17.04.2014 - 20.04.2014
After saying good-bye to Nanette in Mumbai, I left the next morning for Srinagar, where Tashi met me at the airport. A good thing since a policemen accompanied me outside since I couldn't tell him where I was staying. Tashi had already found me a place, aboard a rather funky houseboat, Young Ambassador.
My houseboat was smaller one on the left
Whatever fantasies I may have had about Dal Lake were quickly dispatched as Farooz paddled us out to his boat.
Despite the beauty of the lake, a sewage smell was noticeable and thick algae blooms were everywhere. I guess its been a long time since the British Raj.
A rare moment of sun
We dropped my backpack, and spent the day wondering around the city in the chilly, rainy weather. It was in total contrast to the weather in the south. This was one of these, be careful what you wish for deals. I noticed that many of the men were still wearing their winter coats, long woolen things, very baggy, so they can keep a charcoal brazier underneath to stay warm. In the evening Tashi dropped me, and went off to stay at an even cheaper place.
While Farooz made a simple dinner, he talked incessantly about his various family and financial problems. Perhaps this was an attempt to get more money from me? Nabu showed up shortly thereafter, wanting to show me his jewelry. By then, I didn't have the energy to simply chase him away, and foolishly picked out a few pieces that looked marginally interesting. I said I wasn't buying that night, and that he should come back in two days, hoping that I wouldn't still be there.
Sunset from Young Ambassador
The next day unfortunately, was equally cold and rainy. We hiked up to a Hindu temple on a hill overlooking town,
View of the city from the temple
and then took a tuk-tuk back to the the tulip gardens, a famous Srinagar site. But then the rain picked up and so we nixed that idea, and sat outside eating ramen noodles in a dhaba, trying to stay warm and dry underneath a plastic tarp. It wasn't easy, but there was nothing else around. Actually, this was a harbinger of things to come, though I didn't know it then. We soon gave up and went back to spend a few hours eating in a somewhat warmer restaurant. After seven years, we had a lot of catching up to do. Finally, when the rain let up, we walked down to the main market. Tashi is still struggling with his trekking business, which I later learned he more or less fell into after hearing about the internet from David and I, some 17 years earlier. He had help from a Swiss guy, who he also met on a trek, who said Tashi could his personal email and password until he eventually learned how to set up one on his own. He would spend hours practicing on a computer in an internet cafe in Jammu, which then cost 60 rupees an hour, a lot of money for him at the time.
Next day saw a big improvement in the weather and we hired a taxi to take us to Gulmarg, India's largest ski area.
This has been a very cold and snowy winter for them, as it was for us in upstate New York. The 14,000 foot peak was still covered with snow, some of which was fresh. Even the gondola was still running and the place was packed with Indian tourists coming up to see and touch snow, perhaps for the first time. We passed on the gondola and walked up to mid-station in the tracks of old wooden sleds that were being used to give tourists a ride and make a buck.
An hour and a half got us there, but not before we passed two elderly Israeli couples, also walking. A bit of a surprise this. Mid-station was a large flat area, just at tree line, and lots of people were cavorting in the snow, though no skiers, which should have told us something.
A number of dhabas had set up shop on one side, and we stopped for some overpriced chicken and dhal. A cloud moved in and some grappel fell, even as the sun shone.
Tashi and talked about taking another day and renting skis since there was still so much snow. Although the mountain was officially closed, we were told we could ride up and down on the gondola to mid-station, and then hike even higher if we chose.
So next day, also good weather, we went back out even earlier, and met the guy who said he had alpine touring skis. Turns out what he had was 190's, way too long and not in good shape. He took us to another shop, where we eventually rented shorter ones, also in poor condition. I ended up adjusting the bindings myself, since the shop guys obviously had no idea how to do it. After two hours of this, we finally made it onto the gondola and back to mid-station.
You wouldn't know the day was mostly fair from this shot
Rather than hike up we decided to take an easy run back down, but easy was still difficult in the heavily rutted track left by the sleds from the day before. Tashi struggled with the uneven snow, not really ever having learned to ski on modern equipment.
We had these beautiful open woods to ourselves
When we tried to reboard the gondola, but we were told that this was not allowed. Tashi tried to speak to someone he knew at the resort, who said he would intervene on our behalf, but it did no good The guy running the the gondola refused to budge. Once again it seems as though this crazy country is determined to enforce stupid rules, rather than say, traffic regulations, where someone's life might actually be at stake. Hiking up, with the equipment we rented did not seem like an option, and so after another hour of hassling we finally gave up and returned the skis, but not before taking a few pics of Tashi pretending to ski in front of the shop. The day's frustration only increased, when I discovered that I left my new and expensive rain jacket in another taxi that I somehow thought was ours.
Pretending to ski
All in all, despite years of trying to get here, Srinagar was a disappointment. Just another large and dirty Indian city. The surrounding area is stunningly beautiful, as was Gulmarg. Generally it is lush and green, although this spring more white. I'm sure there are some great treks, but this is certainly true in many areas of India that are less dangerous.