world. Equipment is available on hire for the visitor allured by the golf greens here. Visit to Kashmir is incomplete until you experience the serenity of Gulmarg valleys.
But as beautiful as nature has made Gulmarg, many tourists come back dissatisfied when they visit this little town. Not because the picturesque beauty is disappointing, but rather it’s the behavior of local guides and tourist scams to ensnare money from visiting tourists. Recently over the years as tourism in Kashmir has rapidly risen after about 20 years of insurgency, many tourist rip-offs and traps have also emerged in the area, especially Gulmarg, due to the lack of proper infrastructure and command of government over tourist unions. The local guides and unions try to wrangle as much money from wayward tourist as they possibly could. The prices are much steeper than the actual prices listed by the government and much more than the below par infrastructure deserves. Horrible management by the authorities almost overshadows the breathtaking beauty of Gulmarg as locals try to trick clueless tourists.
When we go to Gulmarg, it is impossible to miss the famous Gondola ride. Gulmarg Gondola is a ropeway project started jointly by Jammu and Kashmir government and Pomagalski, a French organisation. It is considered as Asia’s one of the longest and highest cable car plans. The entire ride comprises two phases – Gulmarg to Kongdoori and Kongdoori to Apharwat Peak. The first phase of the ride takes around 9 minutes while the second takes about 12 minutes.
Not only is it exciting travelling in hanging cable cars, at thousands of feet above the ground and with the snow-capped peaks beneath but this adrenaline filled ride also gives a bird’s-eye view of this beautiful region. But starting from here, your rose tinted view of Kashmir starts to fade.
Various ticket scams
- Source- www.gondolaproject.com
- Unless you have already bought a ticket online for the Gondola ride, you are in for a terrible surprise. Buying a ticket is next to impossible unless you hire a local guide as the ticket counters are madhouses and dodgy if you as a tourist try to get a ticket. If you somehow manage to get in the line amidst the unruly and highly obtrusive/intrusive guides there on the behalf of their clients, be prepared to get pushed around and manhandled. No concept of personal space. After a long wait when you finally reach the counter, if you are lucky you’ll get the ticket and you can move on from there. But sometimes, scam times, you might be told that tickets to the top spot are not being issued. Reasons vary from “Time is over. It’s already 1 o’clock “, even though there are no notices regarding timelines anywhere and online websites tell you that closing time for counters in 5 pm, and it can also be because the weather at the highest spot has turned bad. Now it might be true but it might also be a con to create chaos while the local guides offer you other alternate, yet sadly more expensive, ways.
- The fraudulent amount they charge you for the gondola ride is around Rs. 600 if they are feeling generous while you can get the same tickets for a much cheaper price online. What a rip-off! And if you try to confront them about this, they blatantly tell you to either take what is or go back. Not to mention accuse you of trying to rob the poor locals of their hard earned money!
- Getting into the cable car might prove to be difficult as during the peak of tourist season the place is very chaotic with guides trying to push their clients into the gondolas and pushing other people’s client out.
Pony rides scams.
- Perhaps the worst experience for tourists at Gulmarg is the hassle that comes when faced with pony rides that are doing disservice to Kashmir tourism. Gulmarg has become infamous for pony riders harassing tourists and many times even forcing them to take rides and on top of that charging fraudulent prices in the name of showing “best five spots” which are actually nothing.
- It is easy to visit various places like a local temple and church at Gulmarg on foot. But the local pony owners insist that you ride the pony only or take a sledge. Many times they end up behaving aggressively towards the tourists and beware, they can even get handsy!
- The unfair treatment by pony owners even extends as far as that they threaten the tourists that they wouldn’t allow them to undertake Gondola ride if they don’t climb on a horse. Not all pony owners will try to cheat you but many would. So practice vigilance.
- When you end up taking a pony ride, with or without your will, the pony owners say that they’ll take you to see five points that highlight the tour. But instead they just take the tourist to random points such as a local eatery or a spot at the valley and tell them to disembark and take pictures here, oh but don’t take too long!
Local guides scams
- Source- www.epicski.com
- After pony owners, it is the guides who try to weasel tourists out of their money. Due to mismanaged tourism structure at Gulmarg, the local guides promise respite from the hassle to the unaware tourists. They promise to show them all the best places at Gulmarg Gondola and make your tour a memorable one… all for a hefty fee.
- There have been instances where the local guides have behaved atrociously towards tourists for effusing their services and even going as far as to stop them from taking a Gondola ride.
Gulmarg sports scams
Another example of Gulmarg’s loot-the-tourist streak is overpriced rentals for sportswear and equipment. In winter, the gondola is used to get to the top of Gulmarg’s skiing slopes, which are underused but highly recommended for the quality of powdery snow. Government rates for skiing, displayed on boards around the resort, are Rs 250 per hour, while equipment rental is Rs 1000 per day. Now these are government prices far away from the actual prices. You will easily be asked Rs 600-700 for sports activities.
Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK) has even urged the government agencies to look into this matter as not even drivers who ferry tourists from Srinagar are spared. The tension in this area is mainly due inhospitable behavior of locals towards tourists who even tell them to go back to *India* and proper response of the authorities to numerous complains issued by tourists.