For our first anniversary we had wanted to travel to a land so beautiful that wars have been waged to own it. Yet this land is God’s own country. No one nation can truly own it. We unfortunately couldn’t make it to our destination for our first anniversary but we did go. No one could stop us! Not the weather, not the airlines, not budgets, nothing. We were hell bent on experiencing this beauty at least once in our lives. So we packed our bags and left.
I travelled from Mumbai and my husband from Delhi as my Mr. big shot travels on work a lot! In the flight to Srinagar lots of young families and groups had come, lots of kids excited to play in the snow. Me too. I couldn’t hold on to my excitement. Alas I had no one to share it with so I just stared out the window trying to get a feeling of the place, willing the flight to land!
Soon as we came below the clouds I noticed the snow capped mountains. Yay, I was almost there. It was magical. It felt as if I could smell the fresh air. Obviously I was daydreaming! As the wheels touched the tarmac I saw snow had been scraped to the side and it was all very thrilling. This was not a posh place. This was a state that has been in constant uphill struggle since the word go. And yet has managed to keep its beauty, its simplicity intact.
As I entered the airport I knew I had to wait for my husband. It’s a small airport. Though completely shut and indoors I could feel the cold creeping in. I had woolens on but coming from Mumbai it was just a jacket. And like an idiot I had worn stretch pants that were not really warm. Lessons learnt I would say. Bored and cold I decided to warm myself up with hot steaming cup of coffee and went in search of one. The whole tiny airport was full of army officers. Though they were not mean, rude or anything they were still scary. Living in a city that is not troubled by war or terrorism I am not used to that kind of feeling, the feeling of danger surrounding one at all times. The reality of such things hits one more at these times. Anyhow since the army guys were almost indifferent to me I had nothing to fear.
“Good Expressions” coffee shop had just a stall where I received my coffee in thin paper cups. The staff was very sweet, polite and helpful. In fact people in general at the airport were always smiling. I believe these were the locals and not the tourists. It was easy to spot the difference. Tourists were giggly and excited and in a rush. The locals were polite, humble and patient.
The coffee finished fast but time didn’t move quickly enough. There was still time for the husband to land. So I waited. But I faced a dilemma. I was carrying my luggage and my husband’s luggage as he had been travelling for work. So I had one big suitcase with both our stuff. And I really and I mean really desperately needed to pee. What happened on this day could have been the pee chronicles it was that funny.
You ask why this was a problem? Well the entry door to the toilets were small and the door didn’t really open fully. The space inside was also tiny and I couldn’t have left it anywhere. I walked about the area wondering what to do, trying to find a solution, giving up and waiting for my husband. I looked at my watch repeatedly. His flight time came and went but he didn’t land. I went looking for answers. His flight had been delayed!
I couldn’t hold on anymore so finally the only people in front of me were one airline officer and two army officers patrolling this section. I gulped and walked towards the airline officer and asked him if he could watch my stuff while I go to toilets, he couldn’t, he was busy, and apologizing profusely he left. I turned to the army officers nervously and walked towards them. I asked them. They didn’t even nod, just stared but I believe in essence they agreed though they officially couldn’t have. I guess they had been observing me for a while being the only one who landed but didn’t leave the airport.
I ran to the toilet and on my return I was laughing. This was the quickest sigh of relief I had taken. On my return I also saw that my husbands flight had landed. Hurray. Now our true adventure could begin!!
Waiting for him even I started acting like an overexcited tourist and when I saw him waving profusely I ran to him and hugged. We took out woolens for him and he quickly wore his jacket. Right away we got down to business.
He called our guide; we had already connected with him on our friend’s recommendation, and pushed our luggage out in the cold city of Srinagar like giggling tourists.
Our itinerary was simple. Land in Srinagar and drive up to Gulmarg where we spend the next three days. The fourth day we would drive down back to Srinagar and spend one night on a houseboat.
Seated in a taxi with our driver and guide we moved onwards and upwards. Slowly it started raining and soon enough it started snowing. It was beautiful. The trees were getting covered in soft snow. In an hour we reached Tanmarg the last town before we start travelling upward to Gulmarg. We had to make a compulsory stop here because the driver had to chain up the tires so we don’t skid. It is here where we went to rent our gumboots and trousers; we already had a jacket so we didn’t need one; if you want though you can rent one here. The shop was at the entrance of ‘Malik Darbar Restaurant’.
We were famished so we went into the heated dhaba and ordered food here. The smells were intoxicating. Being a foodie I wanted to order everything!! But alas cant do that so I ordered what Kashmiri food is famous for… Rogan Josh and on the advise from the waiter, seekh kebab and roti. Ooh never have I tasted better food. Licking our fingers we left onward for our destination. By the time we reached it was late evening.
We had booked Hotel Vintage as it offered a good price, had central heating and was recommended highly on trip advisor. On our entry as we registered we had a cup of Kahwa, the traditional Kashmiri drink. Only one word. Delicious!
The room was quaint and well spaced. It was snowing heavily so we just stared at the beauty that was Gulmarg from indoors only hoping it would stop snowing the next day so we could ski. And oh our lucky stars. It stopped!
I am not an active person. I am a lazy person who usually prefers to holiday at a beach resort sipping cocktails and reading a book. This was all very new. I have to admit I was excited and nervous at trying my hand at skiing.
We started our walk towards the baby slope with our guide, who was also my teacher for skiing. My husband was learning snowboarding so he had another instructor. On our way we stopped at a rent store where we rented our skiing and snow boarding equipment. Carrying it, walking on a mountainous terrain with slippery snow around is tiring. Well it was tiring for me as I am not really athletic. Actually that’s a lie. I am not active, athletic, as a word doesn’t suit me.
Reaching the slope I was naturally nervous while my sporty husband was thrilled. He got right to it. I was like a child. Yet my instructor was very sweet and a really good teacher. I learnt to balance and even make slight turns on the first day itself. And believe it or not I didn’t fall! I don’t think it was my skill. It was my teacher’s methods I believe. I was much more confident about it towards the end but I wasn’t cocky at all. I was still a little scared. It was almost like cycling for the first time. You can do it on your own but if you don’t see your dad around then you get scared and you fall. Well I always needed to know my instructor was around me.
After five hours of skiing and yes it is very tiring, I was done. My legs were hurting from balancing for so many hours. Also I was hungry. But my husband was still oblivious to the fact that lunch hour had come and gone. I asked my instructor if he was hungry. He just said no, he’s used to hard labour. My heart went out to him. Having a talent like his he was still so poor. His humility was heart warming. I told him sheepishly I am tired. And a little hungry. He immediately stopped and from a vendor bought me a juice and a chocolate. I tried to refuse saying we will wait for my husband, who had all our money, he’s sure to pass us soon. He said, “Sister just eat. Your body needs it.” The moment he said sister my heart melted even more and I took it making a mental note to buy him dinner.
The weather turned almost immediately and a bell rang with a voice announcing that the slope will be closing now. Please step down. We all walked towards the stalls at the end of the slope for some hot steaming maggi and hungry as we all were we gobbled it all up.
That night as we reached our room we showered and changed unwilling to get out for dinner again. (For the restaurant review scroll down to the bottom)
Yet we did push ourselves. Full, we returned and soon passed out. It was a very good night’s sleep.
The next two days passed doing exactly this except I graduated and went to the phase 1 for skiing. My body was broken but I must say I was good. Skiing is not a tough sport. Just requires balance, and an understanding of the terrain. Though my instructor was with me at all times I was much more confidant now. This was our last day here and our lucky stars were still shining bright. Towards the middle of the phase 1 slope it started snowing and it seemed that we were in Narnia, surrounded by snow covered Pine trees in a forest. Our magical place. This was our forever land.
Next day we checked out and stayed on a houseboat on Dal Lake, Srinagar. True beauty surrounded us and we immersed ourselves in it completely.
We didn’t really go out check the city at all. I guess we were physically tired and just wanted to enjoy what surrounded us.
Time of travel:
Tip: it snows heavily during the winter months. Flight changes can occur.
3 days 4 nights
Restaurant 1860 food we recommend: Mutton Goshtaba and Gulaab Jamun (sweet)
Tip: Book in advance. Very good rooms, heated, food well made.
Most of the hotels in this valley are non-alcoholic so if you like to drink please carry your own. We did. It is not forbidden to drink in your room, just in public places.