Feb 8 – Arrived late last night in Kashmir and yes, they think it is another country! Had to go thru a very informal customs upon arrival at Srinigar airport. A kid, no older than 17, in plain clothes took all my info, including my father’s name (why do they always want to know the father’s name? Give some props to the moms!), and then with a smile he sent me on to my merry way out of the airport.
In Srinigar the touts were in full effect. The taxi drivers range from guys in 4×4 trucks to poor Indians in 1970s Ambassador taxis who are willing to climb a Himalayan mountain for you for the right price. My tour guide, Bashir, greeted me at the airport with a smile and a hug. He spoke very good English and led us to a Land Rover type vehicle with two wheel drive. After strapping on my luggage to the roof and picking up two very athletic Finnish men, we started the long journey up the swirly roads to the Gulmarg high in the Himalayas.
The first thing I noticed were the men with guns. A lot of men with guns. Everywhere I looked most people were packing heat. Eighty percent of them were in white military marching boots, camo pants, a very warm jacket, and some form of very silly looking hats that keep the warm. After a while I got used to them, and then I began to regard them as safekeepers (similar to what I did in Bosnia). If you have guns everywhere then those who are not allowed to have guns respect those who do. Sad but true.
After we arrived at my hotel, the staff of no less than 5 men bent over backwards to make sure all my needs were taken care of. Room service, towel service, one guy even offered to give me a massage. All of that didn’t take away from the lack of hot water (I have learned that 7 am is the magic hour). We are going thru the normal Kashmiri hiccups: power outages, Internet down, violent protests in the middle of the road (oh yes). But that’s not why I am here………………………….
The SNOW OF COURSE!!!! It was epic. In true Evan fashion, today was the first day that the upper part of the mountain was open and everyone here said that today was the best day of the season. With blue skies above, I hurtled myself down bowl after bowl of thigh deep powder on 30 minute runs. To my left Pakistan, in front of me the monster that is K2, and down below me nothing but bowls and bowls and bowls of pow pow. Oh did I mention that the gondola is so slow that you have the whole mountain to yourself. It is peaceful, intense, serene, and chaotic and I love it. Gotta run – off to yoga class.