When some friends planned to go to Kashmir in December, I ruled it out without further thought. Freezing cold weather has never been my idea of fun or holiday. But as it happens, I found myself in Delhi reconsidering my initial reaction.
If traveling has taught me one thing, it was to get out of my comfort zone. And so, I borrowed some warm clothes and jackets and headed to Gulmarg on Chrismas eve.
Drive from Tangmarg to Gulmarg was quite a sight and I already did’nt mind the cold. The narrow road walled by snow on both sides and snowcapped peaks make you croon the ýeh ishq hai. Pine trees are brushed with snow offering a first glimpse of winter Christmas.
We arrived at the central area but none of us were keen on getting down. It just seemed too commercial and in sync we said lets go further up. We got off in a more quieter area, negotiated a budget hotel and turned up the heater. Temperature is expected to be -23C at night, so one of the crazier ones suggested we should step out at midnight. Silently I doubted if I will find the motivation to step out of the room.
But as the clock struck 12, I was hyper excited and quickly put on 6 layers of clothing and lead the way. The ice laden entrance tricky to navigate, we almost glided onto the road.
The sight in front of us is straight out of a fairy tale. Snow covered mountains illuminated brightly by a full moon, tall pine trees in a perfect line, branches laden heavily with fresh snow, a clear sky filled with stars. It was an eerily quite night with just the four of us outside. This was the real Gulmarg, untouched by chaos of commercialization, tourism, pollution and so on, and we couldn’t have been more excited.
An hour later, I was still reluctant to return to the comfort of warmer four walls. In the distance, famous Shiva temple stands illuminated in orange glow. It is too hard to resist the urge to go. Just then, as though answering my prayers, one of them found a sledge lying unlocked. Like kids, we jump on excitedly and ride. As we reach the bottom, we find ourselves lying haphazardly on the snow laughing hysterically. Of course, when it’s so much fun, you don’t just ride once.
Slowly climbing up the ice laden steps, we reach the temple on the top. The panaroma is stunning. All we could do is stand still and admire the view and that is how we celebrated Christmas!
It was 2.30 am and I could have stayed outside all night, but somehow those around be more sensible than me for the first time ever insisted on returning to heater rather than die outside in cold. But it was so enchanting that I found myself waiting for sunrise. And so at 6.30, dragging a friend along, I am out of the door wrapped once again in 6 layers of clothes. A generous tea stall owner made tea for us spotting we were the only ones outside, even though we didn’t have money to pay immediately.
Slightly warmed up, we sat by and watched the slow transition of the valley from dawn to full sunrise.
When I decided to get out of my comfort zone, I had no idea it was going to be this rewarding.