21th September 2015 (Monday)….Gulmarg…15 km
I got up very late that day in Gulmarg. It was around 8.30am when I got out of my warm bed inside the car. It was bright Sunny day. Most of the vehicles parked around me had left except one or two seen in the picture.
I went walking inside the large meadow nearby and had nice leisure time lazing around. Public utility services near taxi stand came handy. After freshening up I went inside a restaurant for morning tea.
There were more shopkeepers, pony walas and guides in the restaurant than the tourists. I being the only one, some of them started talking to me. Slowly more people joined and the discussion about Kashmir problem came up. While some people talked about atrocities by army, betrayal by politicians and independence, the others were more keen about peace, employment and development. Majority, however, unhappy with the current political leadership.
Some of them wanted freedom, neither India nor Pakistan but united Kashmir. Some wanted withdraw of armed forces and more development. Some complained about corrupt politicians. Few others were happy that the situation was much better and more tourists were arriving resultantly, more employment and opportunities. Majority, however, were of the view that peace should prevail so that more and more tourists arrive in the valley.
The discussion lasted for about than two hours. In between I had two three cups of tea and one aloo paratha. I did not have many plans for the day other than just relax, walk and take a round of the saucer shaped meadow. Little later walked up to the famous Shiva Temple nearby and had nice time.
Gulmarg (8700 ft, above sea level), the meadow of flowers, lies in a saucer shaped valley in the Pir Panjal Range of Himalayas. The natural meadows over here is mostly covered with snow in winter which allows the growth of wildflowers during spring and summer. The meadows are surrounded by forests of green pine and fir trees from all around. It is also famous for winter sports, skiing and paragliding. Apharwat peak perched at a height of 13,999 ft overlooks the meadow. Many points on Apharwat peak and Khilanmarg offer a panoramic view of Nanga Parbat and Harmukh mountains.
I remember this was the very place when I fell in love with the mountains. It was June of 1983 and I was here to participate in a 15 days ‘Youth Leadership Training Camp’ organised by Nehru Yuva Kendra. We were staying in barracks of HAWS (High Altitude Warfare School) situated right in the middle of Gulmarg meadows.
One day we went trekking to Khilanmarg, a 6 kilometer walk from Gulmarg. When we returned from the trek this place in the picture was all covered with clouds and mist. It was so beautiful, I fell in love instantaneously and longed to see the scene again and again, perhaps the reasons why I keep on returning to the mountains in rainy season to see the mist and clouds.
This being September, the rains have died down, the play of clouds and mist and that little droplets of rain soaked wind kissing the face was not there, still I was having the same feeling as my mind was flashing back old memories again and again. Unlike the dull grass and landscape, the meadow was much greener and full of blooming yellow, white, purple flowers at that time.
There was no gondola in those days and the only way was to walk up to Khilanmarg. During 15 days stay I think I went walking at least 3 times to Khilanmarg which was full of snow and young boys used to play on their sledges. Being young I, too, used to join them in sledging on the beautiful snow laden slopes of Khilanmarg. This time, however, I did not even try going up there even on gandola. There was no snow, nor the wild flowers or the beautiful views.
While I was lost in refreshing old memories I saw a family preparing for picnic in the hazy background of mountains and pine trees. This brought back memories of another time when I was here with my family, my wife, daughter and son. We had stayed here in a hotel and used to sit and play in these meadows.
Suddenly a group of boys arrived and started playing around me. There smiles made me join them. I felt good and they too.
The grass still had some green on it but it was fast turning dry yellow. It still had few patches of yellow white daisies. A herd of sheep was munching on whatever juice was left on the grass. The sky was overcast and hazy blocking view of mountains around. So the landscape around was not as romantic as it was back then in June of 1983.
Later in the afternoon I decided to drive around the meadow. The drive is restricted but I was allowed as I wanted to visit HAWS which is situated right in the middle of these meadows. The fee charged was meagre 50-rupees.
Back then in 1983 I could not have dreamt that one day I would be driving around the meadow of Gulmarg on my Lalpari and that too solo, and instead of hotel, would be sleeping inside the car and travelling like a modern nomad.
I remember, we used to have physical drills in the afternoon in these meadows. All the participants would gather here and compete in various physical activities. While driving around these meadows, the memories of me and my friends running and playing flashed back as if it was yesterday and the time stood still.
This is the new complex of HAWS, we stayed in the adjoining old campus. I remember one evening we were all glued to my tiny red national panasonic transistor. India was playing with Zimbabwe in one of the league cricket matches in 1983 Prudential World Cup. We thought India would beat Zimbabwe easily but when batting first India became 5/17, things started looking grim.
We thought there was going to be an upset and India was going to lose the match. But Kapil Dev had some other ideas, he played a memorable innings and blasted 175 not out. Not only India won the match and eventually World Cup but also gave new shape to cricket in India. which has now become a religion.
This is ‘Bobby Hut’, the place where famous song ‘Bahar se koi andar na aa sake, Andar se koi bahar na ja sake, Socho kabhi aisa ho to kya ho, Socho kabhi aisa ho to kya ho, Hum tum….Ek kamre mein band ho, Aur chaabi kho jaaye’ was filmed. Both Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia were teenager when this film was released. It became an instant hit especially with younger generation.
Not only Bobby, many other bollywood movies have been shot here, some of them are ‘jab tak hai jaan’, ‘yeh jawaani hai deewani’, ‘Highway’, ‘Phantom’ and ‘Haider’.
Gulmarg is also famous for various adventure sports like skiing, golf, paragliding, horse riding and many more. Gulmarg is the heartland of winter sports in India. ski slope of Gulmarg are one of the best in the India. It also has one of the highest green golf course in the world.
At 13000 ft, Gulmarg Gondola is one of the highest in the world. The two-stage ropeway ferries about 600 people per hour to and from Gulmarg to a shoulder of nearby Mt. Afarwat Summit. The first stage transfers from Gulmarg to Kongdoori and the second onto Afarwat Peak. We used this gondola for going to Khilanmarg during our family trip in 2007. So was not very keen this time.
Evening in Gulmarg that day was again a very memorable one. I returned back to the place where I slept the previous night. Parked the car and went walking, observing locals as well as minimal number of remaining tourists. Women walking with traditional burka was an interesting sight.
Kept walking, contemplating and observing things till around 7pm when a light drizzle started and I had to take shelter inside the car. It felt so good inside the car, almost like a home, comfortable and secured. Always felt in control and free at the same time as I could drive it anywhere, anytime, whenever I felt like.
Gradually drizzling became harder and the surroundings lonelier and darker. It was still too early for sleep, so thought why not have few drinks and listen to some old hindi songs on fm radio. Not only my car was a car and a bedroom, at times it serves as a bar cum living as well. So bought a soda and some snacks as accomplice to the drink from a nearby shop, enjoyed it with old hindi romantic songs till I felt like sleeping. Came out of the car, drove it to a safer place, put the covers on, slipped inside the car and into the sleeping bag, locked it with remote and went into sleep.
Another memorable day, another memorable night, at yet another dream destination!!!