Keme Nzerem conquers Gulmarg in Kashmir, India – the Channel 4 star takes on the world’s highest runs and the world’s highest après ski.
“So would you like to come to a party tonight? A Kashmiri party?”
With a cheeky glint in his eye, my ski guide Fayaz already knew the answer.
“There’ll be music, and food”, he helpfully added.
How could I resist? For music, and food there was. It was just the tonic for a day riding – and let’s face it getting hopelessly stuck in, falling into, and inadvertently eating – Kashmir’s world renowned waist deep `curry powder’.
It had dumped a metre of snow in less than 24 hours. Gulmarg’s solitary gondola and chair lift were closed, so the avalanche safety teams could stabilise Mt Apharwat’s exposed alpine terrain. Not that it mattered – for India’s premier ski resort perches midway up a precipitous valley with countless runs off the access road through steep glades, and loose Himalayan pine and birch forest.
Half a dozen times that day Fayaz had hiked us to the top of what looked like a snow embalmed entrance to Narnia, before summoning us to follow his whoops as he’d bounded down through the trees. Snow spattered from eaves and branches like foam. A thousand vertical metres later, we’d emerge in the hamlet of Babareshi to be picked up by our driver in a 4×4. And do it all again. And again. And again.
The sun had long set that evening when we clambered through a waist high snowdrift towards Fayaz’s party. The twang of a lute and the syncopated thwack of hand on tabla carried on the night air. As did the smell of spiced and barbecued meat. We trudged up to what looked like a simple backpackers lodge, and into a doorway insulated by a heavy hanging carpet.
We were assaulted by noise and heat. Across the darkened room, figures perched and swayed on every surface. Australian ski bums, local guides, and sunkist faces I recognised from Gulmarg’s ski patrol. On a wooden fire bubbled huge vats of sweet kashmiri `kahwa’ – saffron tea brewed with almonds and honey.
And whirling amongst a 5 piece seated band pranced the star of the show. A quite beautiful young Kashmiri man trussed up in a woman’s frock, bonded to the music like a dervish in a trance. The tabla drew more fevered. The lute more crazed. As did the dancer’s twirls. And on his cheeks he plastered sweaty 500 rupee notes he’d extracted as payment – from an increasingly pyretic crowd.
And there was good reason to party. Tomorrow Gulmarg’s gondola would reopen. Right to the top of Mt Apharwat’s imposing 4000m peak. The weather forecast? Bluebird skies and zero wind.
A world class mountain – with a winter storm’s worth of fresh `curry powder’ to explore.
Log in Next week to read about day 2 of Keme’s Epic Himalayan Adventure