You could belive that an ski shop has opened at Trädgårdsgatan. Skis, snowboard, boots, and clothes together with electronic gears like transponders, ipods and cameras all over the foor together with backpacks which are getting repacked for the fourth time. Its not easy to know what to bring, normally you are away for a week or two on a resort where you can buy whatever you forgot, you know what kind of weather there is. On this trip we will go for a month, up and into the Himalayan mountains with no ski shops or possibility to buy stuff. We found some weather reports though but they have been saying “heavy snowing” for the last month, Internet is good but come on, someone must update the information too.
Just in time for this trip I succeed to catch a really bad cold too, I wonder if I should aim for an emergency batch of penicillin and start praying or just continue my diet of water and paracetamol, an 24 hour trip to India with zero immune system feels a bit risky so I guess I wait and decide once I arrive to Gulmarg.
A friend told me once that you can see the status of a country on their visa’s, the more gold and showy it is the more shitty is the country. Indias visa is pretty neutral so that feels good, they did however spell my name wrong but I dont think that will be a problem.
“Tänk på att Beatles aldrig blev detsamma efter deras Indien besök”
After a most ordinary nights sleep we jumped on the train on our way to Kastrup, Copenhagen. Only 30 minutes delayed which for you guys who know how the train works in Sweden is nothing, Checked in our luggage and spend the rest of the waiting time to having a couple of beers and whoop whoop, suddenly we were on the plane towards India.
The condition on the plane was ok but what we thought would be an easy transfer in Dehli was something completely different. First we got scammed by a taxi driver which may not be a big deal for us but it still sucks then you know someone ripped you off. After that we ended up in a terminal which they were extending with 80 new gates. The building dust was everywhere and I promise you all, coming from cold Nordic air to this inferno with pollution and smog just took all the energy from us. However one hour later we were finally on the plane towards Srinagar in Kashmir and believe it or not, our really really cheap low price flight had higher standards than our SAS flight from Copenhagen. We were flying on higher altitude, faster and the staff was prettier, I don’t complain and the flight was like a dream compared with the airport we just left.
The first I see once we get closer to the airport in Srinagar is anti aircraft guns, barb wires and a regiment of soldier however after some minor paperwork we were welcomed to the zone which Sweden’s state department warn you about and all insurance companies has on their exception list. Staff from our hotel met us on the airport and on the way to the hotel we got some information about the region, like there is somewhere around 1500 soldiers in the village which only contains a couple of hotels and houses, and a high altitude warfare school, suddenly it feels like this might be an odd tourist resort to go to but it still feels so right to be here!
“Skis to India? How did you think now”
-check in counter at Kastrup
The first day in the slopes was not like what I’m used to. We woke up early after being exhausted from the long trip and after a steady breakfast tea, toasts and omelette’s we headed out, into the snow for freshing up our our skills in using the transponders if we would get trapped in an avalanche. While we were doing some search and rescue the whole hotel crew were drinking tea and smoked cigarettes and watched us with big smiles on their faces.
Once we got the feeling for it and started to feel both secure and got some speeding on it we headed for the gondola. Unfortunately we had some car issues so we had to walk to the gondola today, well i walked. Martin hired an Indian to pull him in a sledge the whole kilometer to the gondola. The cost? Around 200 rupies and it didnt look comfortable for either Martin or the poor Indian guy who had to pull him. On our way back we took a taxi and that cost us only 100 rupees, this is a interesting country for sure.
The gondola is actually in two parts. The first part will give you pretty easy slopes which are not to steep. The possibilities to nice lines with bumps and around trees are enormous but the second part, that you takes you far above the tree line up to the top. You can buy either day pass or just a single ticket, a day pass is around 800 rupees while one way ticket is 150 rupees, in swedish money that is around 120sek for a day pass or 24sek for one ticket. Maybe something as the rest of the world to copy? We can at least blame on that we are not acclimatised yes but we only did two runs today in the lower part. The snow was a bit wet and the altitude kind a takes away all your energy. On our way back we visited the village center and both the kids and the adults are saying the same, “we are not Indians, we are Kashmiris”. In other words, we have now learned how to insult the people here the hard way.
According to our hotel manager there are supposed to be snow leopards, tigers and black bears in the area but when we asked about monkeys he looked at us as we were retarded and exclaims; Of course we have monkeys, they are everywhere. It took some time and I’m not sure he really believe us but I at least we tried to convince him that in Sweden we don’t have any monkeys, or tigers. So far we haven’t seen any wildlife but our biggest problem is actually money. There is one ATM in the village but so far neither me or Martin understands how it works.
“Want to buy a joint? I make em this biiiiiig for you”
– unknown ski guide trying to sell everything
Woke up really stoked to get up on the mountain but no luck for me. After a quick discussion of what the time was (one clock said 9, the other 12) we went down for breakfast and noticed that it was snowing, alot! Before we decided to go to Gulmarg we did some background checks and we heard the rumors that the snow can really dump here but we couldn’t believe it was like this. the snowflakes were huge and the snow was so light and fluffy I cant describe it. Overall it has dumped around 1m of snow during one day, that is insane!
The sad part is that its snowing so much that the gondola is closed but instead we put on the snow shoes and hiked all day long. After a couple of runs we found an old house which was more like a a ruin, while using our imagination we built a small kicker on the balcony, to get the speed? We used the former roof down to the kicker before we got airborne and just before I got airborne I got the thought; “shit, this is exotic”
After an happy day we did another attempt to withdrawn money today and it worked, however Martin took all the money so I couldn’t withdrawn any so I guess now he has to pay everything.
“Its on like donkey kong”
Woke up by a shivering Martin and the bed is literally shaking, it doesn’t take long before I realize how cold it really is and for every exhale a big white cloud is formed in the air. We thought that we were smart when we booked a hotel with central heating but of course, we didn’t count the numerous number of power failures. Once we looked outside we we knew what caused the shortage of power and yesterdays heavy snowing was now up towards 2m of new, fresh powder snow and you couldn’t find any trace of our activities yesterday, not even our newly built kicker.
Because of the heavy snowfall yesterday the gondola was closed today so we rented a local guide and went for some forest skiing from Gulmarg, down the mountain towards Tenmarg. At some parts it was really steep and tight forest but most of the parts it was just perfect and with all new fresh snow it was like heaven. Once you arrived to Tenmarg the taxi drivers more or less were waiting to drive you up to Gulmarg again. Maybe not the most environment friendly way of skiing but totally worth it, our guide showed us everything from narrow corridors, wide open spaces and tight forest skiing and in true Indian style some people had to sit on the roof on the taxi ride back.
Tenmarg was a pretty tiny typical mountain village, they had an supermarket, a mosque, some other stores and the whole village was hidden in a huge cloud of hashish and diesel exhausts. Pretty different to what you are used you to but the people were friendly, the tea was nice and they had a really smart solution to the problems with stray dogs; “Not many stray dogs here, the black tigers eat them”. After some thinking and discussion we think they are talking about panther but we are nor sure, they may speak english here but its not that easy to understand.
“This is a great place because no one is here”
What a day! Im not sure where or how to start. Anyway, we woke up to blue sky and around 0 degrees. A little bit to warm but the snow was still cold, light and fluffy and our guide Rajad as we used yesterday gave us another tour through the forest, this time towards Barbareshi. This was even better than yesterday with long nice runs together with natural obstacles which made it look like a fun park, but all natural, really awesome!
Somewhere around lunch we had our first contact with the monkeys, we found a family of snow monkeys sitting in a tree, not really interested in us. After lunch which was another day with chicken soup which may be the best chicken soup I ever had but yikes, I’m starting to get tired of it now we decided to different ways. Max and our newly found friend William headed towards Tannmarg while me, Martin and Mats headed out to find some new lines. Took some pictures of some really bad as birds (eagles I guess) and tried to check how deep the snow is. The last one failed though since our probes are only 265cm long and the snow is much deeper than that.
After random walked around we met two soldiers which we started to talk with and it all ends up with we get invited to the regiment. A guided tour which ends with the classic cup of tea together with the man who invited us and once inside I notice the three golden stars on his collar, that he has his own butler and yea…I guess he was a hot shot. We never got to shoot any AK but still this is odd, at least.
Back home at the hotel neither Max or Williams was back from their run but since they were two and had a guide we never got worried until our hotel manager came up to our room and told us that there was a riot in Tennmarg. Our friends had in some sort of weird way escaped from the mob and hided back at their guides place. We were of course glad that they were safe and laughed about it but it was not until they got back home we heard the full story.
Some stupid tourist had put a sticker on his snowboard with a quote from the koran. Someone saw this and took a picture of it with his cell phone and it started to get spread around the area, of course it ended up with some fanatics who decided that it a sticker on a snowboard is the same as stamping on the koran. Of course that means that they should kill all the tourists. I cant really say that I understand their logic or anything but a riot is a riot and the police has now arrested and expelled the guy with the sticker, more for his own security but I think its also a way to calm down the people. For our security the military has given us the recommendation to not leave our hotel.
We are living in a weird world but even if I’m right now is only a few clicks from a full scale riot and have somewhere around 1500 hardcore soldiers everything feels good and I feel both safe and secure.
“If you need anything in Kashmir you talk to me, except girls”
-Hotell manager, Zagheer Continental
This was probably one of the best ski days I ever had. Blue sky, a bright shining sun which burned my nose together with a huge mountain which is filled with champagne powder. Each run is not that long, maybe a click or two but we start at an altitude of 4000m above the sea. My body has started to get used to the thin air and it was just awesome. No matter who you looked at everybody was so stoked and you could see that in their eyes and smile, just pure happiness. Or as someone on the mountain said, every run is like loosing my virginity again!
On the top of the mountain the only limits were your imagination, wide areas to narrow canyons and during one of the run me and Mats aimed for a canyon, it started steep and got steeper for every meter, at the same time it got more and more narrow and then you see the rocks and cliffs coming closer and closer at the same time as you know you cant stop and the speed is just increasing, then you know you are alive and god damn what I love it!The riots from yesterday has now reached Srinigar and they are doing the classic, throwing rocks at the police and lightning up cars. In Gulmarg were we are its much calmer and we really dont notice that though. The military has formed a nice ring around the village and no one is allowed to enter and if you want to leave you have to ask for permission and they will give you military escort, just in case. We are enjoying life to much to bother though but I guess I can start to understand why the Swedish government doesn’t recommend anyone to go here. I would say that its totally worth the risk!
“I have rethinked, lets skip the nice lines and go big instead”
-Max is thinking of how to attract sponsors
Today we had bad weather so we decided to relax today, we had like 2dm of new fresh powder but compared with yesterdays blue bird and awesome condition it felt like a good day to chill. So instead of describing me doing nothing I will try to describe how it looks like and where we actually are.
Gulmarg is a small ski resort with one gondola (well it has two parts), a couple of hotels, a small tiny market, a high altitude warfare school and pretty much zero permanent citizens. The village is located 2700m above the sea level and from the village you can go either up on the mountain using the gondola or down the mountain through the woods to other small villages like Tennmarg. Gulmarg is more or less at the border to Pakistan and because of this everybody except the tourist and those working at the hotels leave Gulmarg when the sun goes down. Its about 50km to Srinigar which is the state capital of Kashmir and the state might be most recognize because of the fight between India and Pakistan about the area. To complicate the situation China claims Kashmir too and there do exist a guerrilla who fights for independence. Overall its a mess and most western government recommends that you don’t go here but in my point of view, use your common sense, be aware of whats happening around you and you will find one of the best skiing ever.
We are living at a newly built hotel (built 2007) called Zagheer Continental. Is has central heating and both shower and toilet of western standard however do not expect it to be like a hotel in Europe. Even if the hotel is only two years old it has water damage pretty much everywehere and every time the floor gets wet in the shower you get small electric shocks when you touch anything metal (like the knobs for shower). The windows are single glas and we use some sort of plastic cover to try to keep the heat inside. Central heating is nice however we loose electricity on daily basis and it gets cold pretty quick. In other words it not a luxery life style but compared with the other hotels we have a high standard, and the price for that is after some hassling and dealing €20/night for a double room including breakfast and dinner.
The area outside the hotel is big open spaces with some small hills, a couple of trees where the monkey lives and we got a nice view over the market and military school from our hotel, to the gondola its around 1km walk but with ski boots we use taxi or let the hotel drive us there.
-the standard welcome phrase
The snow is still dumping and the gondola is closed. So instead of going up the mountain we aimed for a photo and video session close to the army compound. Yesterday we looked for sweet lines to take, today we took em. Pillows and bumbs, small drops all lined up so beautiful and that we just couldn’t stop smiling. More than one crash might occurred but the snow was deep so that wasnt any problem and the camera caught everything, even my faceplant in an attempt to make a frontflip. It was a good idea however then I tried to stamp off to get into a spin I just fell through the snow and wel, the rotation wasnt really started and well, I came a half lap and landed straight at my nose. After a chicken soup to lunch Max and Martin started to feel ill so they went back to the hotel to rest while we other went back and did some more riding, hopefully its just lack of water and food which makes them feel but but I guess they will see that tomorrow.
We also took a trip down to the local ski shop here in Gulmarg. To be honest I didn’t really had any expectations on stuff to buy there but I must confess I am impressed. They had really nice stuff and everything from Pieps transponders to modern and good snow shoes and of course, modern skis. It feels really good that they try to keep up as a modern ski resort but the gondola has only been open 3 of 10 days so far so I guess thet have some working to do before they can compete with the alps.
Back at our hotel we more or less have become friends with the staff. Its our ordinary routine now that once we get back from skiing we sit down in the lobby, have some tea, smoke some cigarettes and have a talk together with the hotel staff. They want just like any other local here buy whatever we have and it feels kind a weird that when they ask to buy your snowboard you know that the price on that board back home costs pretty much what they earn in a year. Today they even prepared a special meal for us, mutton! So far we only been eating chicken so this was a real nice change,
“Where is tackla?”
– Our guide has given me a nickname
The gondala is still closed so we went scouting and found an old hotel, totally bombed during the war so it was more or less only ruins left of the hotel. With plenty of snow on the ruins and the hotel built in a slope it felt like a perfect ghetto photo session. The hotel is the oldest hotel in Gulmarg but since it was Hindi it was bombed during the war between India and Pakistan which is a shame. But at the same time it created a huge playground for us so we were happy anyway. We started climbing which was easier to say than to do but finally we succeed to get up to the third floor and while we were climbing and swearing Mats prepared the cameras, flashes and I don’t know all the stuff.
Anyway, I drop out and several meters below I touchdown in what I thought was a slope but no, the snow was so light and fluffy that I continued to fall just straight through it and instead of an easy drop from the third floor to a nice slope I dropped to flat and I both feel and hear my knee crack. Back at the hotel my knee now has double the size of the other knee and in a desperate attempt to stop it from swollen even more Im having a diet of pills and prayers to all gods I know that my ligaments are ok.
On the evening I limped up to Pine Palace and ordered in some smuggle beer to drown my sorrows. Two beers later and I was drunk and it was little bit fun that on the can it was a warning text, “For military use only” and they estimated it to be somewhere around 5 and 8%. After some beers my knee didn’t hurt that bad anymore so hopefully its good tomorrow!
“Sometimes its magic, sometimes its tragic”
– Mark Abma
Mu knee is still twice the size of ordinary but I cant see any bruises and it doesn’t hurt then you press on it so I assume its good a good sign. It still hurts like hell then I try to use it though so me and our hotel manager took the car and drove to a pharmacy to get some medicine. I tried to explain for the clerk what I needed and he gave me a package of something. I looked at the box and the only word I understood was paracetamol which I already had back at the hotel. My response was of course no no, I need something much stronger and at that time our hotel manager started to talk to the clerk in kashmiri. I didn’t understood a word but after a while I got a new package of something and this time I dont recognize a word. Since I was at the pharmacy I also bought some cough drops since Martin got a nasty cough which just don’t wanna give up.
Back at the hotel I realize that I have no idea what kind of doze I should take, I try to read on the box but nothing so I assume its standard, two pills three times a day. Not a good idea! Two pills gave me a huge smile and I saw pink elephants in the hotel room and Martin who kind a improvised with his medicine saw flying dogs, I guess todays lesson is to start in small dozes and then raise if needed.
Pretty bored after a day at the hotel we spent the evening at Hotel Globe and a one pice party. Ski bums from all around the world partying just like they do back home which means a lot of beer, vodka and haschish. It was kind a fun to see the russian guys and girl go crazy with their vodka but me who had my stomach filled with some unknown pills choose to only drink water and I went home pretty early.
“I drink to you”
-Nick introducing us to a russian drining game
Today is a happy day! Then I woke up today I realized that my swollen knee finally has started to calm down, its not good but hey, its on the right way! Just to be sure I will continue to rest and eat my pills and since the rest of the guys had a hangover I had company today the whole day. Instead of spending our day at our hotel we went to Pine Palace who has wifi and today it actually worked to, amazing! During our tea drinking and emailing and chit chatting a guy came over and asked if he could ask us some question.
We don’t have any problems with that and of course we try to help if we can but of curiosity we asked who he was and it was BBC who were interviewing us. Pretty neat but we realized afterwards that we sounds like hippies and buzzwords like stoked were maybe a bit to common, maybe I can blame my pills? Anyway it will be really interesting to read that article but Im afraid it will be about those two hippie vikings from Sweden.
On our way home we found a pizza place, that is just pure happiness. Back home I dont think we would even finish the pizzas but today it was like a gift from god and a huge boost of morale. We took a taxi back from the pizza place and that turned out to be one of the worst experience ever, 70km/h on snowy, icy roads with no airbags or seat belts. If anyone else had been driving on that road at that time we had died for sure but we got back home in one piece and we could relax again. Not for long though because now we are looking for duct tape for tomorrow I aim for snowboarding again. I just cant sit back home anymore.
“Oh my god, pizza *drool*”
-4st hungry swedes
After the last days heavy snowing we woke up stoked for skiing under a blue sky and shining sun. We literally flew out of bed and had hardly time for breakfast before we headed out to the gondola to verify if my knee works and hopefully get some marvelous powder. The first part of the gondola was no problem but we were fooled, the second part was closed because of avalanche warning. It doesn’t work like in normal western ski resorts here where they have huge organizations trying to minimize the danger of avalanches. Instead there are a few persons who voluntary work here with it but because of the political situation they are now allowed to have explosives and therefore must ask the military for help every time they want to trigger an avalanche. Everything takes a lot of time here and all you can do is wait.
Meanwhile we took a really bad ride down the first part, somehow we ended up at a flat part so we had to walk a bit but the good part is that we now know that my knee works, both for easy riding and for walking around in deep snow.
Back on the middle station we had some tea, mingled with ski bums and waited and finally we heard some explosions but no avalanches so everybody started to get really stoked, it looks like we get some riding today. However at the same time they started to let people on board the gondola they did a last manual test on critical parts and yes, the snow started to roll down the mountain and it grow bigger and bigger. No one got hurt in the avalanche which was a really big one. We were standing a couple of hundred meters from it and it was really impressive to both hear it, see it and feel it. Its hard to imaging how strong powers there actually are involved.
Of course it was out of the question to open the gondola now but we had a really beautiful day on the mountain at least and we did verify that my knee is holding together, duct tape is the shit.
“I’m starting to get tired of Family Guy”
– Martin after 13 days of only Family Guy”
A bright shining sun, gondola who took us all they way up to the top and our day was made. Fast as I dont know what we headed out and view over the Kashmiri valley and all the untouched snow was just pure magic. We are somewhere around 50-100 tourist here in total and we got a whole mountain just for ourselves. As long as the gondola is running you have unlimited numbers of lines to choose between and there is no fighting over finding untouched snow.
The only sound you hear is when the snowboard cut through the snow, the champagne light snow is flying through the air and every turn is creating a wall of snow behind you. The feeling is a mixture of floating and flying, weightless surfing down the mountain might be the best description. All I can say is that it was the best riding I ever done! We just had time for three rides today which say something about the length of each ride. My knee is holding up, its not good but with duct tape and some unknown but it works and I guess I will visit a doctor once I get back to Sweden, if not for my knee I guess I need a knew liver because of all my pills.
After an completely awesome day we took after ski at Pine Palace. With the biggest smiles ever we celebrated with some smuggle beers and after two we were drunk. Max took it one step further and took a whiskey too and his status we shall not even speak about however it was the worst english I ever head. Drinking does not make you better in a foreign language, now we have proof
“Hi, Can i call you…taxi?”
-Max order a taxi
Woke up today and it kind a felt like Ive been run over by a truck so even if its blue bird and tons of snow outside I decided to stay in the bed and just rest. Well it was a good plan but after a couple of hours I got restless and went down to the market to get me some candy.
Well, some candy might be to reduce it a little because when I was finished I walked away with
4 bags of crisp
2 bags of munchies (don’t you just love the name?)
2 bags of cookies
The price for this? 150 rupees which is somewhere around 30 swedish kronor or €3, a nice price for gluttony!
Today we mounted the snow shoes and decided to climb the peak. Even if we have lived at 2000m and skied on 3000m above the sea level for almost three weeks now it was really heave to climb the last few meters to reach the peak at 4250m above the sea level. The thought that I should stop smoking hit me once or twice on the way up but once I reached the top all thoughts just disappeared and I could only focus on the beautiful view. We had Pakistan on one side, Kashmir valley on the other and pretty much all around you you can see Himalayan peaks, amazing.
Johan and Fredik, two other swedes we met down here took each a monster run along the “shark fin”, a nice 50-55° slope, completely untouched. It looked totally amazing however we were not interested in another walk up again so we only looked and decided to go down on the same side as the gondola. A kind a bad decision because the sun had melted the sun and then it had freeze again which created a crust from hell. It was weird, hard and not really fun to ski through.
Spent another night at Pine Palace drinking tea and had a lecture from the local, voluntary ski patrol regarding avalanches. Except classic avalanche knowledge they also talked about the local condition and showed pictures from the avalanche we had a couple of days a ago. Really interesting and by some reason I think its a good idea to try to keep up before you have to use your knowledge for real.
Fredrik leaved Gulmarg today so we caught the moment and skipped skiing and took a ride into Srinigar instead. One reason was to leave Fredrik at the airport but maybe mostly because we wanted to see the capitol of Kashmir. Well, thats not exactly true because Srinigar is the capitol only during summer, during winter the capitol is Jammu and dont ask me why they have a setup like that. The size of the population in Srinigar is like Stockholm, 1.5 million but that is the only resemblance. The city is located in the Kashmir valley and no matter which direction you look at you will see huge mountains around the city. In the city center you have a big lake which is partly filled with house boats which makes the city looks like a part of Venice with the canals. Even if everything is floating they have built gardens, have some stores and they have pretty much everything they need, just a few paddles away.
We rented a taxi boat which just drove us around and let us look at the city, with a shining sun and around 20 degrees I must say it was really relaxing to hear the boat travel through the water, hear the birds and just enjoy the sun. The most surprising was the water quality though, the water looked really clean and even if i wouldn’t take a swim here it it looked clean even if they were throwing their garbage just everywhere, according to our guide the water is good enough to drink but nah, I wouldn’t do that for all gold in the world.
Walking around in the city my first thought is how dirty everything is, they throw they garbage right where they are and then it gets to much garbage on the street they pour some gasoline and light it on fire. Cows and goats are walking around in the city and everywhere you see both heavy armed police and soldiers with machine guns and armed cards. In other words you will get the feeling that its a bit uneasy area. As we were in the city we decided to go the pharmacy and stash up, pain killers, cough drops, antibiotics…you name it and we could buy everything, so nice to not have to go to a doctor to get a prescription first.
On our way home to Gulmarg our driver asked if we wanted to stop for a cup of tea. Well why not and it ended that we got invited to a cup of tea at a friends house to the driver. You could really feel that this is not a tourist area because we stirred up quite a fuss. The whole mountain village stopped and everybody wanted to say hello to us and the kids were kind a both scared and curious about us, after some time one the kids decided to be brave enough to pinch us, just to verify that we were real. Alot of tea, cookies and with new friends we said good bye and continued towards Gulmarg, the sun had started to go down and it was dark but it was when we saw it.
On the small road halway up the mountain after an 180 degrees curve our driver hit the breaks hard and we see a huge cat sitting on the middle of the road, with a huge long fluffy tail. Unfortunately the cat got just as scared as us and he took a majestic jump over the snow walls and into the dark surroundings. I never ever thought I would see a snow leapord in the wild and I don’t think I ever will forget the image of those gigantic paws, the long tail and majestic posture.
“Sri-Lanka, aint that dangerous?”
-Max talking about where to go next
Blue sky, shining sun and really warm outside so we decided to take another relaxed day on Pine Palace. A lot of tea, sandwiches and doing some actually work with Mats and Matx stuff for the Swedish Radio. After plenty of struggling we also found out why this website has been offline for a while and of course its was my ISP Bredbandsbolaget who had problems and trying to fix that from a remote country, in the middle of nowhere is easier said then done but somehow I managed to get it to work.
You can really tell that it starts to get close to the end of february, the days are getting warmer and warmer for everyday which unfortunately gives us pretty bad snow condition. Well bad, its probably better snow here right now then what I ever seen in Sweden but still you get spoiled but we are holding our thumbs for some new, fresh snow tomorrow. At Pine Palace we met a couple of Estonian people who after a while offered to share their hookah and well, it didnt smell like haschish like everything else do here, and the flavor was pretty standard but KABOOM, suddenly we were totally wasted for a couple of hours. I have no idea what they prepared that pipe with but it did its work, a bit scary in the beginning but after some hours, a pizza and alot of coke we started to feel like people again,
Many hours later when we arrived back to our hotel the staff was all crazy, apperently they been nervous about us since we never came back from skiing as we used to once the gondola closed. Everybody was happy though that we came back alive and nothing happends except maybe the chef. He had made a huge dinner that none of us wanted since we had pizza in our stomach.
“Hashish is widely available at the hotel”
Woke up late today since the weather forecast has been telling us that today it will snow (which means closed gondola). Martin wakes up pretty much at the same time so we chatting some before we decide to get up and then suddenly I feel that the bed starts to vibrate. I belive that its Martin who makes one of the biggest farts on earth but my laugh stops as soon as I realize that now the whole hotel is shaking. It ends as fast as it started though and no damages to us or our hotel, well our roof cracked but it could be worse and Im really glad I was not on the top of the mountain during the earthquake. I guess it may have triggered both one or two avalanches.
Looking out we saw the forecast was correct and once again we are snowed in Gulmarg. The gondola is closed and we cant leave the village because of all snow. Instead we decided to climb Monkey Hill which are a hill in the size of the Ski resorts in southern Sweden. In other word not very big but tight forest and pretty steep which makes it really fun and since you can use the tree trunk as playground its more like a slopestyle course than anything else. The name is of course because the whole hill is populated by snow monkeys but today they had hidden themselves from the snow storm so we didn’t saw any.I think monkey hill is an awesome place if you have the right equipment. My snowboard is built for big mountains and demands pretty much speed before you can control it in an easy way, that is not easy in a tight forest but Martin did some awesome runs between the trees like it was a walk in the park,
“Have you seen Niklas?”
-Martin searches for our house monkey we named Niklas
Something terrible has happen and we all are in a shock. The last time we saw Niklas (our house monkey) was 10 February and like a coinsidence it what the same day we had meat. Since then our monkey has been lost and we only been served chicken. Today we had to ask the hotel staff and yes, Niklas is dead and even if we never got an real answer he is probably eaten by some hungry swedes. I am so sorry and Niklas may you rest in peace!
Today Max and Mats decided to give up skiiing and move on. The weather forecast estimates another snowstorm and our discussions had going on if we should stay to take some last days skiing, if we should travel around India a bit or go to Sri lanka for some surfing before its time to head back home to Sweden. A couple of beers later we decided that me, Martin and Johan stays in Gulmarg for hopefully some magical last days of skiing while Max and Mats travel to Sri Lanka for some surfing. It feels a bit sad to split up like this since we had a blast together and we wish them all luck with the surfing,
Back at the hotel our hotel manager ask us if we wanted to visit his home village for a cup of tea and just to see how the locals live. This is a honor and I dont know what to say more than I really looking forward and it will be so fun!
“Thank you, it was very pleasant”
-Max ttries to thanks for the food
The day started with Mats and Max leaving, they were planning of going to Sri Lanka but there is right now more or less civil war there so their plan is to head to New Dehli first and from there improvise. After the classic chat about a reunion once we get back to Sweden they left and me and Martin headed to market for some shopping.
After we bought a lot of candy and we strolled around at the market and found one of the coolest jewel stores ever. The shop owner invited us into his store which more or less was just a shack, max 2 square meters but it was pretty nice inside and of course he offered us some tea. He was quite funny and we talked, watched jewelery and drank tea when he suddenly started to roll up a spliff. Thats a weird situation but we keep cool and when he noticed that we finished our tea he used a broom stick to slam on the roof. Apparently he has his family or something on the second floor because we heard how someone or something started to move above us and after a minute or two we had new, fresh tea again. I don’t think I ever spent so much in a jewelery store but after some bargaining I bought a necklace and Martin bought two. He also asked us if we wanted to buy some hashish, and he was talking about kilos here. He suggested that we hide it in chess board and Buddha statues and offered us to buy on credit, my thoughts about the Swedish toll is a bit higher than that though so we friendly but confirmedly said thank you but no thanks,.
We continued over to next store and bought some scarfs of kashmir wool, Martin was a big spender and also bought a hat and a hoodie, myself is more thinking of if I should buy a close fitted Kashmir wool hoodie, that would be pretty cool.
“I dont like papers so this is a gift for you”
– Store owner gives us gifts
Today was the day that we were invited to our hotel manager but we started the day with some skiing of course. We got some really nice rides down the mountain towards Barbareshi and after this we headed out. Unfortantly I cant remember the village name but we drove past rice fields, through small villages, deep down into valleys and past high peaks. We drove passed military outposts, polices, schools, mosques and small streams which during spring will be ten times as big. Once we got a little bit lower on the mountain we saw apple farms and it was quite a view to see them stretch up the mountain sides. Both me and Martin was stunned by the beauty and this was during winter, I really cant imaging how beautiful it must be here during spring when everything is green.
We did see some not so fun stuff too, during 2005 a huge earthquake hit the area and a lot of people died and lost the houses and everything else. This was four years ago but we still see houses witch collapsed during the earthquake, sides of the mountain who have collapsed and in more or less every village we passed we saw excavators trying to build drainage channels around the villages.
Our host was one of those who lost his house in the earthquake and had to build a new one. His house is built by brick walls with some wood plank and the insulation was non existent, well they used carpets to try to keep the heat inside. This would not even be used as a garage for cars back in Sweden but here the whole family lives and even if its under harsh condition they are really happy and glad for what they have. It makes you think if our must-buy-new-stuff-all-the-time society really is the best?
After a long and nice break with talking to the whole family we took a walk in the village and ended up in the local mosque. It was really nice and even if we had some riots in the past everybody was friendly and we had a long chat with there Iman about the riots, politics in general and of course differences between Sweden and Kashmir.
Thes sun started to set and we headed home completely exhausted of todays impression. The higher up on the mountain we drove the more it snowed and just a couple of hundred meters from the hotel we were stuck, not even the snow chains helped in this case but lucky for us it was an simple walk to get back to the hotel.
“Welcome to Kashmire – Paradise on Earth”
– Kashmir´s slogan, jag instämmer
With big expectations after the heavy snowfall during the night I strapped my snowboard and dropped in but what a…
The sun is shining and we are pretty long south so its really warm, even if it snowed the whole night the snow becomes wet and heavy. The good part with this is that the different layers melt together but the boring part beside that its really heavy to ride in is that the snow gets so heavy that the risk for block avalanches rises big time. To ski on the sun side during the afternoon is out of the question and I actually had a experience earlier today which I never had before while snowboarding;
On my way to turn down into a tiny canyon I had to do a sharp turn and then straight line through the canyon, this sharp turn throw up alot of snow and that snow chased me down the canyon and normally thats not a problem. However this time it was like someone added a couple of kg cement on my board and it just went to heavy to turn around, however then we snow stopped I stopped and it was digging hard time to be able to get free so i could continue to ride. I am really glad it happen while I was riding in the forest where the snow kind a binds to the tree and it was no real danger for me, imaging this in the high zone where you get much bigger block of snow, you are screwed!
We also tried the community service today, in classic indian style we took the bus and since the bus was full we were referred to sit on the roof. We were sitting on the roof, people were hanging on the side of the bus and it was chaotic and just like in the movies. It was crazy but at the same time really fun to say that we done it and we can check it from my bucket list.
In Srinigar it was another riot today. We starts to get used to burning cars, stone throwing people and really didn’t care much but at least it wasn’t a tourist who started it this time. Instead it was two youngsters who were members in the kashmir independence guerrilla who open fired towards soldiers. They returned fire of course and it ended with two dead 17 year old guerrilla members and a full scale riot about police brutality.
“It doesn’t matter what you do here, everything is an adventure”
-Martin on the bus
The gondola finally open up again and we once more could enjoy the amazing view over Himalaya, try to breath in the thin air but most important, get some high quality skiing, The snow could be much better since its warm and like a slurpy but we didn’t care. We just enjoyed to 100% of our last day of skiing on this trip. On creepy thing happen though, i was on my way down a canyon when I hear a loudly crack and I see how a large crack through the snow. Luckily for me it stayed to just be a crack but it was enough to rise my pulse and it didnt took many seconds for me to move from the canyon up to my safepoint. It would be a bad way to end the vacation but yea, no problem so far.
Late afternoon and we are back at the hotel when suddently the hotel staff more or less kick in our door yelling “sir sir, come outside, monkeys!” and yes..they were correct. The whole area outside and around the hotel was filled with snow monkeys in all kind of sizes, some fat, some thin, some old and some newly born. We took so many pictures of them and laughed at the monkeys and the hotel staff laughed at us. I cant imaging a better way to spend my last day in Kashmir.
During our classic evening tea we started to discuss wild animals and the hotel manager didnt belive us when we told him we dont have any monkeys in Sweden. After we tried convince him for a while he started to ask about tigers and leopards, we told him that we have some bears and mooses but I dont think he belived us. In short, Sweden wildlife is boring compared to this!
“But you do have tigers or leopards?”
-Hotel manager ask about the Swedish wildlife
We took an early breakfast today to be able to say good bye to Johan who left today. Once he left we headed back to our room and started to pack our stuff. Its crazy how much stuff we brought with us and after a while some indian guys came over. We met them a couple of days ago and they were interested in buying my snowboard but if I knew the culture here with all the bargain, cursing and everything I would never sold it. Now it was just to play along and finally we agreed to a price of €250, thats a really good price for them and for me? Well I more or less got the board for free and now I dont have to carry with me back home so win win I would say,
Next stop was the market, I finally decided to get my fit sized hoodie, even more candy and of course we had to walk past the jewelery store to pickup my necklace. This guy was even more crazy today and he offered us tea and non stop talking and smoking. Then he started to talk about looking into the sun to become a new person who doesn’t need to eat and can see the future I kind a stopped listening to him but the necklace is nice and I got his business card if anyone want to get in contact with him.
We also got invited over on a evening tea at the tailor, he told us that he was running a family company funded 1953 and they were using more or less any material you can think of, I saw one huge fur-coat which I think was made of fox (not sure though) and with that you will survive another ice age. In the middle of our discussion about how to make the perfect kahwah the local Imam came by and suddenly the topic changed to what the thought about Kashmir which by best description is paradise.
We ended the night with giving away pretty much as much as possible of the stuff we dont want/need anymore. Hats, T-shirts, shovel…everything goes as presents to the hotel staff and they are really happy about it. The also paid our hotel, one month on a hotel including breakfast and dinner ended up at €300, that is crazy cheap!
“You tip 760 rupies?”
-Surprised hotel manager
Thank you and goodbye Gulmarg. With an tear in our eye we took the taxi towards the airport in Srinigar. On the way we picked up our tailors son who we offered to tag along to Srinigar since he was going in school there. As thanks we were invited to their house on some tea and biscuits and I guess the tailoring is going well. The house had almost Swedish standard and in the garden there were around 200 apple trees, apparently they have a little side business with apples.
The flight to New Dehli went well and four security controls later we could actually walk out on the runway, point on which is my luggage and then board the lane. Wise from our earlier experience we this time took a prepaid taxi. A lot cheaper but we got a driver who didn’t speak english or found his way to Janpath but finally we arrived to our contact person in Janpath. We got two options, basic cheap hotel or a little bit more luxurious. Of course we took the second one and it turned out to be like the hotel in the beginning of the movie “The Beach”.
The room was a square with the same size as the bed, the walls war not all the way up to the roof so you could talk to your neighbor, no air condition or anything like that but at least a fan, which worked sometimes. Well we didn’t pay much for the hotel but it sure makes you wonder how the cheap hotel is if this is luxury
Walking around in the Janpath district we found a TGIF restaurant. Four weeks of eating chicken and rice made us drooling zombies when we saw the menu of hamburgers, ribs, beer and when we ordered a plate of bacon and two mojitos each as a starter our plan to check out the night life started to come along. A tuk tuk later and we were on our way. Im not really sure where we were but I know we drove by the US embassy. Once we arrived we couldn’t pay our tuk tuk because we had to big bills, a bit drunk and since its not really any cash for us we gave him the smallest bill we had and told him that he could drive us back home later tonight. We entered the club and even if we were the only white people there it was really nice and several hours later when we finally decided to leave our tuk tuk driver was outside looking for us. He had promised to drive us back and been looking for us for a long time, that is what i call service mind!
“I waited for you”
-Tuk tuk chaffis
Woke up by the phone ringing, “Your driver is here”. Oh yea right, we booked a tour to Taj Mahal to see one of the wonders of the world, to bad we are still drunk though. Its like 200km from Neh Dehli to Agra, highway all the way but still it took five hours to drive there and yes, it took a while before we started to enjoy the drive
To preserve Taj Mahal as much as possible car traffic is forbidden close by so from the area you can choose between walk, horseback riding, camel riding. The place is packed with snake charmers and people who try to sell stuff to you and if you think this is a tourist trap you are absolutely right. However as soon as you get into the area is much calmer and you can enjoy this stunning place. This place is just as big as crazy but if you have plenty of money, 10 years and somewhere around 20 000 slaves you could build your own Taj Mahal.
In Agra we also visited some jewel stores, markets and restaurants, a small mistake that we ordered food before we checked if we had any money. Not a problem, I walk to an ATM while Martin waits at the resturant but it wasn’t that easy. The closest ATM was far away so our guide borrowed a motorbike and drove me there. Clearly an interesting experience since we drove pretty much everywhere except where we were supposed to drive.
“In India, we don’t care about traffic rules”
-The guide who drives me on a motobike