Ponderings – Paradise Revisited

Paradise revisited
 
J Kamath returns to Gulmarg and is enamoured by the sights and sounds of the place, which was the favourite haunt of the Mogul Emperor Jehangir.
  Nov 13, 2005

 

A jumble of emotions twirled in my head as I boarded the bus at Srinagar’s Balmotta terminus, that was to take me to Gulmarg. I had visited this place nearly a decade and a half ago, and nourished intoxicating memories of it— tall trees that surely touched the sky, the delicious nip of the chill air, snowy peaks etched against the blue sky and the enduring warmth of the people. Would Gulmarg still be the pristine place where one yearns to return? Or would the intervening years have now reduced it to a seething eyesore by the quick buck kind of development that has affected many of its counterparts like Manali and Dalhousie?

Three days and many walks later, I realised that my worries were unfounded and Gulmarg still retains the reputation of a place where nature tries hard to please the wayward tourist. Gulmarg, located around 52 km away from Srinagar, was originally called Gaurimarg by the shepherds, and was the favourite haunt of the Mogul Emperor Jehangir, who came here to collect plants for his gardens.

Today, what drives most day tripping tourists from Srinagar, is the newly inaugurated cable car on the slopes of that majestic deodar covered mountain Apaharwat. And that’s where we headed. The serpentine queues at the ticket counters quite disheartened us as it threaded its way slowly, but what kept us from whining about it was the huge board near the entrance which announced that — when complete— this cable car would be the highest in the world! Eminently affordable, we found travelling on this to be an exhilarating experience; while the gondola lazily continues its upward journey. Sumptuous views of the valley gently unfold, like in one of those slow motion movie scenes.

After travelling for about four kilometres, the journey terminates on a huge plateau and tourists are permitted to spend some time here. The solemnity of the cable car suddenly gives way to a carnival like atmosphere with almost everybody being noisily delighted with their first glimpse of snow.

The following day we decided on a trek to Khilinmarg, which lay on the northern slopes of Apaharwat. It was a tough walk and had it been not for the phenomenal scenery, we would have retraced our steps for the comforts of our hotel. The grasslands quickly gave way to snow, but we kept prodding on with stoicism.

It took us well over four hours to complete the trek and the cold had taken its toll; we could feel our feet slowly ballooning in our shoes and the chatter in our teeth did not seem to stop at all, but our guide Adbul assured us that a sip from the local tea they call ‘noonchai’ is sure to make us feel warmer and lead the way to a tintop hotel. The pink concoction made from tea leaves, baking soda and salt took a while to get used to, but when it sank into our innards, the smiles returned.

Gulmarg’s claim to fame also rests on the Golf course, designed by the legendary Peter Thomson, and is believed to be one of the highest in the world. Their office is a heritage building in its own right too. The huge boulder strewn stream, that is visible from most viewpoints in Gulmarg, is the Ferozpur Nullah. The fish here is known to be a culinary favourite and it is every angler’s dream to try his luck in its turbulent waters.

As per the edict of the tourism authorities, the roofs of all buildings in Gulmarg have to be painted dark green— we found this to be a very practical decision as the concrete here effortlessly blends into the verdant landscape. The only exception to this rule is the temple of Hari Singh; of unknown antiquity and situated on a small hill, its solemn bells could be heard ringing all over the valley. And few metres away is the graveyard dedicated to all those brave English men and women who sought adventure and fortune in faraway lands; we were rather intrigued by a tombstone with inscriptions in chaste Sanskrit.

On our penultimate day here, Abdul suggested that we walk to his village Tangmarg about 13 kilometres away, as buses to Srinagar were far more frequent from there. Being downhill, it would not be a strain on our atrophied muscles and we were sure to enjoy the scenery. We eagerly accepted his offer and soon found ourselves gently dodging wispy mists amidst century old trees. And deep in one of these dark woods, we stumbled across the dargah of Baba Reshi, a sufi saint who inhabited this area a few centuries ago. We paid our respects to the great man and hoped that we would return. And local fore has it that Baba Reshi always answers the prayers of his devotees ….

FACT FILE

Accommodation: Hotel Highlands Park, Yemberza, Saheen and Zumzum.

Tip: It is advisable to hire a guide for the trek to Khilinmarg.

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