Day 27 - Great day at Gulmarg
Trip Start Sep 29, 2009
51Trip End Mar 27, 2010
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Mentioned to Sohail during breakfast that I has going to try and go to Gulmarg for 1300Rs and he seemed genuinely shocked at the price and assumed it must be sharing. We'll find out soon enough...
Caught a tuk-tuk to the taxi rank and within 5 minutes I was in a Toyota Qualis (on my own) after negotiating a price of 1300Rs through a crowd of shouting and arguing drivers. I didn't like the look of my driver but he turned out to be fine.
Took us about 1.5hrs to get to Tenmarg where we picked up a guide called Shakeel, then drove to Gulmarg and the foot of the Kongdoori mountain. Shakeel appeared to be an honest guy, although he clearly didn't mind queue jumping. He got my cable car pass for the first half of the mountain and walked straight to the front of the queue of about 50 people waiting to get on
Anyway, we took the cable car up passing lots of forested areas on either side and catching glimpses of the snow covered peaks. At the halfway point, Shakeel got my pass for the second leg of the journey to take me to the top of the mountain. He stayed behind due to medical conditions.
I got into a car with two older couples from Mumbai. They were audibly excited to see what little snow there was on the mountain. For most Indians it would be the reason they come to areas like this rather than for trekking or skiing (in the winter).
At the top, there was still a rocky 300m or so to trek to the peak of Kongdoori so I headed up slowly. I could only walk for about 30m at a time before having to rest and catch my breath in the thin atmosphere. On the way, Indians were enjoying what little snow/ice there was and a few were riding a sledge over the short distance that was covered.
It was pretty hard going over the rocks and quite scary but definitely worth the effort.
Towards the top I heard a general announcement in Hindi from a loudspeaker to start heading back to the cable cars but I continued until I reached the top.
I seemed to be the only one there and enjoyed some amazing views of the adjacent mountain ranges. Looking back over Gulmarg there was a clear differentiation in the atmosphere where the brown fog ended and the blue sky above it with what I'm told was K2 peaking it's head over.
I headed back down towards the cable cars, happy that I was passing some people and wasn't the last one down
Headed back down to the halfway point with 2 army personnel carrying rifles, and met Shakeel who was waiting for me.
Had some chai and a snack and then headed to the bottom. Shakeel then took me on a 3km gentle trek through the forest (or jungle as he called it).
Surprisingly in winter it's quite common to spot Snow leopards in the forest. Shakeel said he had seen them about a hundred times! Also bears, deer, monkeys etc... but now isn't the time! I think I may have to come back in winter just for the Snow Leopard... to see a wild one would be amazing!
It was a nice walk through the trees on a route carved out by the British when they were here. We were the only ones on the trail and it was the first time in 6 years that Shakeel had been on it as there hasn't been too many foreign tourists and the Indians on holiday aren't interested in treks.
Got back to the jeep after at least spotting a few monkeys and had a quick chai before leaving. Said goodbye to Shakeel and took his number. Kashmir seems to be desperate for tourism as it is a main source of income for the locals. What appears to be slowing down the trade is the fact that international governments are not clearing the area as safe even though it is to the locals and other Indians and has been safe for the last few years.
Got my driver to drop me near home and after paying him headed to my local Internet Cafe happy in the knowledge I hadn't been ripped off today and organised all on my own.
Headed home a few hours later. Shankar seemed upset about something but said he was fine and wouldn't tell me when I asked.
Had dinner, no sign of laundry and couldn't see Ashraf... think he was avoiding me!