The alarm in my phone went buzz at 3:30 am, time to switch on my geezer, I was too excited to go back to sleep, so I decided to spend time online instead. Even before I could realize, I had finished all my morning work, and was all set to reach the airport, as planned we were supposed to meet outside the airport at 5:15, that meant I need to leave my house by at least 4:30. Being silly as I am, I was ready to spend 16k on the tickets, but too stingy to spend 400rs on the taxi, so I decided to drive my active to the airport pulling my dad along, he was supposed to drive back the activa. As usual I reached the place on time, just about 5 minutes early. One of my friend was already there. My other friend who generally is on time, had not yet reached, looking at the early morning crowd, we decided to stand in the queue, in no time we were at the front of it, but my other friend had not yet arrived. So we went ahead with the check in. We had planned to wait before the security check, unfortunately there was a huge queue there as well, and the airlines people recommended that we go ahead with the security check. Still there was no sight of the third person. By the time we finished security check and a cup of coffee inside in the lounge, there was just 10 mnts left for the take off, so we had to go ahead with the boarding. Still no sight of the third friend, we could call him and were sure he was waiting at the security check. So we went ahead with the boarding, just on the dot, he came into the flight. So there we were all set to fly out at 6:30 Am.
We forgot one thing though, its winter, and Delhi is very foggy, and so is Bangalore in early mornings, so an unexpected delay in take off, this meant 2 full hours of bored us sitting with our seat belt on, with nothing else to do. Good we all were excited about our vacation, somehow the time flew, and so did we around 8:30. About 3 hours in air, and we landed in Delhi, the capitol city of India. We were supposed to change terminals, so we came out of the airport, and we were supposed to wait for the courtesy vehicle that we had just missed, so we stood there, watching people. Apparently the guys found the Delhi crowd much colorful compared to Bangalore. As S always puts people still have a bias towards fair skin, indeed north Indians are more fairer, and hence all the attention to the crowd there. As we stood there waiting for the bus, and watching passers by, I was loosing a little interest in the wait mainly because the crowd began to grow, and I Was not liking it. Finally the bus came and we entered the bus, it took us out of the airport campus, for some distance, made an U turn and entered a different premises, later we realized if we had walked towards our left, it would have taken like 2 minutes to reach that place. We got into the new terminal, and I was happy to spot a coffee Day outlet there, I bought myself a Latte, and had to shell out 80Rs for it, a normal one costs around 30 so its like super rip off, but I was cool with it, as I was sure I Would not find good coffee once we reach Srinagar. I was ridiculed by my friends about my coffee addiction for the rest of our stay at the Delhi airport.
We finally landed in Srinagar at around 2:30 pm. I was just wearing a T shirt and a light jacket. we came out of the aircraft, and within the small walk to the covered shelter, we could feel the cold, the wind was chilling, and we were hoping the airport would be heated. Unfortunately the arrival terminal was not heated, so we had to shiver as we were waiting to collect our baggage. As usual I was very lucky, I was just the second last guy to get the baggage, it meant that I was already in danger of catching cold. We were supposed to take a taxi from here to gulmarg. It was an anonymous decision not to bargain outside, instead take the government provided pre paid taxi. It turns out that the Srinagar area is very organized, and all drivers charge the same amount. We loaded our luggage and set out for our last leg of the journey.
Knowing the amount of trouble in Srinagar, we expected a lot of checks before we leave the airport, it turns out that the army does not care who gets into Srinagar, its only the other way which they are very bothered about. As we started the drive, we chose the bypass to make sure we don’t enter the main city and to avoid the traffic. One thing that strikes you about the roads around Srinagar, is their sheer width, they are so damn wide, being used to the cramped ones in Bangalore, the width of the median and that of the roads were so much. As we entered country, I had hopes to see more scenic stuff, it turns out that during winter there is absolutely no vegetation around, the trees are leafless, and places which are supposed to be orchards with lots of apple trees around summer, looked so lifeless it was almost boring drive.
We reached Tangmarg, which is at the foot of mountain on top of which is gulmarg. We were asked to stop there because they said it had snowed on the mountain, and we had to hire a taxi with snow chains on the wheels. We took a sip of hot tea at a hotel at that place as we waited for the taxi transfers. We could see traces of snow at that place, and the temperature was almost freezing, we didn’t have gloves, nor sweaters out, so we just stood around shivering a little, the taxi finally arrived and we started on the last bit again. The distance was just around 15km, but then it had lot of curves, so it was around 30/40 mnts drive, as we began to climb, we began to see more and more snow, but there was no snow on the road. I guess its just their way of making a little more money. We reached Gulmarg at around 5, and the booking we had was at a place called “Rose wood hut”. None of the taxi drivers new about the place. So the driver dropped us close to gondola, which was the only landmark we had. We went into the adjoint hotel, to enquire, even the locals didn’t know about Rosewood hut. This point we were a little scared, may be we were duped with a non existent hotel when we booked online. We had the phone number of the website owner from that place, He promised to drop down to that place within few minutes and pick us up. So here is the first look we got of the ski town Gulmarg
As we stood there, in barely heated hotel, with temperatures of subzero, with doubts as to if we have been duped, the guy walked in introduced himself. It turns out that the taxi which we had hired was his friend, and he joined us and took us to the destination. The place looked really beautiful. We got down and were excited to see snow everywhere, the roads could not made out as it was totally covered with powdered snow. He introduced us to the hut owner who had come to the main road to receive us. He took some of the luggage as we started walking up to the hut. The journey was a little funny as all of us were sliding on the ice formed on the road. Finally we got the glimpse of the hut we were about to stay in.
It looked really impressive; as we entered we also found a nicely heated fireplace at the centre of the living room. we warmed our self up a little, as we spoke to the owner and the cook. It turns out there were no other people at the hut apart from us that day. It was a small home stay kind of place with 6 rooms in total. We dumped our luggage in the room, with nothing else to do, started thinking about our options for dinner. Being just in, we thought of going out for dinner. I brought out my sweaters, a nice warm cap, and a thick jacket for the cold, and we started out.
It was already around 7:30 pm by this time, unfortunately gulmarg does not have street lights, and there we were in an unknown place, walking on slippery snow, with no idea as to how much we need to walk to find the restaurant. We walked a little distance, and we found a proper hotel, it was mainly a place which looked like a big boarding place, with a restaurant attached. We walked in, and were surprised to find a internally heated place, with nice warmth. We went and pounced onto the menu. Kashmiri’s have lot of meat, and naturally all restaurants mainly serve the meat rich wazwans or curries. Two of us being vegetarians ordered “alu dum”, dal and rotis, and a portion of rice. Beware guys a portion of rice in Gulmarg is like 3 big portions by Bangalore standards, we ended up wasting most of the rice part. And the Alu dum was so much oily, still we finished the alu part of it fully. We walked back slowly to our place. All in one piece, and still not recording our first fall on the snow.
With all set to start skiing next day, we got into our beds just talking and thinking about the logistics of the coming day. Me being a fast sleeper didn’t even realize when I slept off.
Next up my tryst with skiing. To be continued….