Gulmarg was terrific this year (Although the post is a month too late). It was nothing like last year. There were no bans on routes from the top of Afarwat and on a personal front, I was feeling really fit in a long time. The operated foot last year left a sour taste in my mouth and although I was able to try a few things especially routes down Kongdoori, it wasn’t quite satisfying. Especially not being able to ski down G4 was painful.
This year however, G4, Mary’s Shoulder, Kongdoori and Monkey Hill were all done on more occasions than one. I got my equipment from JIM & WS. Rossignol Alpine Ski’s, 48″ Kerma Poles and and Salomon boots. Maj. Mahajan had accommodated me in Mount View; a decent place to nestle for two, may be three weeks. The staff at Mount View is brilliant. Tariq, the Manager is thoughtful while Adil, the help, always exceeds ones expectations.
I had not skied for about 10, may be 11 months. So revisiting the skills on the many beaten slopes around Gulmarg seemed like a wise idea. Slopes like “Highland” and “85” are especially popular with professionals and novices alike. The Army Skiing Team and the HAWS (High Alt Warfare School) Skiers practice in and around the Highland Slope and are always willing to lend advise, point errors or correct ones technique. I was practicing with Hazari and Mangal, instructors with JIM & WS; brilliant skiers and excellent teachers.
Kongdoori & Mary’s Shoulder
After about 5 days in Gulmarg (last week of feb), I felt confident of being able to face the natural slopes. G4 (The top of Afarwat) was not operational for some reason. So we took the “Gondola” (Telecabine System) till Kongdoori and hiked about a Km towards Mary’s Shoulder. Surprisingly, most part of our hike was beaten earlier in the morning. A little off piste slope joined this beaten route to form a ski run leading to Kongdoori roughly about 2 miles long . Excellent fun, especially the beaten part of the track was extremely fast. On the way back we followed the beaten track from Kongdoori to Gulmarg which was by now a regulation route, with varying degrees of descents and sudden curves thrown in for good measure.
Kongdoori & G4
The next couple of days, I went back to the slopes in the resort with some guys who had enrolled for the advanced course @ JIM. We practiced edging, waddling and other turns. In the meanwhile, Sqn Ldr Pramod, Mahajans course mate, was in the institute for a couple of days. He expressed his desire to ski down from Kongdoori to Gulmarg. Pramod practiced some basic skills at a resort while Hazari’s team and I refreshed some advanced skills. When Pramod felt like he was ready, Younis (another instructor at JIM) and I accompanied him to Kongdoori. We took a day pass on the Gondola and did a couple of runs to Gulmarg from Kongdoori. On the third trip to Kongdoori, I requested Pramod to wait while Younis and I went to G4 and skied down the top of Afarwat. The next 90 minutes were the most exhilarating moments to begin this year.
Younis and I had a drink and left Pramod with his camera at Kongdoori. In about 15 minutes we were at the top of Afarwat at 13000+ feet. I had no time for sightseeing and just got on with the business. We negotiated the steep slopes with a combination of jumpy stem and dynamic turns. Younis was obviously more fluent of the two since he had been on these mountains earlier this year. This was the first time for me this year. I was more deliberate and meticulous in my approach. By the time we made it to Kongdoori, it was time for lunch. We met with Pramod, skied down to Gulmarg and returned to Kongdoori for lunch – Chicken Mughlai, Chicken Masala, Naan and Rice.
With that scrumptious meal, we had enough energy to do a few more rounds to Gulmarg. The ride to G4 was again blocked for some reason. I left Pramod with Younis for guidance and went ahead exploring new routes from Kongdoori to Gulmarg, on my own. Quite a hectic day this one.
Solo – G4 and Mary’s Shoulder
By now I had had enough opportunities to ski down so many mountains and slopes. This year was exceptionally good in that regard. Very few bad weather, no activity days. In fact even on bad weather days, I was able to get some sort of mileage on the skis. So the logical progression would have been to go solo, which I did. 2 days after Pramod left, I was on my way to G4 via Kongdoori with Mr. Reshi, my old friend from Gulmarg, employed with the youth services dept in Gulmarg. A genuinely good person and excellent instructor, Reshi has known these mountains for 23 years. He was on his way to Kongdoori to help with the management and administration of a tournament called Gondola Cup being conducted between Mary’s shoulder and Kongdoori. I saw him off at Kongdoori and headed off to G4. The descent was quite emphatic, although I did see a few snow boarders and skiers overtaking me, thanks to better equipment and exposure, I believe I was doing alright, considering the fact that I have been to the top of Afarwat on fewer occasions. I even managed to ski down Mary’s shoulder towards Kongdoori a couple of times. Wow! G4 and Mary’s shoulder on the same day. Quite an exceptional day.
On my way down from Mary’s shoulder I ran into Hadee. The day before I came across this inquisitive little girl at the highland slope. We had a little chat while waiting our respective turns at the lift. Sometime during our conversation I shared the gospel with the young lady. She never told me that she was going to the mountains as well. She had somehow managed to get facedown, out of exhaustion, I think. She asked me for some water. I offered her some juice and chocolate (which I always carry handy). I suggested that she follow my lead. She did. Once in Kongdoori, at the site of the competition, I politely implied that she shouldn’t be skiing on the mountains without a guide. Not at her age and skill level. The lady smiled. I said good bye to her, and did another round of Mary’s shoulder before heading back home.
With just two more days left for my return flight, Pradeep (and Wing Co Padda) my new friends, asked me if they could ski down from Kongdoori. Since there are a few straightforward tracks between Kongdoori and Gulmarg, I suggested it was plausible and offered to be their guide. I checked with Mangal and he was willing to go too. Unfortunately, the Gondola was halted for the day due to strong winds. Pradeep and Padda Sir had to go the slopes with a sullen face. Mangal, his friend and I instead headed off on the trail towards Monkey hill. Deep woods with tall trees and chilly winds; stuff from the movies. Anyways, we were at the top in about half an hour. The ski descent was pretty boring to be honest. Too many trees for my liking. Mangal and his friend landed on their butt a coupl of times. I was more deliberate and careful. Especially because of the number of trees on the route. We hit the road connecting Gulmarg with Tangmarg in about 15 minutes. A newly wed couple were generous enough to offer us a ride to Gulmarg. They were in some sort of mischievous mood, which was apparent from the place where they were seated, right on top of the Sumo. Can’t complain though! they offered us a ride. We handed the skis to them for safekeeping and got into the vehicle. It was really comfortable in there. Why would they sit on top? Beats me. I presume, when you are in love, the wires in the top floor go all wrong. We got off at the bus stop and thanked the couple. Lunch at Yemberzal was …. what can I say? Vegetarian. 😦