August 29, 2012
Woke up at around 7:00 AM, washed up, had breakfast and got out at around 8:30. My leg was better by now, so decided to take a trip to Gulmarg. I took a bus to the main bus stop at Batmaloo and got into a bus going to Tangmarg. There are no direct buses or sharing taxis to Gulmarg, so you need to take one to Tangmarg, which is about 15 kms away from Gulmarg (If you are renting a full taxi, then it’s a different story). The bus I got into was empty, so I had to wait for almost an hour for it to get full. And even when it did, it was moving at snail’s pace, stopping every 5 minutes to get more passengers. It took close to 3 hours to cover a 56 kms stretch. I immediately got a sharing taxi to finally Gulmarg at around 1:00 PM.
Tip: Never get into a bus from Srinagar to Tangmarg. Instead, take a sharing taxi which costs you only 20 bucks more than the bus, Rs. 55/-, and covers the journey in an hour. I realized this on my way back!!
Gulmarg was very different from Srinagar. It was cold, foggy, and there was a slight mist in the air. Since Srinagar was so hot, I didn’t carry a sweater on this day and it was freaking cold (How dumb was I not to carry wool while travelling to a hill station!!).
While I was walking around enjoying the beauty of the place, a guy approached me with an offer to take me around the place on a pony. There were fixed prices listed on a board, which said an hour of ride would cost me 300 bucks, and 200 more for every hour thereafter. This guy gave me a deal of taking me around the place, the Gondolas, wait while I go up the hill and come back, and the return journey for 500. I bargained and got it for 400. I should have done better!!
Tip: Bargain as much as possible. Start from about 40% of quoted price and settle around 60%. I met a family of 4 who got a similar deal for 250 bucks each!! 🙁
The pony ride was super fun. I got a young guy, a little stout, brown in color. There was an elderly guide with me all through out, showing me places, and controlling the pony. He showed me the place where all the movies were shot, took me to a children’s park, and finally to the point where the Gondolas take off.
There are two stages for the Gondolas at Gulmarg, and the second stage was closed on this particular day because of the foggy weather. The first stage costs 300 and the second one costs 200, and I took one for the first stage. The ride up took about 15 minutes, and was fun.
The view from the top of the mountain was even better. The fog gave way to clear skies and I started feeling better as well. I took a lot of pictures, and then walked up to a restaurant to have late lunch. He said their special dish was Kashmiri Pulao, which cost a whopping 180 bucks. After a 15 minute wait, he served me some crappy rice, flavored with maggi masala. Disgusting it was!! What was I thinking!!
I took the Gondola back to reach down, and then pony ride back to the taxi stand. Paid the elderly gentleman a tip, and headed off towards Tangmarg. This time, took a taxi, and I was in Srinagar in an hour, by 6:00 PM. I had planned to leave to Kargil the next day, so went to the taxi stand to book my seat for the next morning. I paid Rs. 800 /- for the middle seat in a Tata Sumo.
I then walked to Dal Lake for the Shikara ride. The sun was already setting, and it was a wrong time for it, but since I was travelling the next day, I had no other option. They have fixed prices for the ride, but I bargained with a guy to show me around as much as possible in 30 minutes for Rs. 150/-. The Shikara I got into was very comforting. We went around different paths, but it got dark for me to really see stuff. I just enjoyed the ride.
Once done, I walked around the lake for a long time. Sanjay was supposed to pick me up and head for dinner. A friend of his, a gentleman from the armed forces joined us, and we went to a Chinese place called Lhasa near Dal Lake. I ordered an American Chopsuey, while Sanjay and his friend opted for some non-veg stuff. The meal was very good, and this gentleman gave me an insight into how the army survives in cold regions such as Siachen Glacier. The description was just amazing and too good to believe. After a night well spent, we headed back to the house and I crashed in the bed.