Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gulmarg - A failed attempt : Odyssey to Paradise on Earth (Part 3)

Read Part 1, Part 2 of this odyssey

High expectations, Excitement, more excitement, frustruation, agony, cool off, excitement again, lost in dream land and reality check. Pretty much sums up our emotions on the highly eventful third day of our Kashmir odessey. Started learning lessons on how to plan a trip, the dos and don'ts of Kashmir trip. More on that after todays journey.
Today we are going to see snow for real. Gulmarg. the place which boasts of Asias highest cable car ride. Expectation galore. Kids rose up pretty early. Parents also did not fall behind.
Our driver told us yesterday (part 2) that its a 2 hour drive and a start at 9am is enough. Day already set in. Time is just 6.30am. 
A view from our window.

Within 1 hour we all were in the restaurant. Expectations and excitment can do wonders on timing. A good breakfast at Hotel Pamposh ensued.

The 100+ room hotel was filled to brink. But the staff are are managing well. The food is not bad. Not extremely good too.

Our driver is pinging. Things are going ahead on schedule and we are off for the most interesting part our trip. Suddenly everything seemed so beautiful. A tinge of concern was regarding the presence of snow in Gulmarg. Yesterday's view from the flight was the only consolation. Passed the heart of the city.

This sign board showed that we need to travel 42 kms to our destination. The other names in this board also sounded familiar

A magnificient sight lay hidden behind the trees on the pavement. Huge, magnanimous structures standing tall with its head held high. Thank god. They are all white veiled. White veiled.. means snow in abundance. Four souls together heaved a sigh of relief. Wide open grins accompanied each verbal message.

Suddenly the vehicle screeched to a halt, nearby a motel. Our driver wanted to have breakfast. But none of us stepped out. We badly wanted to reach the destination fast. Driver ji had other plans. He will take his on time. Most of the times he was on his mobile while driving.
An agonizing wait of 30 minutes ensued. Once we started, open roads greeted us.

The road side scenary just got better. Exemplerary. Panoramic shots seemed to be etched into the glass panes of the vehicle. We are travelling through some real life screensavers. 

All is well. But all thats well does not ends well.
The flat roads were soon over, and we are now climbing uphill. But no big hair pin bends. The roads are superb even now.
Driver announced "Only 15 kms to Gulmarg".
We are so near. The curves just got more curvy which again turned into hair pin bends. A little ahead we could see some vehicles stopped. Some shops were around.
Waving hands signalling for stop greeted us as we approached them. Our driver stopped.
People clad in traditional winter coats approached us. They are talking to our driver in Kashmiri. We could not make out anything.
Trouble or no trouble?? Four puzzled faces all in the shape of a question mark. Our driver had an answer.
We have to get out of the vehicle and collect our winter cloths. Boots, winter jackets etc. The jackets we were wearing is not sufficient. Seems very courteous ad visitor friendly. But.
We are trying out shoes and jackets inside a shop. This does not come free. It is INR 250 per shoe and INR 500 to 750 per jacket. Day light robbery it is. This shoe, which is only a gum boot costs only INR 300. We started to reject these items. More local people were soon around us. Our "no" was not a firm "no". Sometimes it sounded like "yes" too. To be frank we were quite uncomfortable.
A well dressed English speaking guy soon emerged. He talked with the local people and then came to us.
"You take only what you want and don't be afraid".
These words were a real solace.
"Don't worry, I will be with you for the rest of the journey" he declared.
"Just pay me 2000 bucks, I will take you to the snow clad mountains in horse".
Lots of questions cropped in our minds. Why he should come with us? Why horse?
"What about cable car ride?" I asked.
A small bomb emerged from his mouth.
"Forget about the cable car ride, Tickets are sold out, only those who reach before 8am will get tickets"
I looked at the watch. Time is half past ten. Suddenly we felt as if we lost the plot.
We are here dreaming about the cable car ride and its not possible. I felt something fishy.
Is this a plot by these people to make me rent there horse?
I gathered courage and told that, we came here for cable car ride and we won't opt for horse travel. My adrenalin levels were rising and it came out in the form of anger. I asked the driver whether he didn't know about the ticket issue.
"You only asked me to come at 9am".
His answer only made me for furious. He was definitely trying to con me. I called up the guy who arranged this vehicle for me. He asked me to take these things easy. It is easier said that done. My fury soon came out and I gave a piece of my mind to the driver and the guide. They soon understood that I am not going to give in. The number of local people around us also reduced.
Finally with a heavy heart I decided that I am going to return, but I told the driver that I have to come back here again and that too at no extra cost.
When we were about to leave I got a call from the guy who arranged the driver.
"Sir, I enquired the ticket status. It is not available for today and tomorrow. it is available for next day. Only few. You can take it online" Online?? Why the hell he didn't tell me earlier.
The next thing I want is to find a cyber cafe for the booking. There was one nearby. The driver too came with us. The café owner checked online and booked 4 tickets.
There are two stages of cable car ride. We booked for both. Rs 2000 per person and Rs 50 as his commission. Before leaving the place the cafe owner said
"Sir, if due to any reason the cable car ride is cancelled, please come here, I will give you full refund except my commission. "
This guy is nice. I thought. It was not to be as I realised two days later.
Well, my kids are unhappy. All the expectations of playing with snow melted. But we were happy that, atleast we could book tickets.
Return journey started. Driver kept on talking. He was hell bent on re-establishing the lost faith. But I smelt something really fishy. Itz sure he tried to con us. In company with the so called guide. Me and wife were busy charting out an alternate plan.
A simple plan evolved.
We will spend time at gardens in Srinagar. Yesterday we enjoyed the two gardens we visited (watch it here). conveyed our plan to the driver. He was OK with it.
Another surprise happened soon.
The vehicle came to a stop near a big bungalow on the highway side. It is a big textile shop. We soon remembered our New Delhi experience (read it here).
We told the driver that we are not in a mood to shop. But he requested us to just take a look. We needed a break after the long travel. And we had to relax a bit too. So stepped in. Here the sales man was very courteous. His manners were pleasing. The atmosphere was good. He was not an educated person, but he knows how to sell things. Watch him in action

We were offered Kashmiri cava. The taste was superb. The drink was like a steroid. Our energy levels rose.

We bought some Kashmiri shawls, even though price was on the higher side. Just as a reward to the salesman. We are back on our way to Srinagar. These sign boards kept us interesting.

We have to come back to Kashmir to visit these places too. We are soon in plains. Paddy fields aplenty here.

Slums are present here too. It will be really difficult here. The climates are extreme. Don't know how these people survive. Or do they relocate. Nomads?

All these buildings seems unfinished. Some looks like remains of yester years. But they are all occupied.

Beautiful bunglaws also present here.

Srinagar again. Back to hustle and bustle of the city.

The road side market is busy with activity

Lunch time again. Chose a hotel in the middle of the city. The big wall paintings inside the hotel were beautiful.

The food was equally good. Only kashmiri dishes were tried out. Again the waiters impressed.

On the roads again. Passed the green tunnel

The beautiful dal lake again

Everything in Srinagar revolves around this magnanimous lake.
Some turns and shortcuts, we are in some narrow road, climbing upwards.

"Sir Chashmashahi gardens is on the way, but the one at the top is the Pari Mahal" informed the driver. "We will go to the top one first". Passed the Chashma shahi gardens. There was a traffic jam of sorts at its entrance. Tourists inflow is huge. The road ends near the Pari Mahal. There was heavy vehicle density here too.

The ticket counter and the gardens entrance weren't promising. Once inside, we got a hang of the altitude.

to be continued - "Part 4 - Pari Mahal Gardens and Botanical Gardens"

The story so far

Part 1 - Delhi
Part 2 - Kashmir Initial impression and Gardens
Part 3 - Gulmarg A failed attempt
Part 4 - Parimahal and Royal Botanical Gardens
Part 5 - Pahalgam - "The valley" of valleys
Part 6 - The House boat experience
Part 7 - Gulmarg - Experiencing Asia's Highest Cable Car ride

1 comment:

dimpy roy said...

Wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing. I am craving to visit this place this coming winter. From the pleasant weather for sightseeing to various festivals and events happening all around, February is the month worth travelling. Check out best places to visit in India in February also.


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