Four blokes in a honeymoon suite? Yup, that is how our trip began. The manager of the hotel had cut me a sweet deal for a suite at five thousand a night.
Does it have two rooms?
Does it have a living room?
Just one, sir.
I should have figured something was amiss right then. Two rooms, a living room and only one bathroom for five grand a night didn’t seem to add up.
When we reached, I discovered that the second room was, in fact, the living room. So, in all fairness, he didn’t lie...he just sidestepped the specifics.
We added two more mattresses but somehow, sharing a circular bed with a circular mirror above and frilly curtains around wasn’t the kind of bonding trip I had in mind.
It was that depressing phase of the evening. The sun had just set and the day fought with the night for just a little more time. I knew it was freezing outside and, in case it slipped my mind, the 4ft-long icicles suspended ominously outside my window were reminder enough. Fortunately, we had a contraption in the room that could be used for various ends, from making toast to heating the place, often both at the same time.
Gulmarg in winters is visually exquisite. Being in Gulmarg during winter is quite another story. The banks of snow along the road rise to a height of 6ft. At night, the temperature drops to minus 13 degrees and after a tipple or three, no matter what you wear, a penguin would probably be warmer. But then there’s the skiing and snowboarding. Now, skiing is relatively easier, especially if you have done it before and have never snowboarded. Somehow, we didn’t think it would be much of a challenge. After all, four guys in a honeymoon suite with gear that made us look like pros seemed an indestructible team.
Our “instructor” was, well, not an instructor. He was one of the four of us and had given us a thorough low-down on the sport while we were at Mumbai airport, on the plane to Kashmir and during the drive up to Gulmarg. Only later did I discover that he had amassed this knowledge of snowboarding from the Internet. Once we hit the beginner’s slope, his first and only instruction to me was, “just go down!”
Having grasped the theory of inertia, it didn’t seem like a good idea. By the end of the first session, I had a bruised head, a very sore rear and a gashed elbow, which happened when my “instructor” friend ran over my arm with his board.
Two things that were an impediment in our learning process were turning and stopping. I think that we should have paid more attention to this before moving to the advanced slope. The thought stayed with me when we decided to graduate to the top of Apharwat Mountain at 13,500ft. Looking down at a sheer drop of a 1,000ft was a bit daunting, to say the least. We had improved over the past four days. Stopping and turning were options now, though every run often entailed some bad wipeouts.
Standing on top of the mountain, I felt a bit like a bungee jumper without a cord. Now I’ve done several jumps off various cliffs, cranes and bridges in my life, but somehow this seemed a bit more intimidating. It needed to be a little more premeditated than just tying one’s legs to something, screaming your lungs out, and yo-yoing a couple of hundred feet.
We meticulously planned which path to take, where we would turn into the lower bowl of the mountain and after the balance few thousand feet, the precise part where we’d get back on the designated track of the lower quarter section.
Once we were off, every single detail of the plan was instantly forgotten. The only part we had to adhere to was the going down part. The board and the mountain were hand-in-glove in a scheme to knock some sense into our vacant heads. After wiping out a few times and fracturing my rib, we finally made it down.
Triumphant and more or less intact, we strapped the ol’ rib, popped some painkillers and did four runs from the very top that day. By the end of it, we were flipping turns, controlling the board and actually stopping at will. Finally, we were boarding, and boarding not like, but at least with, the pros.
Sitting back at the café, exchanging stories in our pro gear, we all looked like snowboarding vets. Fortunately, no one sees you when you’re actually running down the mountain, or in our case, tumbling down large parts of it.
Exhausted, we limped back to our hotel, switched on the toaster contraption and I fell back on the round bed of our suite. As I lay on the bed, looking at the reflection in the ceiling mirror, I saw four groaning blokes in a warm, toasty honeymoon suite and, for some inexplicable reason, nothing seemed to be amiss…everything was absolutely perfect.
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