Tuesday, 12 January 2010

High End Rescue at Gulmarg Ski Resort and a trip down to Srinagar

Well no more snow since arriving at Gulmarg and with lots of solar about there’s definitely a few rocks poking around especially on the exposed ridges. There are still lines to be found for the adventurous on the north-facing aspects and especially where snow is sheltered and kept cold by the tree line. It’s a super cool crew of old and new faces in Gulmarg and everyone is using the time to hone up on essential avalanche transceiver skills and techniques, trying other snow disciplines and partying it up with DJ Alex throwing 3 great parties (including a Russian Christmas Party) where the house definitely ‘went off’.

Brian Newman, Gulmarg’s Avalanche Forecaster runs an avalanche class every Tuesday from 7pm at The Pine Palace Hotel which is both a theoretical look at avalanche risk and some excellent practical insights into the huge terrain offering that is Gulmarg. Already we have had some incidents at Gulmarg including a Russian women fracturing both legs about 8 bowls skiers right of Mt.Apharwat in the ‘Drung Bowls’ that lead you down to the village of Drung in an amazing 20 something kilometer ski and over 2000m vertical. The alert was raised around 8.30pm and she was located at 10pm with an amazing effort of some 30 ski patrol and gondola workers it took 6 hours to retrieve and a successful rescue was made. In appreciation we all donated a bunch of rupees towards the guys who put on an amazing effort – government workers (Gulmarg Tourist & Development Board) who don’t get paid over-time let alone double time and still had to work the next day unlike other western resorts in which a day off in lieu would certainly be mandatory. A Big thanks goes out to this superhuman effort. We all signed a t-shirt for the women who is recovering in Srinagar hospital and our positive thoughts go out to her for a speedy recovery.

A fellow kiwi Kerry and I headed down to Srinagar on the local bus which was 15 rupees from Gulmarg to Tangmarg (the village below Gulmarg) and a further 18 rupees to Srinagar which is great value for a 2 hour ride mixing it up with the locals! We were heading to a houseboat and wanted to give the body a little break from riding and soak up some of the exotic local culture that is Kashmir. We headed to Cafe Arabica (in front of Grand Mumtaz Hotel) for a latte and some pizza. A bit of a treat as a little expensiony coffee was 65 rupes and pizza started from 200 rupes but not a bad pizza on my ‘Indian Pizza Scale’ NOT my ‘World Pizza Scale’ probably a 7/10 as it was from the wood oven.

With full bellies we headed to Lal Chowk where there was a bit of ‘action’ a couple of days earlier where 2 militants had been gunned down after being holed up in a hotel – the Indian Army taking care of business so we were a little cautious but this is not particularly unusual for Srinagar. When accessing Gulmarg Ski Resort it is relatively safe as the route from the airport to Gulmarg skirts the outside of the city and has Indian Army lining the road all the way up – which of course they have foreign & Indian tourists within their interest to protect. As we came across the bridge walking towards Dal Gate there was a heavy police presence and the shops in the outer market roadside seemed to be closed which was odd, it not being a Friday (a day of worship). We peered into the market and saw a barrage of rocks and stones being hurled at the police by locals. Apparently a local boy had been killed by the police and a 3 day strike ensued in protest of the police barricade intimidating the local community. Well the first bit of action I had seen, so it was head down and around the corner to Dal Lake. We had a good wander down the shores being badgered for Shikara rides and had arranged to meet Gulum our houseboat host. We met Gulum who is a lovely laid back local from Srinagar and is helper shokot who paddles us over to the ‘Highland Queen’ houseboat which would be our abode for the evening. We had the customary Kashmiri Kawa tea (made with saffron) and biscuits as we took on the locals paddling past in Shikaras and smaller vessels coming and going as the sunset. As it cooled with the departure of the sun we headed inside to the beautiful living room which was rather like being in your posh grandma’s house with chandeliers, intricate wood panelling, carved tables, exquisite couches and chairs set on the finest Kashmiri carpets. We sat down to roast chicken, potatoes, carrots and green beans – wow just fantastic with a fruit custard dessert a welcome change to curry. We planned an early morning rise to visit the legendary ‘floating vegetable market’ which kicks off at first light. We snuggles up in a bed fit for a king with a hottie (hot waterbottle) into dreamland.

We awoke to masala chai and headed out on the shikara at 7am, wrapped up in our down jackets, covered with a warm blanket, more hot tea and sharing the ‘winter wife’ – a flax made bucket that holds hot coals taken from a fire that the Kashmiri men place under their pharans to keep warm. We paddled through the frozen lake wonderland as it came to life arriving at the site of the trading. Probably over 100 small vessels were pulled up and the vegetable haggling, bartering and selling began in what is probably one of the more unusual markets in the world. The vegetables were all types of carrots, haq & palak (types of Kashmiri spinach), onions, potatoes and so on. We also had a little brekkie snack of Kashmiri bread with a lovely (not too sweet) sugary coating which was delicious. 200 photos later and with the sun coming up over the lowland Himalayan hills we paddled back for breakfast via the local bakery. The sun hit the frosted snowy Lakeland creating beautiful crystal reflections in the water – a photographers dream! We were again treated to great food -omelettes and Kashmiri bread washed down with Kashmiri kawa tea. After good conversation we left Gullum and hiked up the opposite hillside to the Shankaracharya Temple. You can’t take mobiles or cameras in due to security and unfortunately it has a military base surrounding the beautiful Hindu temple. 243 steps up and down was good cross training for skiing that’s for sure! Great views over Dal Lake really put the huge body of water into perspective and I started to hatch a plan of a lake circumnavigation! A mission for another time.

Some beer shopping (it’s located about 200m after Dal Gate opposite the lake front on the left side of a group of a shop front complex) and it was time to track down some Momos at Ying Yang restaurant (near Cafe Arabica towards the market before the bridge on the left). Awesome Momos made by the Nepalese crew and it was another mad tuk tuk ride to the local bus station to re-trace our steps back up to Gulmarg watching village life from the bus and arriving back to our peaceful little haven.


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