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Kashmir ski paradise beckons

From Satinder Bindra
CNN correspondent

Gulmarg has good powder, and is cheap, snowboarders say.
Gulmarg has good powder, and is cheap, snowboarders say.

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GULMARG, Kashmir (CNN) -- For centuries, Kashmir's legendary beauty has been attracting tourists from around the world, with many heading to Gulmarg, the heartland of winter sports in India.

But tourism to the troubled but breathtakingly beautiful region headed downhill when India and Pakistan became nuclear powers and started squabbling more aggressively over Kashmir.

Gulmarg is unnervingly close to one of the world's most violently contested frontiers. It is around 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the Line of Control, the militarised de facto border dividing the state.

It is only in the past few weeks -- after the neighbors announced talks to try to resolve their differences -- that winter sport in the resort town of Gulmarg is back in full swing.

"I believe it's one of the best places in the world to snowboard. It's all about country snowboarding. Very, very good powder,'' says Paul Exall, a snowboarder from Manchester, who has spent two months in these mountains with his friend Joseph Wyand from London.

"Here it's all there, 100 percent of what you want. And there's no one else. It's really peaceful. It's heaven definitely,'' says Wyand.

With such pristine conditions Gulmarg attracts all types -- the passionate, the pros, the young and the scared, along with those who are going nowhere in a hurry.

Both snowboarders and skiers say they like Gulmarg's uncrowded atmosphere.

Many say another big draw is it is cheap. While Gulmarg's infrastructure is poor compared to European and American winter resorts, a day pass at a Kashmir ski lift costs about 60 cents, making it one of the cheapest places in the world.

What it lacks in facilities it makes up in Himalayan charm, with snowboarders saying they will be bringing their friends next time:

"You have to go to Gulmarg. That's what I'm going to say. You have to experience it,'' says Exall.

If you do get here, be prepared to be smitten by this heart stopping beauty.

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