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 kilometres 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 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 for 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 oncoming traffic,” he says. Our driver ignores him and drives forward anyway.
Here’s another video. It’s shaky and grey, 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 favourite.
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 tourists 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, alhamdulillah, but the whole experience of eating in Kongdoor is what makes this lunch truly special and unique. Men and women in their brightly coloured 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 too 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.
Assalam Alaikum Nadia. Kashmir is a destination I know I might never be able to visit. This experience is truly something you’ll never forget. Bravo for being daring enough to venture out into such thick snow and all for the love of food. It’s wonderful you added videos. The music actually made me white nostalgic about tour drivers who will have these songs etched in your mind for a couple of days thanks to the repeated playback. Would love to know if there is a way to recreate that Kahwa. The flavors sound divine. Looking forward to reading more.
Walaikum assalam, Sayana! The Kahwa requires a special kind of tea leaf that’s available in Kashmir. I’ll try to see if I can recreate the same flavors then will share the recipe with you, inshaAllah.
Yes, the drivers do have their favorite music that they can’t do without. We let them play the music least they doze off while driving. You’re right, the cheesy music does get etched in your mind for a few days. I really hate when that happens 🙂
Kashmir is truly beautiful! It’s just so sad and unfortunate that it’s not a safe place most of the time.
ahaha, what a fun read! my, that’s the kind of lunch one has to work hard for, haha. twas worth it, i guess.. 🙂 all that snow and the elevation, my. it’s rather expensive ‘no? to be able to sit and dine in monobloc chairs, 8000 feet above almost everybody, what an experience!
India must really be an interesting place, Nadia. and am glad for you, the foods were served hot. on the other hand, after all that risks and danger, they better be, hahaha. 😉
maganda ang iyong post. ang dami mong karanasan. 🙂 are you warm now?
Thank you, San! I am super warm now; it’s 40+ C here in the UAE. That’s why I’m posting all these snow-related posts now. The memory of this trip is helping me stay cool 🙂
Yes, all that trouble was completely worth the lunch experience. Everything served warm and fresh. I was expecting snowflakes in the gravy, haha!
oh, it’s relaxing to know both your office and home are centrally air-conditioned. otherwise, 40 degrees and up, one must be roasting, ahaha. well, you have the memory of the snow and the pics, hehe. ^^
snowflakes in the gravy? you always think the worst and get the best. 😉 happy weekend, Nadia… 🙂
True, we can’t survive without air-conditioning here. However, there are hundreds of those who work outdoors and I really feel for them 🙁
I suppose whatever little travel experience I have taught me it’s better to have lower expectations, and then you’ll be happier with the result 😀
ahaha, your place isn’t called the desert for nothing, i guess. 🙂 yes, the ones who work in the construction business, ‘no? and the sun could really be ruthless and unforgiving at times…^^
i suppose your travelling has done you a lot of good – makes you learn patience, lose weight and have tastes of different dishes, from various parts. most of all, they do give your satire a good practice, hehe. ^^
have a good week, Nadia, hugs… 🙂
True, ‘San! Traveling to different places do teach you so many things. I highly recommend it to you 🙂
You have a great week too!
That looks like an incredible journey. I would go to all that trouble just for those meatballs, they look delicious! And for the snow, obviously, I am a fan of snow. I can’t believe it’s a meadow of flowers in the summer, I think you’re going to have to show us when it blooms!:) Excellent review, and as always, written wonderfully.
Those meatballs are called rista. They’re mild in spices yet still delicious.
Oh, the snow experience was so much fun! I probably wouldn’t have enjoy it much had I stayed for a month or longer, but for a few days’ trip, yes it was quite an adventure.
I can’t believe the “meadow of flowers” bit too, except that when if you Google it you’ll see it is. You’re right, I should visit during the summer to see for myself. Wait, let me go find Masood 😀
What a brilliant journey Nadia. Loved it immensely – the video and ofcourse the koftehs! 8000ft! And look at those outdoor seating in the snow – ooh, already shivering:)
Thank you, Ishita! This year’s summer will be more bearable with the memory of this Kashmir adventure 😀
The food looks amazing… After seeing the pic of Kahwa, I am itching to try it out, especially since its personally endorsed by you – the global khaana-khazaana promoter and critic 🙂
And waise bhi, ab India ka exploration bahut ho gaya…time to hop on Emirates for a non-stop 13 hr flight to Toronto 🙂
Global khana-khazana promoter 😀 Yeah, right. But it sounds nice so thank you 🙂
Yep, we are ready to explore saat samandar paar, but a) not on Emirates, b) there’s 1 stop-over, and c) not Toronto.
How’d you been? Welcome back the blog!
Aray why not Toronto? Pehle North American poora saaf kardo with all your observations and experiences, then Europe/Oceanic countries ke taraf jaana 🙂
I’ve been ok, just busy at times. It’s a good thing that I’ve subscribed to your blog, so that I dont miss any latest posts… 🙂 (warna toh God knows kab aata main blogs padhne…)
Behbood, we’ll be somewhere in North America after Ramadan, but not exactly Toronto. Will give details once the trip is confirmed, inshaAllah.
Good to see you blogging again 🙂
WOW! It must be ULTRA Cold!!!! I can’t imagine how the food did not freeze en route to your table!
It was too cold, Didi! We had layers upon layers of clothing to keep us warm.
Our table was merely a few steps away from their kitchen and then we ate the food as soon as it was served. The thing with eating out on the snow is that you don’t have the luxury of enjoying your meal in a leisurely manner 😀
What a cool experience! I like the picture of you faintly in the distance 🙂
It’s my best pictures to date, ‘liya 😉
What happened to your blog?
I’m waiting for Vick to set a new one up for me. School ends on Friday and I’m anxiously waiting to get back to blogging. Don’t ask why I can’t do it myself and need his help 🙂
And I’m excited to read about your adventures! I won’t ask why you can’t do it yourself, I’m hoping V sets up the blog soon 🙂
Wow amazing weather and food
Maryam, welcome to the blog! 🙂
I can’t imagine how cold it is, Nadia. That it so brave of you! Everything is so white — like heaven! And it must be utterly rewarding at the first sip of warm soup.
Kashmir truly is a must visit for travelers worth their salt.
Hi Kero! Oh, it was terribly cold, alright. But when you are walking around and climbing hills, then your heart begins pumping fast and you’ll even start perspiring under all the warm clothes.