By Moutushi Ghoshdeysarkar
We the people of the plains, living near the sea level have a remarkable attraction towards the mountains and specially the white ones. The mountain people can hardly live away from them if not forced. Either ways mountains are revered by one and all, possibly because it is close to the perceived heavens. Whatever the ethos, man has always found the beauty of a snow capped mountain supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Well I wanted to use that word because it kind of suits the grandeur of those high peaks. It simply means wonderful. Pardon my idiocy.
Parihaspora or Paraspor as it is called now; 20kms from Srinagar, is known to the locals more for the SSM College of Engineering and Technology that stands atop the plateau sharing grounds with the ruins of an ancient temple that was magnanimous and housed idols which reached the skies according to Kalhana, the 12th century Kashmiri author famous for ‘Rajtarangini’.
By the time we reached Tanmarg, the drizzle had turned into a steady rain, though not a heavy shower. Our driver convinced us that it would be best to hire the snow boots and jackets from Tanmarg, and he knows exactly the place. We also ended up hiring a guide @ 700 a day, who would supposedly get the tickets for the Gondola next morning and wait for us at the Gondola gate.
However this is 2018 and the Innova went on uphill; the rain and the mist restricted our view. It was chilling outside. After a couple of enquiries we found the building called ‘club’ where our hut would be allocated. I had booked the JKTDC hut online.
Vicinity was almost nil but we shortly found our hut and its care taker. The most interesting thing in the hut was a ‘Bukhari’. We sat around it as Fayaz bhai (care taker) got the fire going. Later I and Roddur tried a hand at it, and boy its fun!
It was too foggy and chilly to step out and then it started raining, which cleared the fog a bit but lowered the temperature further. It was hovering between 2 to 5 degrees. We kept indoors hoping for a better tomorrow.
The next morning didn’t get any better. The weather had been thus for the past 6 days and was likely to continue. Our guide Tarik bhai came with the bad news that the Gondola was not operating and offered to take us around the other places instead. The rain and the chill or the fog which were alternating did not create a welcoming outdoor, so we decided to be at home near our Bukhari.
The snowline was a little way up the slope from where the car dropped us. We walked up alongside horses and men, over streams and rocks and muck and reached. Here also there is a shack for refreshments.
We had lunch at Grand Mumtaz Hotel. They had a dish called ‘Fried Ice cream’ in their menu but none, from the waiter to the manager could describe it, leave alone producing one.
To our hearts delight, we woke up to a sunny morning. Fayaz bhai fed us a quick breakfast and almost shooed us to the Gondola, which was a short walk from our hut.
Rajib went a couple of minutes before us to get the tickets and got them with ease till the first phase (740 INR each – credit card facility is available). The second phase tickets (900 INR each) they said would be made available at the base of the first phase.
Dressed in snow jackets and boots and loaded with our cameras we boarded the little yellow cable car. It has a sitting capacity of 6, 3 facing either side, front and back.
Roddur was not very comfortable, he is scared of heights and has extreme motion sickness too, but he managed. We decided to check out the first phase and then buy the tickets to the second phase.
The ride was not very enjoyable; the horses were also feeling the chill and slipping on the wet rocks and mud. But it wasn’t afar and I was thrilled to see so much snow.
We also rode on sledges only because they said if we don’t then they won’t get food. It is agonizing to be pulled by another human, when you are sitting on a plank, up a steep slope. I even felt sad for the horses. But this is their only livelihood. We went on for a while and then when the slope got even steeper we walked beside them.
I walked with a Chachaji, who was holding my hand and preventing me from falling in the snow that was knee deep. It was fresh snow from the day before. Talking about Kashmir and its state of affairs, he said ‘hamara (our) India’ in a very pensive tone. Standing in Kashmir, looking at the people, talking to them, it is absolutely impossible to take sides. Our army is very vigilant, we saw convoy after convoy as we went from place to place, we also saw personnel posted at every nook and corner. Yet the hopelessness in the eyes of the people creates an air of melancholy and confusion. All does not seem well.
The three of us stood there, in the country of the white witch, amidst a snow blizzard. It was both scary and thrilling.
A little later we were on our way down, the horses were cold and uncomfortable due to the freezing air, and so was Roddur. He shivered by the mention of a climb to the second phase, would have possibly bitten me if he had the strength to. The red cars on the cable, moving above the white snow were too alluring to be left out.
Thanks to the day being a bit dry, I walked around, gathered some pine cones and tried to befriend the ponies who were happily munching away after a hard day’s work.
The next and the last morning in Gulmarg was another delight. There was fresh snow on the grounds of the huts, the ponies were grazing and the whole vista was sunlit. Swift clouds came over pretty soon as we prepared to go back to Kashmir.
Iqbal bhai was supposed to pick us up but we cancelled him, as it was he on whose insistence we had to go through the distasteful incident. There were reparations. The guide gave back the 700 bucks as we met him while returning the boots and jackets, he realised it was iniquitous to receive payment for the services we never took.
The vehicle we hired from Gulmarg for Srinagar cost us only 1700 INR and 300 INR extra for the little detour as opposed to 3300 INR that Iqbal bhai charged.