Sipping hot Kashmiri Kahwa, feasting on some of the most delicious chocolate cookies, overlooking a landscape covered in snow. This was our welcome to Gulmarg, where our trip organizer welcomed us to his home enroute to our hotel. An easy 2 hour drive from Srinagar airport, Gulmarg is one of the most easily accessible mountain towns. As I learnt the recipe for Kahwa and how the 11 spices are brewed for the perfect blend, Yasin, our guide, also told us that one can stay in the village without money for 6 to 8 months. The neighbours will ensure you are taken care of. I wondered if the hill station’s elevation from sea-level measured not just its height but how elevated the souls who reside within it were.
I was here to check skiing off my bucket list. The connectivity to Srinagar amazed the city dweller in me. The availability of a short haul flight from Srinagar to Ranchi, where we had attended a wedding; was the deciding factor for choosing Kashmir for our honeymoon. It had snowed a week before our departure, enough for beginners to learn to ski and my husband, Rohit ,wanted to see snow fall, so we took our chances.
We packed winter wear, prepared for sub-zero temperatures. Had to pack wise for this one, because there was a wedding to attend! Reminder – Baggage limit of 15kg per person! Shoes is what takes up the maximum space, so we chose to wear our hiking shoes and pack 1 tik tok shoe for all functions of the wedding! Along with the suitcase, I carried my 50L backpack mostly empty, incase I shopped in Gulmarg.
The landscape changed at every turn and everytime we saw snow, we couldn’t stop being in awe. Yasin took us to his store in Gulmarg, to try out the skis and skiing boots. We got sizes that fit us perfectly, reviewed poles according to our height and we were all set to learn skiing the next day.
We then checked into our hotel. Khyber very graciously upgraded us to a room with a balcony. Rohit and I relaxed the evening, much needed rest after our wedding. It felt like this is a different world, hard to believe that our reception was over, less than 24 hours ago.
My winter trips including the Chadar trek, October in Manali, Basic Mountaineering Course in Sikkim had me stay in tents and sleeping bags. This was luxury of another level.
The next morning, after a lavish buffet breakfast, we were picked up in a gypsy; our skis, boots and poles already loaded in. The golf course is used to ski in Gulmarg in winters. It provides enough variation in slopes for beginners. The first thing we learnt is the different parts of the ski and how it is to be worn. You have to imagine the skis as natural extensions of your feet, rather than equipment for sport. After a quick warm-up, we started our first lesson.
Gradually, Rohit and I were getting the feel of wearing the skis. Trying to keep our balance, we tried how to walk sideways with the ski. We then learnt how to unbuckle the ski from the boots using our poles or the back of the ski. As we walked sideways wearing the ski, we reached the top of a baby slope. Snow plough was the first technique we learnt as we enjoyed the ride down the slope. It taught us how to control our speed and brake. After a good practice for 3 hours, we took a break for lunch.
Wearing sunglasses is a must, as the glare of the sun affects one’s vision. And don’t forget to apply your sunblock every 3 hours if you don’t want to get tanned. I normally keep it in my jacket pocket.
Day 1 of skiing is the toughest we had been told. We could feel our calves and legs tell us just that. We walked back to the golf course nonetheless, for the post-lunch session. We practiced till we fell! The teacher realised that I was tired and called it a day.
Change your socks as soon as you complete your activity. A lesson I learnt from Jayesh Morvankar who was our guide during the Chadar Trek. Doing this helps avoid frostbite. It’s difficult to feel damp socks after so much physical exercise, so just change your socks without thinking.
The food in Kashmir is finger-licking delicious. I tried the Kashmiri Dum Aloo, Rohit tried the Yakhni Mutton. Over the course of our trip, we relished our meals at Higland Park Hotel, not far from the golf course. On prior intimation, they made Rajma Chawal for us. These are local red beans, grown in Kashmir. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is a dry state, therefore, if you like, carry your own alcohol.
Soaking our legs in warm water, I couldn’t be more grateful for the temperature controlled room and the beautiful view of the Pir Panjal range. Our friend Nrupal had told us to sit on the right side of the plane enroute to Srinagar, to get the best view and boy, were we grateful for that tip! The massive expanse of the Himalayas and the view from high up above…moments like these make me feel blessed and grateful. And when you experience this awesomeness with your beau, you are doubly blessed. The mountain view followed us to our room!
That night, we decided to order in rather than go to a restaurant. A Lebanese platter and some wine made for a dinner to remember. We watched a movie, which is a rare thing for us to do on a holiday and amidst warm snuggles, fell asleep.
Refreshed after a good night’s rest, we were ready for our next ski session.. Our teacher took us higher that day and it was so much better than Day 1. We were getting used to the grind of climbing up. Since we were in Kashmir in the off-season, the ski lifts didn’t work. . It takes seconds to ski down and hours to walk up! Rohit and I pushed each other, laughing and crying at the same time, walking up in heavy boots and carrying the skis. My skis were much lighter, advantages of being a woman!
On Day 2, our teacher made us try different variations of skiing. It was today that the thrill of coming down the slope was beginning to kick in. The fear of falling was less and we were enjoying ourselves skiing down the slope without the poles. Then skiing down holding our knees and the next round was holding one pole horizontally in both hands as if we were driving a car. We also learnt to turn on the slope by shifting our weight.
After a yummy lunch break, we practiced some more, not as tired as the previous day. We decided to walk back to our hotel today, choosing to walk through meadows and forests, not the road oft taken. It always feels nice to explore the inner routes of a place, as if we are being welcomed into their heart.
We choose to swim in the temperature controlled pool in the evening. Small luxuries of a honeymoon to remember. I often realise that the price of warmth is priceless and I felt it once again. Being warm with just two layers, a thermal and a jacket; when it is cold and blowing outside, is a big enabler. I hate to brag but Kosha products are really good!
Rohit treated me to a candle light dinner that night. We couldn’t get over the videos of ourselves skiing down the slopes as we relished some Chinese noodles and Kahwa.
On our last day to ski, we decided to start early and wrap-up at lunch. There was a new teacher, who identified problems with our skiing technique.. He taught me how to pick up speed and taught Rohit how to control his speed. He identified our mistakes, taught me to bend forward, put my weight on the shin and ski with gay abandon! He took us higher still and we learnt how to come down a steep slope! Our teacher promised us that if we promise to come back for 5 days, the next time he will take us to the top of the mountain.
I must say that stamina is important. I was running and working out regularly till my marriage day. Otherwise skiing continuously from 10a.m. to 4p.m. for 3 days, would not have been easy.
We drove back to our hotel in the evening and the best was yet to come. We decided to dare ourselves and sit out in the balcony with the view of snow capped mountains. Two blankets, yummy food, chocolates, four layers and lots of stories. It couldn’t have been more perfect!
So tired, so happy, we fell asleep in each others’ arms. Never imagined I would write about a dream-like holiday like this one. I’m so grateful for this experience. Thank you God.
The next morning, our last day in Gulmarg, we took the ride up the Gondola, to phase 1, which took us from Gulmarg to Kongdoori, 2699 metres to 3099 metres. Then came some breathtaking views!. Phase 2 took us to Apharwat at 3979 metres or 14,000 feet. I was reminded of the base camp at Chowrikhang at 14,600 feet. We had trekked for 4 days to reach and this ride took us about an hour. The views were magical. A 270 degreee panorama of the Himalayan range, painted in White, with clear skies showering their grace. Rohit’s dad told me on our return that we were lucky indeed. When they had visited Gulmarg, phase 2 was closed and since it was snowing, the view was not clear. It is important to mention this, so that you travel knowing both sides.
As we took the ride down the cable car, we bid adieu to this beautiful land, praying to the mountains to call us back soon.
We learnt to ski at Kashmir Alpine Adventure. You can choose to do certificate courses at Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering as well. Make sure to check the weather and verify with a local before you go.
Zaffran (Kesar or Saffron) is a good Souvineer. I learnt that bakeries at Lal Chowk in Srinagar are famous for their cookies.
Other than the Skis, boots and poles, we went equipped with all clothing.
Carry a small day pack, which lets you dump your jacket if the sun gets too warm. You can carry a bottle of water, sun block, some snacks and essentials.
We avoid plastic bottles on our travels. We had regular water all through the trip and it was by far the tastiest water we have had.
Amidst all the awesomeness, both Rohit and I took time out, either at the start or the end of the day, to attend to work. I haven’t got my team to rate my performance but I think for the time i put in – it was pretty good. A truly rejuvenating holiday!
-Originally published on Medium.