The Day We Have Lunch at 8000 ft
Look very closely; I am somewhere there. See that faraway dot that appears to be stumbling on the snow? I’m just on my way to have lunch, you see. Except that I can not see or imagine how it is possible to have any structure, let alone a restaurant, built in a place like this!
But wait, before I show you my lunch and where I’m having it, let me first show you how we got here, walking through snow that is eight feet deep.
We’re at Gulmarg, which means Meadow of Flowers. The locals insist we return during summer to see for ourselves how this name does justice to the place. Located just 50 kilometers from Srinagar, Gulmarg is India’s popular skiing destination. It is also one of the most beautiful places to visit during summer.
Step 1: Be Prepared.
The restaurant where we’re having lunch at is at an elevation of more than 8000 feet. First, we stop at the foot of the hill to rent some warm coats, hats, and boots. We figure it’s practical to just rent; where else are we going to wear such warm clothes in Dubai? At the Mall of the Emirates?
Step 2: Drive Up to Gulmarg.
Another 4×4 vehicle waits us. The driver quickly wraps a chain around the rear tyre. We also hire a guide for the day; more like a few hours, really. Together, we begin the slow and slippery drive towards Gulmarg.
That’s an army checkpoint. The men are armed. They peek into the vehicles and look at each face intently, as if trying to memorize the features. They make me nervous. Our car begins to move forward. One of the uniformed men yells at our driver to stop and wait. “There’s on coming traffic,” he says. Our driver ignores him and drives forward anyway.
Here’s another video. It’s shaky and gray, but it will give you an idea of the narrow road. Oh, and please ignore the cheesy music playing in the background. It’s apparently the driver’s favorite.
The weather is getting worse now.
Step 3: Take the Gondola.
It creaks, makes strange sounds, and even stops abruptly for a few seconds but everyone swears it’s safe. This is the Gondola’s Phase 1. Phase 2 is closed due to bad weather conditions.
The ride takes no more than 10 minutes, and it takes you to a place called Kungdoor. The Gondola ticket costs ₹ 400 per person (roundtrip, of course).
Step 4: Walk!
Sounds pretty easy, but there are a couple of problems. First, the visibility is so low that I can’t see beyond ten feet. Second, since it snowed all night we’re standing on 8 feet of snow, our feet sinking in 2 feet with each step.
Good thing we have a guide with us. I don’t think you need a local guide to show you around if the weather is good. However, if it’s your first time and the weather is so bad you can’t see what’s around you, it’s better to follow the lead of a person who does.
It takes us twenty-five minutes to walk a distance that would have otherwise taken us ten minutes to accomplish in normal weather conditions. “Where is that restaurant?” I ask the guide desperately, as Masood and I huff and puff while he walks on effortlessly. I can see nothing in front of me except a white sheet. It’s like walking through thick clouds.
“Just a few more steps,” he assures me, “We’re almost there.” My next footstep goes much deeper into the snow so that I lose balance and fall for the second time. “This is crazy!” I tell Masood as he helps me on my feet and dusts my coat. “How is it possible for anyone to operate a restaurant in the middle of this much snow?!”
Step 5: Enjoy Lunch!
Thousands of feet above the rest of the world, in an outdoor setting of makeshift canopies, the fresh white powder crunching under our boots, and plastic flowers tied up the wooden poles, we’re finally here!
There are no other tourist around when we first arrive at the restaurant (which is half buried in thick snow) at noon. It feels weird sitting out here in the cold waiting for our lunch to arrive. Will the food arrive frozen?
While waiting for our food to arrive we busy ourselves taking photographs, talking to our guide, and having snowball fights.
The food is good, alhumdulillah, but the whole experience of eating in Kongdoor is what makes this lunch truly special and unique. Men and women in their brightly colored jackets glide past us in their skis and snowboards as we enjoy our meal. Some of them smile and wave as they pass us. Not to far away, we see the chair lifts.
Slowly, toward the end of our meal, the weather begins to improve and the sky clears up a little. We can finally begin to see our surroundings. Tourists start arriving at the restaurant. By this time, we are ready to explore Gulmarg.