Words: Ambica Gulati
It’s been more than two months, but the memories of the rain outing in beautiful Gulmarg remain as fresh as any sweet treat. I got up early and opened the balcony door. The smell of wet grass, the chill in the air, made me snuggle back to the safety of the warm quilt. The drizzle had a rhythmic effect and I dozed off again. The zealous lady and my host, Meenakshi Sachdev Varma, had insisted that we eat breakfast and meet in the lobby at 9 o’ clock sharp. The plan was picnic with sandwiches and kahwa and drive around the heavenly hills of Kashmir. The group packed in three SUVs, provided graciously by The Khyber resort and driven by really adept young Kashmiri men, we reached the strawberry fields. Not a soul in sight, little hillock to climb to get a view and the drizzle ongoing, cameras out, umbrellas in one hand and bags and cameras in the other, we tromped up, shoes sinking into mud and jeans wet at the bottom. There was no strawberry but the splendour of the skies with their watery drops, the potato fields in the distant, the little huts in the far away hills was something right out of a fairytale novel. I almost trampled over the tiny yellow flower struggling to keep alive in this water. Little frogs jumped around. The meadows of Gulmarg and the elements of nature mingled magnetically.
Satiated yet longing for more, we went back to our cars, crossed the army area, and up towards another fairytale resort—Hotel Highlands Park. Here, is a bar, the only place where alcohol is served. This is the resort where Bobby with hum tum ek kamre mein band ho song was shot.
But before we reached the resort, we crossed the Mountaineering and Ski training centre. And then came across an ancient St Mary’s Church. This was constructed in stone somewhere in the early 1900s by the Britishers. Now it has a Muslim caretaker and the priest comes on one Sunday in a month or on occasions from Srinagar with the parish. In the hill below is the golf course which had puddles of water. While some of went through the slight opening of the iron gate wanting to meet Jesus and Mother Mary residing in the hills of Kashmir, the others had their picnic of kahwa and sandwiches. And then it was off to the breathtaking Hotel Highland Park. The colourful world of dahlias greeted us. Cottages are built along the slopes, painted green; it looks like the Faraway Tree from Enid Blyton’s books.
My poison here was the Brandy Toddy served in a glass which had Whisky written on it. This can only happen on a holiday as amazing as the Kashmir one was. Awed, struck by the natural beauty, after hot chicken snacks and peanut salad, we were back at The Khyber. A hot of cup of tea and then ready for another relaxing round at the L’Occitane Spa.