Field Report from David Marchi
Returning to Kashmir is, again, a thrilling experience. With the prospects of high-altitude snow covered mountains and the Gulmarg ski resort, my anticipation in seeing old friends and meeting new travelers has my nerves on edge. While this privileged traveler has been here before, I know that my senses will be challenged and expanded. I leave behind a loving family and the comforts of home, to experience a whole other familiar experience from 2006. As a founding member of the Gulmarg Gondola Corporations ski patrol, I return to old friends who have had their lived changed by foreign powder seekers.
Gulmarg is situated on the Line of Control on the border of Pakistan and the occupied territory of Kashmir (India). The village is littered by Kashmiri men donning the tradition Pheran dress, keeping warm with a coal filled Kongri made of wicker and terracotta. The smoke in the air indicates cold nights and the typical challenges of living in the mountains. In the near distance, though obscured by the smoky air, is Mt. Apharwat, the highest point of a jagged ridgeline, holding incredible ski terrain.
I am here as a guide. While I look forward to the challenges and rewards of showing foreigners my old playground, I fear the incredibly touchy snowpack not to dissimilar to the what the Rockies are experiencing at the present moment. As I settle into the Highland Parks Hotel, I take a walk to work off the dead legs presented in a 31 hour travel day. A necessary stopping point in the stroll is to visit with Yassin Khan. A true Kashmiri mountain man, he endured the turmoil and strife in the 80-90′s when Pakistan and India exchanged bombing throwing rituals daily. He saw family and friends leave their homes in exile or to take arms and join the Liberation Army. All the while, he held onto his dream of being a mountain and ski guide in the area. He lights up his hooka and we remember old times and share in memory of our mutual friend, Kip Garre. In the evening, the familiar sounds of crows filled the night sky. Tomorrow we ski, the most familiar component of this entire experience.
In the morning, I am woken by room attendants filling our Bukari wood stove and quietly lighting it. I am reminded of the unique experience that Kashmir is. A contrast of hardship and kindness among the locals, delivering travelers seeking powder a truly unique experience.
I feel gratitude for my time here.