“May I come in sir?”
As I stir inside my warm bed ‘the boy’ puts fresh wood into the tin stove and pours an obscene amount of kerosene on top of it swiftly followed by a match.
“Whoa, you were lucky to keep your eyebrows with that mate!”
He smiles back at me, we don’t understand much of what each other says but we get along ok. After he’s gone I try to decide whether it’s worth suffering the toxic smoke belching from the holes in the chimney to warm the place. “Aaah, fresh air!” I open the door onto the balcony and admire the icicles hanging from the roof but resist the temptation to pluck one.
The day before I’d traipsed round the entirety of Gulmarg, which is in fact not very far at all but has the disadvantage of being covered in snow and ice, not to mention being deceptively warm in the sun making me more likely to die of heat stroke than hypothermia. Still, my quest to find a snowboard had not been entirely without success, after discovering the season didn’t officially start until the 25th (Christmas day! Woo!) I managed to befriend the local tailor, who surprisingly spoke by far the best English I’d encountered that day and in amongst expressing intense dislike for the ‘Indian/Pakistani occupation of Kashmir’ told me of Billah. My task for today was to get a snowboard and Billah was the man to talk to.
I hadnt taken my two layers of thermals off before going to bed and as they were the only clothes warm enough I had a horrible feeling they were going to start to smell after a week or two. Still, I pulled on my bike gear, which would double very well as ski gear being both waterproof and light, and walked very carefully to Billah’s shop to claim my board.
“600 Rupees a day for board and boots”
I smiled cheekily “That sounds very expensive my friend, I was told the other ski shops hire them out for 300 a day!”
Billah smiled back behind bloodshot eyes “Maybe so, but they are very bad, old boards! And the other ski shops are not open!”
“True, but I’m only a beginner, I can’t tell the difference between a good and a bad board, besides… There are no other boarders around, who else are you going to hire this board to? Call it 300 eh?”
And so it was set, board in hand I trudged the half mile to the ‘Gondola’ to be told that the second stage wasn’t open but that I was welcome to ski down the first stage. I’d driven 500 miles from Amritsar, I was damn well going to get on some snow!
Three hours later I slammed my board down on Billah’s counter.
“When does the second stage open?”
“Maybe tomorrow, why? Was the skiing bad?””
“That’s not skiing man, that’s hiking…”
Fuck… As with anywhere in the world ‘tomorrow’ is as likely to mean ‘next week’. Depressed I stumbled into the restaurant next door and sat down with the first three westerners I’d seen since arriving. Two Aussies and a Swede (the countryman, not the vegetable).
“You guys here skiing?”
“Yeah man, just sitting here with our thumbs up our arses waiting for the second stage to open”
“Me too, that first stage is useless… Hey… you guys know where sells booze round here?”
“Out the door, third door on the right, up the stairs”
Out the door it had started snowing, looked like it was working up for a big dump, I rubbed my hands with glee to stop them freezing. Third door on the right, up the stairs, into… A guys bedroom.
I grabbed four beers and we talked about how good our respective accomodation was and how much we were paying.
Rob complained about how crap his hotel was, even though it was cheap and enquired if my room was a double.
“”Tis actually, we should share it, 250 rupees each, bargain!”
“I’ll bring my stuff over tomorrow”
Next morning it was snowing and snowing hard, Rob and I met at the restaurant for breakfast, French Toast for me.
“Sweet or salt?”
I turned to Robert as he whipped out a mini chess set he told me later he’d bought in Nepal.
“Want a game?”
“Sure, why not?”
The snow didn’t stop that day, and neither did we except to lug Rob’s gear back to my hotel room, I lost count of the number of games we played and the near equal (if not identical) number of games I lost.
Next day it was still snowing, I finished my book and Rob introduced me to a card game called ‘Chicago’.
“I’m GETTING CABIN FEVER” I screamed, dropping onto the bed in the fetal position chewing my scarf. A touch melodramatic perhaps but days on end without stimulus were getting to me, there was still no end in sight to the snow….