The journey began with an uncertainty of the flight almost being cancelled. Luckily it only got delayed by a few hours. Leaving Bangalore at 4am, we (my friend Monil and I) we reached Srinagar at 4pm. From Bangalore’s 35deg Celsius to Srinagar’s 4deg Celsius, it was a climate shock for me as I stepped out of the plane. When I switched on my phone I got no signal. On enquiring I was told that my SIM card would not work as it was not a Jammu & Kashmir SIM. Only local SIMs would work or postpaid outstation SIM. Now where do I find Monil (we both were in different flights)? The display board showed his flight would land in a few hours. So I decided to wait outside and make a phone call home. In a while Monil walked out. He said his plane had landed before mine and he was waiting for me inside.
We booked a cab to Tangmar and then we had to book another cab to Gulmarg which had chains on their wheels so that it would act as grips on the snow. The driver (I suspect laziness) did not put the chains on the wheels and the police caught him and took his car documents. Served him right! Without chains on the wheels the car was skidding on the bends which could have been very fatal. Our journey to Gulmarg from the airport was a very different experience. The road was pretty deserted with very few people on the roads. There were armed army men stationed at regular intervals. As we gradually climbed uphill to Gulmarg, the snow cover increased and the already scarce habitat decreased even more. The already cold climate got even colder. We were surrounded by trees and hills which were all covered in snow. Growing up in Darjeeling I had played with snow when it fell occasionally but still I had never seen so much snow in my life. When we reached our destination we were hungry and exhausted.
Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM) was to be my home for the next 15 days. They would provide me with food, shelter, equipments and training for a sum of Rs 12,000. We checked in, ate dinner (which was pretty good and maintained it consistency till the end) and called it a day.
The next day we were joined by three other people as roommates. A guy from Mumbai (Kartik) and a father (Satish) and son (Arun) also from Mumbai. The duo left in a few days due to the father’s backache and another two guys joined us the same afternoon (Raj and Rahul). They were late because of landslides on their way. The first day we got our equipments (skis, skiing shoes, gloves, ski sticks and goggles) and then headed to the market to make some necessary purchases. When you come to IISM, you learn two things; How to ski and how to sing. The latter happened at 7pm every evening. Every evening we would have to gather in the conference room and we would discuss what we learnt through the day, what we would do the next day and then some singing and dancing. The first day I was called to sing so I took Monil and Kartik along with me and we sang Washing Powder Nirma. Over the course of 14 days we also learnt about avalanches from one of our instructors and emergency trauma and Art of Living meditation from two fellow students.
Training started from the very first day. We learned about the skis and were taught how to wear and remove them. I never expected the boots to be that heavy. Each skiing boot definitely weighed more than a kilo. Though they were hard shelled on the outside and really soft and cushiony on the inside, they were very uncomfortable and hard to walk in. Unfortunately we had to wear them all day long and walk a kilometer every day in them. All the core work out I did before the trip didn’t come to much use as it was only later I learnt that we ski with our shins. And shin conditioning was the last thing on my mind. For the first 10 days there was perpetual shin aches and every evening I had to dip it in warm water and apply Volini.
First day on the slopes was more of a balancing act. Even though we were on a very gradual incline, I just couldn’t stand still. I was either sliding forward or backwards. We had a lot of good laugh throughout the day watching ourselves and others slide down and even fall. The snowfall being heavy, the landing was very soft. Later we went to the basic course slope called the T-Bar.
As the days went by, we were divided into groups of 7-8 students coached by two instructors each group. The instructors were young guys (most of them not more than 26yrs) who started off skiing at a really young age and were really fun to hang around with.
With each passing day we learnt more and more techniques. For me learning has always been two steps forward and one step back. Even though it got pretty disheartening at times when I could not do a particular technique, I’d remind myself that it’d come with more practice. I just had to get my basics straight. Growing up I never bothered to learn the basics. Always was attracted to the romantic side of things and not the mechanical. It was only later I realized the importance of basics.
Every evening we’d be exhausted. After dinner we’d switch on Discover channel or Animal Planet and fall asleep by 10-10:30pm. Luckily after the first few days, on a Sunday morning there was heavy snowfall and we could not go out and ski. A well needed rest. It was a holiday on a holiday. With each passing day the end of day fatigue decreased, the boots got a little more comfortable (not fully however), our skills improved and our friendship grew.
By the end of our skiing journey everyone who stuck around till the end passed the skiing exam and could ski pretty well. Most of us didn’t care much about the exam. We just wanted to learn how to ski and have some fun. 14 days later while packing my bags I knew I’d miss this place and the friends I’d made. A place, where we shared a lot of physical pain, laughter (especially in Room 2014) and giving novice tips to each other about skiing.
We stayed the last day in Srinagar in a boat house reminiscing about the 14 days that just went and some touristy sightseeing. After I landed in Bangalore, way home from the airport was a kind of a cultural shock seeing so many vehicles on the road. It seemed like I didn’t fit in anymore. Then I saw a bike that I was hoping to buy soon. It was then that it struck me, damn… all those day while skiing, I didn’t care about what I wanted to buy or any other materialistic possession. All I wanted those 14 days was some sunshine and a good skiing day. Is this what life outside materialistic desires feels like?
Some statements I’ll never forget while skiing for the rest of my life
- Array Daaba Daaba Daaba
- Heel Press Heel Press Heel Press
- Isse Accha Toh Hoo He Nahi Sakta (7/10 marks)
Image courtesy: Rahul Mistry (http://theorangebackpack.in/)