Sunday, March 22, 2009


Leaving Gulmarg was proving difficult as conditions were getting better through March, but by the 15th hardly anyone was left in town. Punished by nine straight days of riding I moved downhill to Srinagar with an eye on the forecast. As long as freezing levels remained low enough it was pretty certain that 18 inches of snow would be falling at G4 on Affarwat by the weekend. With spring bursting out in the rice paddies and mustard fields of the valley Srinagar was more appealing, more interesting, its conveniences were a welcome change, and the living was less expensive. At the best of times Gulmarg could be boring apres ski, but in mid-March it was a ghost town; the hustle and bustle of the city would be a sharp contrast to the everyday sameness of an empty resort village.

Rain at Dal Lake means snow uphill. Instead of being slopeside as I have been for 75 days, there is now a pretty good distance and several transfers between me and Gulmarg, plus the matter of locating my stored equipment in Tangmarg and re-mounting bindings to a snowboard before I can make any turns. Internet shows the 21st of March as the first day clear after the storm, but I've been burned too many times by the J&KCCC, so my plan is to roll for Gulmarg on the 22cd, leaving them a day to muck it up at the gondola. (Thanks to informed guesswork - the gondola remained closed on the 21st all day).

Getting off to an early start is key to making quick transfers at the depots in Srinagar and Tangmarg. The plan is to reach the gondola by 10:00 AM, and there's no reason to expect it open any earlier. Morning at Dal Lake is when the wholesale vegetable traders meet to exchange goods and money, so we swing by the wet market leaving the lakeside neighborhood for a city taxi stand. First a visit to the tea stall to fill the thermos. Buy some Kashmiri bread to fill the pit - "Only two piece, sir?"

A rickshaw will get you anywhere, but in this case, to the transportation depot west of town - Batmaloo, also the site of a large produce market, one of the most ancient in central Asia.

There's little point arriving before 8:00 AM on Sunday; far worse though, is not being in the first vehicle leaving for Tangmarg, then you have time to kill. These are share taxis - Sumo jeeps whose drivers expect to seat no less than 8 passengers, though 10 is the target. Buses are also available for the trip between Srinagar/Batmaloo and Tangmarg, but the savings in cost is little, the time lost to stops is tremendous. Batmaloo is enormous so make sure your rickshaw driver knows which area has your vehicles to your destination. Find a Sumo to Tangmarg at this corner by the Lala Restaurant.

From Tangmarg there are only two passengers in the one Sumo going to Gulmarg, but a bus is leaving directly, so I opt in. In late March the roads are fully clear, traffic is less, so the bus takes not much more time time than a Sumo. In winter taking the bus would be a suicide-mission for time-travel: you'd end up pushing the thing and arrive in Gulmarg after two hours. Army officer here is checking to make sure no one is packin' snowlerblades.

I'm looking at a long walk from the bus depot in Gulmarg to the gondola when Billa Bakshi arrives with a friend and offers me a ride to the hill on his Enfield 350. Tim gets there by foot I guess, but at what other "ski resort" on earth do 75% of its customers on a given day arrive by motorcycle?