Nestled among the Himalayan ranges, Gulmarg, translating to “the path of flowers” (gul meaning flowers and marg meaning road/ path/ street) is a sight to behold. It bewitches you with its pristine white beauty during the winters and leaves you feeling rejuvenated and at ease during the summers. It is not only the white expansive beauty of the place that is an attraction for tourists during snowfall but also the carpeted greenery of the valley when it is warmer and benevolent, being adorned with flowers like daisies, buttercups, forget-me-nots, etc.
It is however noteworthy that the fame this hamlet has seen is not newly found, it has enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most eye pleasing and calming places in the British era as well as before that. Let us see how Gulmarg figures in different historical eras:
Prior to 18th century
This land was under the control of Chak Dynasty. According to literature, this meadow was frequently visited by Sultan Yusuf Shah and his consort Habba Khatoon. Later, the land came under the control of Mughals. The Mughals brought in numerous rose species and cultivated in this region.Jahangir collected 21 species of roses from this region for his garden. It is proud fact that every rose species brought into India by the Mughals is still flourishing.
Chak dynasty ruled Kashmir for a good 33 years from 1554 to 1586 and its leaders were Shia Muslims. The dynasty saw only a handful of rulers for small periods. The last of the independent Muslim rulers to sit on the throne of Kashmir, Yousuf Shah Chak, was a great admirer of Gulmarg. It is interesting to note that he is credited to be its discoverer, too. It is well documented that he frequented the place with his wife, Queen Habba Khatoon, to soak in its picturesque environs. One interesting fact is that originally, the place was known as Gaurimarg, as it was popularly called by the shepherds who would wander on its vast lands grazing their sheep (meaning the path of Goddess Gauri) but Yousuf Shah, enchanted by its exuberant and charming aura, renamed it as how we know it today: Gulmarg!
Known to be connoisseurs of all things royal and fine, Kashmir was not far behind in Mughals’ list of explored jewels of India. The state was a desired one as Akbar placed his eye on Kashmir but there were some thwarted attempts before it finally became a part of the Mughal dynasty. It is well known that during the Mughal dynasty, Gulmarg was the preferred getaway for Jehangir, son of Akbar the Great.
Being a romanticist, as is evident from the vivid mentions in movies, Jehangir became very interested in gardening (especially making use of ornamental plants). This is why he commissioned the construction of Shalimar Bagh for his wife Noor Jehan just besides Dal Lake to mimic the beauty of Gulmarg. To be precise, 21 different varieties of wild flowers were selected from Gulmarg for decorating Shalimar Bagh to stand true to its name, the garden of love.
During British Rule
In the 19th century, this region came under the control of the British rule. The governors and British officers used this region as their summer resort. They developed hunting and golfing as the main activities. British established three golf courses, including one course for women. Out of those three, only one course stands today, at the height of 2650m. This golf course has a record of being the highest located course. In 1927, Gulmarg was slowly transformed into a skiing destination. They conducted two skiing events, every year – one during Easter and the other during Christmas. During this time, Aurel Stein, the renowned explorer visited Gulmarg.
After the fall of Victorian rule, Gulmarg was announced as a princely state. Pakistan demanded to take control of Gulmarg under the invasion called, Operation Gulmarg. To conquer the destination, the Pakistani troops marched through Haji Pir Pass and reached the state capital, Srinagar. Gulmarg was captured by the invaders. However, the heroic act of one Sikh Regiment defended the outskirts. Later, Indian troops defended the region counterattacking and recapturing Gulmarg. In 1948, Gulmarg had the highest altitude warfare school. This school specializes in winter warfare and snow craft.
As the Britishers deeply missed the carpeted Scottish lands where they would go for idyllic holidays with their families, they searched for similar locations in their colonies and Gulmarg qualified as being among the best. Praises galore, Britishers came here not only for sight-seeing but also for enjoying hunting. Over time, the destination was also developed to have golf courses which marked the emergence of a golden era for the destination.
The first of the golf courses, having six holes, was built over one year from 1890 to 1891 by Colonel Neville Chamberlain (a British Army officer), who had great interest in leisure sports. Such was his eye for location scouting that even today the Gulmarg Golf Course holds the distinction of being world’s highest golf course, situated at the altitude of 2,650mt. It is also interesting to note that the first Golf Championship in India was held at Gulmarg in 1922, during British rule.
Coming to the post- independence era, Gulmarg still attracted Who’s who of India for Golf. But several interesting developments took place apart from this in the direction of making Gulmarg an adventure sports destination. In 1948, a ski school was set up by Indian Army which translated into High Altitude Warfare School later.
In 1960s, the destination was slowly turned into a tourism attraction by developing numerous winter sports. In 1968, the Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering was introduced for training ski instructors. Within the next decade, Gulmarg became a famous skiing destination. In 1990s, terrorism activities affected the beauty of the place, but it was soon brought under control.
In 21st Century
In early 21st century, Gulmarg became home to the highest and longest ropeway of the continent. The National Winter Games of Gulmarg started to receive world-class recognition.