India : The Walk on the Wild Sideby Mario Gattinger
The last weeks before we left we thought that our journey to Kashmir was going to be impossible because of the conflicts between Indian and Pakistan military. But the situation calmed down so we were confident to start our exciting project and travel.
We had a spectacular approach when we were flying to Srinagar. We saw so many mountain peaks of the Himalaya mountain massif like the Nanga Parbat which was dominating with its 8.125 m altitude. For us it was just a stunning feeling with lots of respect and gratitude to know that we were going to ski in this impressive area for the month to come.
Srinagar is directly situated at the Dal-Lake. This lake is filled in spring by massive rain falls and in autumn by the melting snow of the Himalaya.
In September 2014 there was the biggest flood of this century and the whole town was destroyed by the heavy rainfalls. The inhabitants, mostly poor were nearly unable to deal with this situation. When we arrived in Srinagar we immediately saw the destruction and the great impact of the flood. On our way to Gulmarg, the mountain village where we spent most of our time, we passed through the down town of Srinagar – we saw people rebuilding their houses and grocery stores were selling building materials instead of fruits, rice etc.
Abdul, an inhabitant that we got to know in Srinagar, told us that the people in town think that the flood was a punishment from God. Because they might have done a lot of bad things, they collected bad Karma. But now you can feel a rethinking and more solidarity and hope between people.
This mystic and adventurous name – and will always be, nothing on the internet or in a travel guide will tell you the truth about this special place. The Himalaya is famous for the very dry and “curry” powder. In combination with the treeless, upper alpine zone and the bottom part where trees are growing behind one another like a slalom course – this snow offers you one of the best mountain and snow experiences you can ever get.
But this year, exactly this year when we guys from Freeriderslife were traveling to this unique place, the weather was against us. We suffered from less precipitation, warm temperatures and a high avalanche risk.
The first few days the temperatures were slightly below 0˚C and the snow in Gulmarg (2700m altitude) was just good enough to have fun and play around on skis. But the avalanche risk was increasing and we couldn’t enter the high alpine terrain. We spent the whole week in the woods around Gulmarg with the Mountain Guides from Kashmir-Heli ski.
Gulmarg is situated at the end of a twisting road that is winded trough a thick forest that went down on 1000m over to Srinagar. Between this twists we could easily ski down the Curry powder and the Pickups would bring us back to the top. The forests of Gulmarg are mostly up to 4000m altitude. On this height you find large birch forests and those are perfectly reachable via a Gondola from Gulmarg or also with touring skis.
Because of the circumstances between Pakistan and India, Indian military was positioned at the boarder mountain range to guard the “Line of Control”. Therefore we had some problems to reach some spots on the mountain. The strict boarder control sometimes brought us into a delay of 1 ½ hour and this at an altitude of 4.500m. Nevertheless we were having fun and found places where the snow was just perfect.
Long waiting period
After a long hiking week with touring equipment the weather got even worse. Followed by 10 days of waiting for the Gods to bring us better weather. The avalanche situation was very bad because of the warm temperatures -1˚C to +2˚C. Spontaneous avalanches caused big tearing edges up to 4 meters high and 300 meters long, at the upper part of Mount Apharwat. Unimaginable how the elements do their work regardless of the consequences at this height (4.600m). The mountains always have the final saying.
Srinagar: Culture, Cricket and nights on the house boat
To relax a little between sitting waiting, we went to Srinagar to jump on a very unique accommodation – a houseboat – one of the 1.000 on the Dal Lake. This was an experience we will never forget.
On the next day we went to explore the town. Big street markets, noise and incredible traffic. After a few meters of walking around we were stopped by young inhabitants like our age. They were interested in what we were doing here and where we were from. After a little bit of chatting around they invited us to the park to play Cricket with them. Cricket? As you can imagine we had no clue how to play Cricket and our new friends tried to show us the game and the rules with Indian-English mixed hand and feet language. We didn’t get it at all and decided only to watch them play. What really impressed us was that Kids, Youngsters, Young adults were playing together and we really could feel the enthusiasm for this sport. It was a really strange view that reminded us a little bit of our childhood: the freedom of being together with all generations in the park.
When you travel to a foreign land with such a different lifestyle and culture, you need to check out all of this for sure as well. We therefor started to explore the town center. It was even more interesting and weird for the inhabitants to see us, western European white guys, walking around.
The long-awaited call
After 4 days in Srinagar and 6 days of waiting in Gulmarg the weather seemed to get better and the chances of catching the Helicopter to fly into the high alpine zone increased.
4 days before our departure back home, we got THE call we were all longing for – it was possible to go with the Heli the next day – leaving 6:00 am. And so it was – off we were!
The terrain that we found at 5.500m altitude was just breath taking: huge majestic mountains and downhills which couldn’t have been longer. The dimensions compared to Austria were just incredible and 10 times bigger then we know.
The avalanche situation was still very tricky but we found amazing snow in right exposed areas and our long waiting was rewarded.
At the end of the day we all came to the same conclusion that this day was one of the best skiing days we ever had! And this day was celebrated at our accommodation where visitors and adventurers from all over the world were coming together every day.