If there’s a lesson in unplanned travel, it is in relearning how to be vulnerable. How to embrace the angry flock of contemptuous men as the car pulls into Gulmarg, how to be open and accepting, and how not to become defensive and angry in being vulnerable. Finding our way through Gulmarg’s snowy terrain coupled with its hostility, makes us uneasy, and it is only when we are nestled deep into Pine Palace’s couches, and only when the rista and pilaf has settled, and the kahwa has done its duty do we begin to soak in its beauty. Gulmarg is divine.
We are vulnerable, men and the occasional women in the street look at us hungrily, and I am vulnerable, walking in the snow is arduous, I have never done it before. Even as the snow eats up all sensation in my feet and I am drawn to tears, I learn to fall, learn to snowboard, learn to pick myself and tumble and slide and even ski…Gulmarg is surprisingly fun. [If you happen to go, ditch the hankering locals for your own pair of snow gear and snow wheels, btw.]
The journey downhill makes me uncomfortable, we are the only two women at the cafes surrounding the bus stand and polishing of unpolished rice, and dal and kadam ka saag, and the only two women in the back of a jeep, and when we reach Srinagar the rickshawwallahs haggle us out of more than we should pay. It is raining, the city is unfamiliar.
But Srinagar and its people grow on you, I do not take to its gardens as much as I take to the Dal Lake, as much as I take to waking up to the magnificent view of the mountains and falling asleep from the gustaba and halwa and kashmiri dum aloo and waking up to walk along the lake.
At the end of my stay, en route to airport, the chatty young cab driver asks me to stop for a cup of coffee. Without thinking, I say yes. The sun is out, our coffees are much too expensive for a drivers salary, and yet it turns out to be the most memorable part of my trip.
Without knowing, I had learned… to be vulnerable. Again.