I almost cancelled the trip this year; lot of things to be taken care of at home. But Mangal Ustaad, an acquaintance of mine in the Indian Army and an Instructor with JIM, persuaded me to visit. All he had to say was that the snow conditions this year were terrific and it seemed like a mouthwatering prospect to me. So I reasoned that a couple of weeks would do me no harm. I booked a flight to reach Srinagar on the 20th of Feb. I reached Srinagar at about 1/2 past noon. Surprise surprise, it was a statewide bandh. I was stranded at the exit gate of the Srinagar International Airport, with a few gentlemen who were on their way to JIM (Jawahar Institute of Mountain Sports). Stranded because there were incidents of locals pelting stones at vehicles on their way to Gulmarg, Anantnag etc. I hung around for an hour, thats about how long my patience lasts; spoke with a cab driver who was willing to drop me at Tangmarg (about 13 Km short of Gulmarg) for 1200 Rs. I asked the guys if they wanted to join me. A bandh, stone throwers enroute and a vehicle which didnt belong to the institute seemed like recipe for trouble to those poor guys. So we parted ways. The driver kept calling his other driver friends to inquire about the situation enroute. Fortunately, for the 2 hours that I was driving with him, there was not too much trouble along the way. I reached Tangmarg by 4 in the evening. I met a few foreigners who had skied down to Tangmarg earlier that day. I asked them if they would drop me at Gulmarg, and they agreed. I reached Gulmarg by 1/2 past 5 and stayed at Bakshis for the first couple of days. I would advise folks to stay away from this place, unless you are White. After two horrible days at Bakshis, I moved over to Yemberzaal, my favorite hotel in Gulmarg. Perhaps the only good thing about the first two days, was skiing on the highland slope in the village. I always spend a couple of days skiing in the resort before venturing in to the mountains. Although the technique for skiing off piste is quite different than what one would use on a beaten track, its the confidence factor that counts. A few days in the resort does a world of good to ones confidence.
I was using Dynastar Legend this year. Good all purpose skis. After I continued skiing at Highland and 85 slope for a couple more days after moving out of Bakshis. By the fifth day I was feeling pretty good about going to the mountains. I was planning on doing a couple of downhill runs from Merry shoulder, but the chair lift was under maintenance. Therefore the only two options left for me were to go to the top of Afarwat or to ski down from Kongdoori (also known as phase 1). I chose the former. The run from the top of Afarwat to Kongdoori was pretty nasty. Had a couple of mighty falls, but since the limbs were in their respective places, I continued skiing after a brief inspection of my equipment. The rest of that day was spent skiing down from Kongdoori to G1 (point where the Gondola service begins - quite near the resort). I must have done may be 10 runs, since the Gondola was up all day.
The following day, I came back to the mountain. I was not keen on going to the top. I wanted to explore new routes between Kongdoori and G1. After may be 4 rounds, on my way up towards Kongdoori in the Gondola, I met with a chap who called himself Hem. He offered me some water since I was thirsty and had somehow managed to empty my water bladder. It turned out that he was an officer in the Army, posted at the HAWS. The two of us hit it off rightaway. He told me that he belonged to the 108 NDA course. I told him about my brief visit to the NDA in 2001. We did about a dozen rounds together. After a few hours on the mountain, we decided to call it quits. Hem was kind enough to drop me at my Hotel and he even invited me to HAWS before leaving Gulmarg.
After a couple of weeks, it was time to head back home. These two weeks were the best of all times I have visited this beautiful place in the past. The day before leaving Gulmarg, I called on Hem. It was a sunday and he was busy with a demonstration in his unit. I met with a few of his fellow officers. Ben, Boro and Chandra. All fine gentlemen, as one would expect of an officer. After a drink with the boys, I thought it apt to return to the hotel and begin packing for the flight the following day. The skiing experience was excessively satisfying this year. The piste conditions in the resort were splendid. Off piste skiing was brilliant. Unfortunately, the only thing this year that was consistent with the past was the unrest. On my way back, there were blockades, because a guy called Afzal Guru had been hanged and the locals felt that that was reason enough to smash windows of vehicles transporting innocent tourists. I was traveling with 4 foreigners who were quite anxious since we got into the cab. I assured them that we would reach unharmed at the airport. We were held up at Tangmarg for a while but were mobile in about 15 minutes. I noticed an army convoy and asked the driver to stay with the army. In a couple of hours we reached the airport. I reached Chennai by 11 in the night.