Yes, I am from Switzerland, and I have spent a lot of time in the mountains. But I never knew how much they mean to me until I left my own country. This, I have come to realize after living one month in Belarus, one of the flattest nations on earth. But standing on a high elevation, overlooking the landscape, gazing into the distance, is just a magical feeling. Especially if the ground is made of solid rock and formed over millions of years ago.
Last year, I already visited the eastern part of the Himalayan Mountain Range, hiking in the mountains of Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. It was autumn, the rainy season was nearly over, and the last clouds were covering the highest peaks. I have missed the most stunning views, but I have seen Mount Everest’s tip peeking out of the clouds. Back then, I did not think about snowboarding in the Himalayas at all.
These two were the most hospitable guys I have ever met; they treated me like their own brother. This is the pure opposite of how you would be treated in the Swiss mountains. What they lacked in clear communication (such as the reason why they could not pick me up inside the airport), they made up with friendliness. First, they brought me to the Dal Lake, where all the famous house-boats float silently. They picked a tour-boat for me and helped me negotiate a good price for a short, guided trip.
Gulmarg itself reminded me a lot of small Swiss mountain villages, a few wooden houses tucked along a curvy road, surrounded by a forest. In the center, there was not a market square nor houses, but a vast plain, where people were riding snowmobiles or tried standing on skis. I wonder if there once was a crystal-clear mountain lake? I did not find an answer to that but instead received all my snowboard equipment. The brothers drove me to their friend’s shop, to equip me with all necessities: snowboard, boots, ski dress, gloves, goggles, helmet, shovel and a beeper. Within a few minutes, I was ready to hit the slopes – or rather the uncombed backcountry, as I learned the next day. I was stunned by the efficiency and professionality of this little shop – and more than happy about the low price he made me, he gave me a substantial friendship discount.
After a good night sleep, I finally hit the mountains! Fayaz, my new buddy, helped me to get a ticket, and together we embarked the gondola. Trusting this masterpiece of new French technology, I could fully enjoy the ride. Not a single cloud covered the mountains, and I had a stunning view over the Kashmir valley, surrounded by mountains as far as you can see. Halfway up, we disembarked and walked to the ski lift. It was already past 10 am, and to my astonishment, he was still motionless. As we slowly approached the booth, they turned on the engines – for their very first guests of the day!