Day 22 – Gulmarg

Having spent the evening on the serene Dal Lake and the night in relative peace at the nice Hotel Pine Grove, I was keen to see more of the valley. No better place to see it but at Gulmarg, I was told by many. I think this was more out of habit since most tourists end up there but it was advice well taken. Woke up royally late and started for Gulmarg with just my camera at 11.

The highway ahead said names like Uri and Baramulla, names I had just heard on television and strictly with respect to things like terrorism, Pakistan and the army. It was rather funny seeing them just as names of just another place on just another road. At the same time it was rather revealing. People living are as much the people we know in Mumbai or Tirunelvelli. Just being made to live through a situation they didn’t want in the first place.

One thing you will never miss in Kashmir is the army. They are everywhere. And I mean every-fuckin-where. On the road, in the city, on boats, in fields, near homes, on buses, in the lake, in your face and all over you. All of them slinging automatic arms as if to say “We are here for good. Like it or not”. For someone who is not even used to too much police presence unless a VIP is visiting or it is diwali, it was rather unnerving. This despite the fact that every single of my interactions with the army has been extremely cordial. They are absolutely everywhere and there is no escaping it. I thought of the Kashmiris who must feel that they can’t even pee without being watched by the army. It was invasive. And demeaning to an extent. An entire population being suspected for something that may not exist in the first place.

40 kilometers later, I was at a checkpost. I was promptly stopped by the cop and asked for my passport. I had to take off my helmet and tell him “Main Hindustani hoon. Aap hindi mein baat kar sakte hain” when they realized their mistake and started a nice jovial conversation about the bike and everything else. They tell me that around these parts it is only foreigners who come on bikes. They tell me all the nice places to go and places to eat. 10 minutes later, I am stopped again by cops at another check post. Same actions, same result. Its quite funny.

The last 13 kilometers from the first checkpost mentioned above were the best 13 kilometers I have ridden on till now. Absolutely pothole free flat roads, twisting uphill constantly with very little traffic. You can tilt your bike 55 degrees and know you will have enough momentum to take you through. Absolute bliss. Highly highly recommended. They should make such roads everywhere.

At first, Gulmarg looked like any other hill station. I had my chai, parked my bike and started ambling around. The hills above had some snow on the peaks and I was itching to get there. I pay 200 bucks and take the first stage Gondola to the higher mountain. The view from the Gondola is breathtaking. As it ascends for 9 minutes through the mountains, the vegetation changes from heavy pine forests to barren rocks and grass. There is a slight rain and there, stretched out across the horizon is the most beautiful rainbow I have seen. The rainbow follows me all the way to the top.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

On the top, I am furiously hounded by a horseman to take me up to the snow line. I walk for about 15 minutes and then give in. There was no way, given my current fitness status, that I would have been able to make it. So there I am, slowly rocking along with the horse between cherry plants up the rocky slope.

There is something you guys should know. Horses fart !!! And not just any fart. The deeply smelling one. And farts every bloody 2 minutes. It was the smelliest half hour I have spent. Ever.

Anyway, since I tend to get the most spirited among the lot (or maybe its just that my spirit is infectious), I was soon beyond the point where all other horsemen stop. With Bengali families and young girls shouting “Why can’t we go that high”, I was above the line where snow had fallen. We stopped. It started snowing. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid seeing falling snow. I was safe in the assumption that the horseman knew his business. The snowfall was blissful. He said that while I could see the stones right now, within 3 weeks there will be over 20 feet of snow here. The place is one of the foremost skiing spots in the country. And I could see it. The slalom. The swish. The end. The amateurs practising at lower levels.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

Gulmarg is one of the most beautiful things I have seen. The view from the top is mesmerizing. And I had but one thought in my head. This is a place for romantic couples. WHAT THE F@#$ AM I DOING HERE WITH A HORSE?

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