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August 1, 2009

5

hotel accommodation in gulmarg

by Chris Werren

When traveling to foreign countries the search of a suitable accommodation or an acceptable hotel becomes a key part in the planning process. Especially when planning a ski trip into the Himalayas the selection of the ideal hotel accommodation is key to avoid turning the winter holiday into survival training. (on hotel issues read also my blog Season Review 2010)

hotel in gulmarg

When I traveled to the ski resort of Gulmarg in Kashmir for the first time in the winter of 2005/2006 I learnt the hard way what can be experienced when believing in his own capabilities to find a suitable hotel accommodation on the spot and at a price level which corresponds to the hotel prices that are common in this part of the world.

In Gulmarg I had to accept that the known rules of the game don’t apply here. It is winter, you carry loads of luggage, there are no public transports or taxis available and you are trapped in village that stretches over a distance of more than 3 kilometers. Hotel owners know that you are here to stay and usually haven’t planned for an extended ski vacation of several weeks. This leaves you with two choices, you either accept the rates for winter suitable rooms or you sleep in a hotel which matches your budget and still pay at least the double of what you would pay in other mountain sports resorts in India for a similar room.

I had no other choice but to accept a room in a hotel without heating, neither in the room nor in the dining room and thus I slept the first two weeks of my stay in Gulmarg in my sleeping bag in a room with temperatures barely above freezing level.

Those trying to find useful information on Gulmarg’s hotel accommodation and lodging offers on the Web will only discover some proposals from Indian travel agents. Their offers are primarily addressing the Indian holiday makers who are looking for package deals during the summer months. For skiers this information is useless, first because the hotel’s pricing models for the summer months vary considerably from their winter pricing. This is mainly due to the reduced cost impact in the summer (no heating costs, more efficient Dining Roommeans of transport, lower goods prices, higher room availability etc.). Second most of this information ignores aspects like the availability of heating or the ski in/ski out location of the hotel. In any case, most travelers should think twice before going through one of these agencies anyway.

Most readers who land on this blog after searching the web for information on “hotel accommodation in Gulmarg” expect to find here a list of recommended hotels with reference prices and contact details. Even though I could make this information available it would be of no use to potential Gulmarg visitors. This is mainly due to the fact that internet and email connectivity is not available in most hotels in Gulmarg which requires that reservations are made by phone. With this method the typical “misunderstandings” in the reservation process are more or less guaranteed, (lack of language skills, unstructured paperwork, over bookings, etc.).

Besides the pitfalls of this informal reservation process one must be aware that there is a considerable room demand for the period from mid January to mid March and that most of the winter suitable rooms have been booked in advance by local and international program operators.  Consequently direct bookings by independent travelers always entail a certain risk, if they are lucky they will be given a suitable room, however, if they are unlucky their reservations will get lost and they have to accept to change rooms several times during their stay or may even have to accept lodgings that are not meeting the expected comfort levels.

For ski vacationers in the Himalaya it is therefore important to know that the hotels in Gulmarg offer three comfort categories:

  • Winter suitable category A hotels located near the slopes (the hotels correspond more or less to the 3 to 4 star standardgulmarg hotel levels in our regions). In these hotels three types of rooms are available; new and fully furnished and heated rooms, new partially finished rooms and old, not winter suitable rooms which are in the process of being renovated and which don’t meet our comfort expectations. The 7 category A hotels dispose of roughly 200 rooms with 350 beds but not all the rooms meet our comfort expectations for adequate and winter suitable lodgings.  Prices with breakfast and dinner start from 100 €.
  • Not winter suitable category A and B hotels. Most of these hotel dispose of rooms which meet our comfort expectations for stays during the warm summer months. However, most of the rooms have no heating and no bath rooms with running hot water. In the winter 2005/2006 I lived in one of these hotels and was B category hotelgiven an electric heater to keep the room warm during the night. Due to the low voltage the heater remained one of the well intentioned comfort raising gestures with no real use! Those hotels don’t dispose of the required generators to assure stable voltage and 24 hours of electricity availability, and without generators neither 24 hours’ heating nor hot water or light availability can be assured. In the winter these hotels also offer no heated dining rooms or lounges and also lack the qualified personnel to prepare warm meals. However, depending on one’s negotiation skills and the duration of the stay prices of less than 50 € per night can be achieved. In order to reach the Mt. Apharwat gondola skiers will have to accept a 30 to 40 minutes walk. The availability of taxis is scare and there are no means of public transportation.
  • Huts and touris lodgings. This type of accommodation addresses primarily the needs of the budget travelers. Gulmarg offers a variety of lodgings in so called huts. Some of them offer quite comfortable lobakshi'sdging facilities, provided one hires a reliable “Wallah” who takes care of the wood heater, boils the hot water, cooks the meals and does the required shopping. Other suitable living and sleeping quarters can be found in so called tourist lodgings. There you can find simple rooms and dormitories with wood heating and in some places they even serve excellent food. The costs for a stay in these places starts at 15 € per day and person and include food. The gondola can be reached with a 30 to 45 minutes walk.

If there are suitable rooms available and if one disposes of sufficient time and sound negotiation skills it is quite possible to find a good deal on the spot which allows at best savings of 30 € to 50 € per week in comparison to the listed prices and the offers of international program operators. However, there is no guarantee that the promised room will also be available but what counts is that you booked there and paid for your stay in advance!

For the independent and cost conscious travelers’ convenience and as a reward for reading this far here at last the names of the 7 category A hotels. In some of these hotels we and other program operators lodge our guests in Gulmarg too: Heevan, Highland Park, Hilltop, Mumtaz, Pine Palace and Royal Park.

For those who have decided to pay themselves this exclusive ski vacation in a ski resort in the Himalaya Mountains bed roomand who want to enjoy a stress and trouble free skiing holiday in comfortable and heated rooms I recommend to make use of the services of an international program operator. These operators are present in the hotel with their own personnel and assure that their guests will spend unforgettable and happy moments in Gulmarg. Offers of international operators with extremely attractive prices and multiple discount schemes should, however, be studied carefully too and if they include guiding I strongly advice to verify the competence level of the guides (license, registration, training, experience, etc.)

Those who plan to organize their own trip to Gulmarg should not waste too much time on searching the web for cheap rooms and budget hotel accommodation – my best advice for them is to hop in the plane, travel to Gulmarg and enjoy whatever experience they will make. Adventures are guaranteed, they start already at the airport with the search for a taxi that is willing and permitted to drive to Gulmarg.

More information on Gulmarg and powder ski programs in the Himalaya you find here: Free Ski Himalaya

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