The following morning was pretty chilled out, and I got to spend a bit of quiet time with Raja which I’m grateful for. I can’t really put into words his presence, which is something like a deep wisdom but a childlike curiosity and innocence but with a hint of experience. Right after lunch I was headed to Doodhpathri with Sami, and the one hour drive from Srinagar through the countryside to get there was breathtaking. Kashmir’s scenery is 360 degrees stunning, from beneath your feet up to the sky, with exquisite lighting. Unbelievable.
We passed through tiny villages where children ran around in their traditional clothes, playing cricket with makeshift pieces of plywood. I wandered through walnut fields in the afternoon, passing the happiest looking cows and horses I’ve ever seen. An evening without electricity with a blazing fireplace…wonderful. The next morning, I decided I wanted to head to Gulmarg since I was so close already, and managed to get transport although strikes were pretty much shutting down the city.
Gulmarg is THE major ski destination in India, and there is a cable car/gondola that is (they claim) the highest gondola in the world. But it was similar to Japanese prices, and I was there to walk, so I headed up the muddy trail to Phase 1. I was planning to take the gondola from Phase 1 to Phase 2, and joined the line at Kongdori. It was chock full of Indian tourists, and the queue was reminiscent of a crowded railway station in any Indian city. As in, it was total chaos. People yelling all over the place, and the line was barely moving. I had no idea what was going on; was there some complicated form to fill out? After about 45 minutes I was at the window, handed over my cash, said ‘Ek’ – one – and my ticket was given to me…in about .5 seconds. So, umm…Oh India.
But then I got in the line for the cable car. And then it was like the stereotypical pushing and shoving and disorderliness that is associated with Indian cities. 1.5 hours later, I was in my Chaco sandals on snow. It really was beautiful at the top. The snowy peaks melted into the clouds, and at parts you couldn’t differentiate between sky and earth. Gorgeous. Getting down the cable car was much more straightforward, and then from Kongdori I met a family from Lucknow who was walking down to Gulmarg and invited me to join them. Lovely people, no common language but no shortage of kindness. Just the eldest son, Shivam, spoke a bit of English.
While I had been at the top, something told me I didn’t want to stay in Gulmarg that night, that I wanted to go back to Srinagar to stay with Raja’s family. I had already said my goodbyes, but…I don’t know. So I called when I got back to Gulmarg, and was told of course come if you want, you are welcome, and then the drama started. Three tourist policemen saw me walking with the family from Lucknow and started questioning both Shivam and me. It turned out that Shivam’s family was headed back to Srinagar and might be able to take me, but this damn policeman was interrogating me, Shivam, and Shivam’s driver so much that the driver who originally said Challoh (Let’s go!) – suddenly said they didn’t have enough space. I went back to the bus stand and decided I would backtrack the way I had come, which meant taking a shared jeep to Tangmarg, and then another one to Srinagar. I had gotten my luggage out of the hotel, gotten in the jeep, and then the SAME policeman stopped the jeep as we were already headed out of Gulmarg to tell me that I would have big problems getting transport from Tangmarg to Srinagar – major strikes and protests had taken place that day, not to mention two boys had been killed in Sopore. Hmm. So he tells me he is going to help me and get me a ride back to Srinagar with some tourists or something and he was so persistent and insistent that I had no choice but to get out of the jeep.
In the end it worked out, as a family from Delhi took me back, and I arrived yet again at the Khan residence. This time it really did feel like the real farewell, and Raja, Jana, their cousin Wahid, and I stayed up til nearly midnight just chatting and laughing…they are so lovely I can feel the locks breaking when I’m with them.
Sunday morning was goodbye. Take 3, like filming a movie, huh? Raja, Jana, and both Wahids walked me out to the street…I felt so much protection and love from these 4 gorgeous Kashmiri men…shukriya shukriya shukriya very much. Inshallah I’ll be back very soon.