When we told our friends that we would be going to India to do some skiing and a white Christmas, everyone turned to us in disbelief. Most replies we garnered went along this line: “Isn’t India known to be hot ? How can there be snow?”

True to their words, there was no snow in Gulmarg, India’s famous ski resort in Kashmir, at this time of the year. Even in Sonamarg, at an altitude of approximately 3000m, there were only traces of old snow deposited about two months ago.

Although more commonly recognised as a region displaced by war and instability for decades, the Kashmir valley remains a beautiful natural to behold. Tourism is slowly returning to this once hustling region too. 

Take a walk along Dal Lake and you’ll hear the incessant blarings  of “shikara, shikara” , locals touting tourists to catch a ride on their traditional wooden boat ride around Dal Lake.

Predominantly a Muslim state, prayer calls resonate the capital city of Srinagar five times a day. As the day darkened, flocks of crows transform the skies into a makeshift dance arena along with a cacophony of their throaty ‘ahh-ahh-ahh’s”.

As we watched the shikara walla (boat man) dig his spade-shaped oar into the frozen Dal Lake, time seemed to come to a standstill. Every graceful stroke of his oar brought us through rows of boat house perched on the surface of the tranquil lake, emancipating a surreal, peaceful feel to passengers.

The unpredictability of public transport in this remote part of the world is certainly a boon for travellers on a tight schedule. Though our foray into Gagangeer came by chance, it satisfied our sense of adventure. 

Stranded in Khangan with no jamu (jeeps) heading to Sonamarg due to road closure, we were left no other options but to share a jeep with the locals to Gagangeer – a soon-to-be tourist village, situated en route to Sonamarg. Nestled among the tall mountains, this rural enclave is home to only about 100 kashmiri families.

Our host, Fayaz, gave us a tour of his half-completed guesthouse. As we stood on the bare roof of his half-completed guest house, we were enthralled by his fervent description of his guesthouse’s floorplan.

Two little girls, shy to us, smiled sheepishly as they served us a pot of black kashmiri tea. Tea is served as a gesture of hospitality whenever we visit or return to a Kashmiri house. 

Flowery motifs lined the pretty tea cups upon which our tea was served as the warmth of the mid-day sun coupled with curls of rising steam drowned the winter chill. What comfort! 

To show greater hospitality (read: for more tea), Fayaz brought us to his cousin’s house – a simple and charming kashmiri building filled with inquisitive kids.

Void of street lamps, the village of Gagangeer turned pitch black, as the sun retired for the day. Stars illuminated the skies with countless specks of light, delighting its observers with its grandeur and magnificence. 

However the beauty did not last – at least in Gagangeer. Not long after night fall, the air reeked of smoke, sprouting from the lurid flames of a forest fire. The smoke grew thicker and became unbearable, signifying the end of our star gazing session.

Neele neele ambar (“Blue skies” in urdu)

Is it really happening ?

The unbearable became bearable. The cold wind stopped howling. We felt droplets on our hands. As we stared against the backdrop of deodar trees, our hearts thumped faster. Watching these delicate snowflakes glide about the air somewhat calmed us down. Gypsies can be spotted scurrying back to their mud huts with their gunnysacks full of supplies.

By nightfall, the dirt roads had been given a fresh breath of life. We joined a few local kids in a snowball fight, but our hands quickly succumbed to the cold and we retreated.

We awoke to a mass of white the next morning and, to our surprise, realised that the dirt road had completely disappeared! As we struggled to walk in the knee-deep snow, we relished the beautiful scenery while basking in the winter sun…

IMG_0122 IMG_0090 IMG_0198 IMG_9830 IMG_9957 IMG_9959 IMG_0003 IMG_9968 IMG_9986 IMG_0046 IMG_0060 IMG_0062 IMG_0432 IMG_0503 backtrek_blog_1 IMG_0611 IMG_0691 IMG_0379 IMG_0769 IMG_0781 IMG_0818 IMG_0211 IMG_0228 IMG_0851 IMG_0869 IMG_0936 IMG_1014 IMG_1069 IMG_1161 IMG_1185 IMG_1599 backtrek_blog_2 IMG_1727 IMG_1734 IMG_1763 IMG_1845 IMG_1957