News: Kashmir on a high

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The Independent Travel

The disputed territory of Kashmir is bidding to attract intrepid skiers with the opening of the Northern Hemisphere's highest gondola ski lift - which reaches 4,390m, close to three miles high. The lift is in Indian Kashmir, about an hour's drive from the capital, Srinagar. It is expected to open in the next few days, providing access to terrain that is almost uncharted in skiing terms.

The disputed territory of Kashmir is bidding to attract intrepid skiers with the opening of the Northern Hemisphere's highest gondola ski lift - which reaches 4,390m, close to three miles high. The lift is in Indian Kashmir, about an hour's drive from the capital, Srinagar. It is expected to open in the next few days, providing access to terrain that is almost uncharted in skiing terms.

The new lift is 2.5km long. It links the spectacular Kongdoori Valley to the summit of Afarwat, which soars above the village of Gulmarg. Previously, skiers could access only the lower part of the mountain, via a cable car that runs from the village to the lift station at 3,930m. Anyone wanting to ski from further up was required to hike for three hours or hire a helicopter. The new lift makes it possible to experience the challenge of "big mountain" off-piste skiing and snowboarding for the price of a 150-rupee (£4) lift ticket.

The project is the latest attempt by Kashmir to regain its place on the international tourist map. The contested region has been wracked by years of fighting between India and Pakistan and a guerrilla campaign by Islamic rebels seeking independence for the territory. Several Indian tourists died in June last year when a hotel was attacked. The Foreign Office warns travellers of the risk of kidnapping and the presence of landmines.

Skiers could find themselves sharing the lift with servicemen. Patrick Thorne, of the Snowhunter website, says "The area houses India's High Altitude Warfare School." He notes an army spokesman welcomed the easier access to high-altitude training.

A ceasefire between Pakistan and India has prevailed since 2003.

The world's highest ski lift is at the Chacaltaya ski area close to Bolivia's capital, La Paz. It reaches 5,421m, well over three miles above sea level.

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