As a kid, I picked up sports fast. I loved being on the field, loved the feeling of throwing myself around, scoring, being part of a team, hugging someone madly when they took a wicket or scored a goal, pumping my fist, doing a cartwheel, wearing my whites, waking up early in the morning and rolling the pitch, every single thing.
Skiing was an altogether different experience. For a couple of years, every time I’d plan a winter trip to a snow covered destination, I’d loosely say that I would learn skiing. I didn’t follow the sport regularly, I did not know a single international or Indian skiier, I didn’t have any friend who spoke of it. It was just one of those dozen things I said I would do, without thinking about it.
Even when we were in Gulmarg, I was feeling lazy to actually enroll for it. But two determined girls Harpreet and Chandrika pushed me to sign up with them. Over the days, I realized a lot of things about the sport and myself. The need to focus, the realisation that my body automatically fell back when I went speeding downhill and to force myself to not do that, the discipline to wake up daily and walk to the slope come sunshine, mist, fog or snowfall; how to snow plough, how to take parallel turns, how to keep the faith in my knees that if my maintained my position, I’d not fall however fast I hurtled down.
But skiing also told me a lot about Gulmarg. About the men that stood outside hotels every day – those who carried our heavy snowboots and skiis every day for a paltry rs 200-400. I saw how deftly they walked through snow puddles and slush, with all the weight on their back. How strong these men were. How less they were paid. How cheap labour is in India.
When the fog swept past, I saw the magnificent Pir Panjal mountain range in all its beauty. In the evening, I saw beautiful sunsets – hues of red and orange dancing in the sky.
Over the days, all of Gulmarg recognised me in my Captain cap. Every other day, a driver, a chocolate seller, an instructor, a local would ask “aap bohot din se yahan ho, Captaan! Kaisa lag raha hai hamara Gulmarg?”. My cap had become too recognizable. Every time I would tell them I loved Gulmarg, and didn’t want to leave at all. I didn’t want to leave. Living in the mountains, pursuing skiing felt like a part of life. I didn’t feel the Kashmir that they show us in the news. I only saw smiling, wrinkled, tanned and burnt men trying to make a living.
On the second last day, we took the cable car to Phase 2. It felt magical being up there with no crowds, and the mountains all blanketed absolutely white. While coming down, we saw some professionals skiing down. Our faces stuck to the cable car window, we watched them as they glided, swerved, flew down gracefully – little dots on the mountains. I think I fell in love with skiing then. I wondered when I would do what they did. I wondered how they would be feeling, flying down at such speeds alone on a white mountain.
On the last day of the beginner course, the instructors took us to Phase 1. We were to ski down seven kilometres. A little nervous, we started but midway through the course, I was delighted, bouncing, skidding, swerving on the snow. We did the course six times that day – a total of 42 kms. When we were done, Gani bhai was waiting with a smile on his wrinkled face at the bottom , ready to carry our skiis back to the hotel.
Oh Gulmarg, I miss you. I will be back soon for my intermediate skiing levels.