When some friends planned to go to Kashmir in December, I ruled it out without further thought. Freezing cold weather is not something that gets me excited. But as it happens, I found myself in Delhi reconsidering my initial reaction.
If traveling has taught me one thing, it is to get out of my comfort zone. And so, I find myself in Gulmarg on Chrismas eve.
Drive from Tangmarg to Gulmarg is quite a sight. The narrow road is walled by snow on both sides, and the valley offers views of snowcapped mountains in the distance. Pine trees are brushed with snow offering my first glimpse of winter Christmas.
We arrive at the central area but none of us are keen on getting down. It just seems too commercial. So we head further up to a quieter area, negotiate a budget hotel and turn up the heater. Temperature is expected to be -23C at night. We planned to step out at midnight. Silently I doubted if I will find the motivation to step out of the room.
But as the clock strikes 12, I am hyper excited and quickly put on 6 layers of clothing and lead the way. The ice laden entrance is tricky to navigate as we slowly make our way 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 am 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 finds 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 my sensible friends insist on returning to heater. The place is so enchanting that I find 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 makes tea for us even though we didn’t have money to pay immediately.
Slightly warmed up, we sit by and watch 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.