So I know I've mentioned my trip to India before, but I haven't yet posted my blog about it to NSers. More and more people seem to be traveling to Gulmarg each season and threads about it are growing too. This is just my retelling of my trip this past January.
We spent 3 days in Mumbai, which if you ever get the chance to go... do.
Only, when we got there, after a 3 hour delay in Frankfurt, we were sans skis. Well as they say... surrender yourself you India. Thus, they came the day before we catch our Kingfisher flight up north to Srinagar (if you're flying domestically in India, screw AirIndia and fly Kingfisher. Really.)
But I digress... Mumbai. When Dad and I got to our hotel, like most travelers my first trip was to the bathroom. Because after customs, immigration, filing lost luggage reports, taxi rides, and checking in one has to pee. At first I was upset thinking that we got an old smokers room because the bathroom had that sort of smell. But then, after sitting there for a second or two I realized that it wasn't an old smokers room that I was smelling, but the spicy smell of tobacco. It was then that I realized that this was how I was going to have to experience Mumbai, through my nose. If I just let every smell become a part of my Mumbai experience then everything would be unique and stimulating.
Day 1 Mumbai (now past 48 hours without sleep): a bustling bumble bee taxi ride down to the Gateway to start exploring. Where does one start when on foot for a day in most populous city in the world? Street stalls and shalls. The shall search ended quickly however after we realized that even in India, cashmere and pashmina are still $600. So then we found a great hole in the wall tea vendor, which for me was such a glorious clean, aromatic treat for my nose.And of course no trip to Mumbai is complete without a trip to the legendary Leopold's Cafe. By this time, travel coma was certainly setting in, but a huge plate of noodles and a "hover-over-the toilet" bathroom was just the ticket to motivate us to continue the adventure.
The afternoon was spent going to Elephanta Island. Once a place of worship for several different religions, Elephanta Island was later conquered by the Portuguese and their wonderful cave carvings used as target practice.
The island is swarming with little monkeys who find great joy in terrorizing the many tourists and worshipers who climb the thousand steps to the temples. One little monkey tried to steal my recently purchased tea. But I should feel lucky, because it seems like the little stray puppies wondering the island took far more torture from the monkeys than the humans do.
After an exhausting day we took the ferry back at to the Gateway at dusk and followed it up with another bumble bee taxi ride back to the hotel... not without nearly running over a local Mumbai kid on the way though.
Day 2 Mumbai: With Dad locked away in meetings all day, I arranged with Taj Hotel: Lands End to have a driver show me around the northern part of the city. Nothing is more special than someone taking you on a tour of their home. Juhu beach used to be a place where locals loved to gather, play cricket, gamble, and generally have a wonderfully good time. In an effort to increase tourism, the government closed all of these activities and moved the food vendors to a designated area to clean up the beach. The beach is now a quiet place where couple stroll quietly by. However, just feet away in the food stalls, life is just as bustling as always.
As is the fishing village across the street:
And the chai stalls in Mumbai's largest slum, Daravi
What awed me the most as we walked around Daravi was just the pure humanity of it all. Even in the depths of the world's greatest poverty people still are people. People smile, people laugh, husbands and wives still bicker, and kids will play games on any patch of land they can find.
Flying into Srinagar is a trip. It's an active airforce base but not like it is in Frankfurt or Bishkek, this is an airforce base that does have a real threat and not that far away. So security is pretty tight. However, being a woman in an area with few women travelers and different sex airport screenings means fast line for me, slow line for dad.
But let's get to the skiing. MountainTraks out of the UK set us up with John Falkiner and Paulo Tassi as guides. PRETTY AWESOME.
But we were still pretty low on snow.
Not to worry though, John and Paulo would find us something... but we were going to be careful. No new snow in Gulmarg for 2 weeks means that any old tracks were like cement and the Avy danger was HUGE. CAIC black, HUGE. In fact, the day before we arrive, their group set down an avalanche that lost one ski and blew one guy's knee.
Now, Gulmarg is HUGE. Image Blue Sky Basin laid out five to six times over. And all the while you're at or nearlyl at 14,000 feat with Nanga Parbat not so far off in the distance (26,000+ft).
The world's highest gondola takes you up to endless hikeable and skinable terrain and all you can think of is, "I'm going to go there, then I'm going to go there. Ooo! and what about over there!" Unfortunately with crappy snow, you get limited, but even THEN you still have epic fun.
Eat when you can though, because often the runs are 2000-5000 vertical and in some cases 22km long with a 2km hike out.
If you get too tired and have a down day, take a day with Papi to search for leopards
Or watch the locals and the Indian army hike the small local hill in the village
Or hang with the locals themselves
Or run into some American pro-skiers (Andy Maher and Pep Fujas)
But mostly, even with challenging snow, Gulmarg is the most beautiful place and made for an epically wonderful adventure. .
And a big shout out to FlyLow Gear, Loveland Ski Area, and Garmont/Lifelink. And of course dad.