In Kashmir, skiing for your life on India Pakistan divide

With a fragile peace returned to Kashmir, a ski mountain in the India Pakistan border region is rebranding itself as a place of tourism, not terror.

Shuaib Masoodi/Splash News/Newscom
A tourist tries out skis on fresh snow at the Gulmarg resort, which lies in the disputed India Pakistan border region of Kashmir.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

For the price of a $14 day pass, skiers can be swooped up to 13,000 feet on a gondola that operators keep alive during power outages with the help of a generator. A couple of small mountaintop lodges offer plates of mutton and stacks of buttery chapatis.

And if you hear a boom in the distance, it might be avalanche control, or it just might be military action on the India Pakistan border.

Gulmarg lies in Kashmir, near the so-called Line of Control that separates India and Pakistan. In years of calm, the resort has steadily grown, thanks to the determination of men like Yasien Khan to rebrand this as a place of tourism, not terror.

“Skiing will bring here more peace and get more money from all over the world. And tourism dollars go not just in one pocket, but in 20,” says Mr. Khan, a ski outfitter.

Some 2,000 tourists now come to Gulmarg in the winter, estimates Khan. That’s up from 250 just five years ago. Besides miles of trackless terrain and powder, the frisson of danger attracts skiers. Gulmarg has been left out of the occasional fighting. But conflict has at times scared off visitors, most recently during the Kargil conflict in 1999.

During that time, “Gulmarg was mine; I had no clients, no skiers,” says Khan, who built his business on money he saved as a porter in the 1970s. “I was enjoying the mountains [but] with no money. God would give me two or three backpackers to get a little money to survive.”

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