Life | Mountain-Top Sanctuary

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Mountain-Top Sanctuary
Text by Mala Vaishnav
Published: Volume 21, Issue 11, November, 2013

Serenaded by cinematographers, honeymooners, adventure-seekers and the swish beau monde from the dusty plains, Gulmarg, the unapologetic luxe haven of Kashmir has got itself another prize jewel, the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa


It is not for nothing that Gulmarg has been likened to Swiss bliss. Green meadows bursting with blooms have faded into the final strains of an autumnal sonata and a mantle of fresh snow has turned a golden landscape into an X’mas postcard. The skiers-in-waiting are delighted. The pines are dressed in white, the baggy phirans and miniature kangdis have been hauled out from their trunks and the local pony brigade is trotting its way home to wait out the winter. Standing centre-stage at 8825 feet above sea level in these fairy-tale-like surroundings is the newest luxury property to take root since 1989, the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, built in the classic style of wooden log cabins.

Take in gulpfulls of crisp mountain air from the balcony of your expansive room that is clad in the warm tones of walnut and teak and accessorised with crewel embroidery furnishings and namdas, typical to Kashmir. All the 80-plus rooms boast a dramatic view, either of the deodar forests, the majestic Affarwat peak, or the hotel’s terraced gardens. Awaken to the silence of snowflakes and pale sunbeams bouncing off the sheer glass panes for a spectacle that is truly memorable. The Presidential Cottage has four bedrooms; all the better to shift residence for the entire skiing season!

The traditional Kashmiri wazwan is not for the faint-hearted or the diet-stricken. Seated cross-legged on a silk carpet, while you anticipate an aromatic, flavoursome meal, nothing can prepare you for the unending drama of an authentic Kashmiri banquet of tabak maaz, rista, rogan josh, gushtaba, dum aloo, biryani, spinach curry, floating phirni, hot jalebis and more, ladled into your thali by a chef who does himself proud. For less eye-popping portions, dine at Cloves for an international breakfast, Indian buffet or a Mediterranean spread. Revel in the warmth of the cardamom-almond-saffron infused kahwa at Chaikash, the tea lounge or lie back against bolsters with a flavoured hookah at Calabash, both at lobby level, flaunting mesmerising views and a cosy ambience.

Soon to open its aromatic interiors is the Alaya Spa to help rejuvenate tired muscles and aching soles from all that romancing of the snow. Holistic treatments and international therapies promise to trap the tourists into a state of bliss, aided no doubt by the scene-stealing grandeur of the pine forests and snowcapped peaks through the enormous picture windows. Premium oils, deep tissue massages and nimble-fingered masseuses will ensure languorous moments of relaxation. A heated indoor pool is the ultimate hot water soak.

In close proximity to The Khyber is the famed Gondola, the highest ski lift in the world. Pride and joy of the state’s tourism titans, circled by peddlers of gloves and lenders of coats, the small cable cars whoosh you up the mountain – often piercing through the clouds – up to 13500 feet to Affarwat where you can indulge in snowball fights and pose for pictures and pretend not to be horrified by the litter of wafer packets in the snow. Walk a little further for 30 minutes in the mist, past the army outpost and find yourself on the brink of the frozen-for-all-time Lake Alpather. Some 300 feet below at 10000 feet, sledges and snow sports lure visitors into the lap of Kangdori. And depending on the mood swings of the wind, the hotel makes sure you don’t miss these spectacular views from the top.

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