As I go through the fourth security check, to catch a flight out of Kashmir, I can’t help but laugh at the thought that I was very close to not making this trip at all. After the experiences that I had, this would have been a much harder pill to swallow after the fact. They check us and our bags over and over again, at the start of this trip it would have surprised me, perhaps annoyed me but now it just seems normal.
With very little time to think about what India was going to be like, I came into the experience with a clean slate so to speak, I had heard very little about Kashmir and its ongoing problems. I knew that there was a strong military presence and had its problems in the past but I definitely didn’t know the details. After a little research I found out about the violence and disputed borders that involve Pakistan, India, Tibet and Kashmir. I can certainly see why people would want to fight over such a prized piece of land.
When the cultural differences and new scenery start to get more normal and you start looking behind all the good you start seeing the frustration of the people. The army is here in force and there seems to be at least half a dozen soldiers on every block in Srinagar, these Indian soldiers are getting paid at the expense of Indian taxpayers to stand around and protect or fight for something that few people seem to agree with. If I was a hard-working Kashmiri (and they do work very hard), this would make me frustrated.
Throughout the trip I got increasingly intrigued on the ongoing conflict of Kashmir. I started researching and picking locals brains on what they thought is the best way to move forward. The people of Kashmir do not want to fight but they also do not want to have the military presence (why would anyone want soldiers with big guns hanging around). But an independent Kashmir has it own problems. The answer is definitely not black and white, many people I talked to would not admit that one way or the other will be better. This conflict has many issues that our much bigger than them, this is very unfortunate because they are unwilling caught in the middle.
The other thing captivating my interest is seeing a complete freeski revolution over the last six years! I expected to see tourist skiers over here what surprised me was the amount of local Kashmiri’s shredding powder on fat powder skis and loving every minute. Talking to them they get visibly excited when they talk about powder. There are things in life that transcend language barriers and skiing powder is definitely one! These are people who have overcome many hardships and found something that makes them happy and enjoy life. It is one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen.
Walking down the street you say hi to everyone, often getting stopped by a smiling Kashmiri for quick small talk. In my travels nowhere have I been were people are so friendly. Nobody seems to be in a rush and they have a very chill vibe, maybe to a fault if you actually want to get something done. We are fortunate enough to be here to ski and enjoy their country so there are no worries.
Today was out of this world. We skied a run below the Gulmarg through these magical old growth trees fir trees, perfectly spaced, caked in snow and towering above us. We literally skied right into someones backyard, coming into the town of Tangmarg. From a far it seemed like there wasn’t too many people in the village but as we got closer, little kids faces appeared in the windows and soon they came running. Big smiles on their faces, chattering quickly in Indian, taking a breath every now and then to ask us for chocolate. They were infatuated with us, ski gear and camera equipment. Happy to have their photos taken and jump on our skis.
We walk a bit further through the village to get a taxi and man invites into his house for tea. Cold and wet, tea has never sounded better, a complete stranger inviting us into his house. His family marvels at our fat skis and costumes that we call ski gear. We settle into a room in his house and just try to take it all in.