With all the mayhem going on in the Islamic world these days we decided it might be an interesting idea to go check it out for ourselves and see if all the hype really lives up to its portrayal in the media. Among other things, I knew we were definitely in it when I arose from my quarters every morning to this gentleman conducting prayer on the television.
But I am getting too far ahead, so let me start from the beginning. I have always wanted to snowboard in the Himalayas, of course. I had dreamed of a climbing expedition to one of the high peaks which would culminate in a snowboard descent. I still dream of that and the idea remains a possibility, but this time around we elected to go for something a little more laid back: a 5,000 vertical foot gondola providing a plethora of touring opportunities in occupied Kashmir.
First we had to get there, initially traveling through India and then into to Kashmir. From the city of Srinagar we traveled northeast towards the Line of Control which divides India occupied Kashmir from Azadi Kashmir, or ‘Free’ Kashmir, but actually Pakistani occupied Kashmir. Not more than 100 miles east of our destination lay Islamabad and the heart of Pakistan.
As a result of ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, as well as continuous acts of rebellion by Kashmiri liberationists and acts of terrorism by Jihadi groups infiltrating from Pakistan, the region we have travelled to is heavily militarized, as evidenced by army patrol groups roaming the streets in a Vietnam – Irag – Afghanistan type fashion.
I am not really sure who these guys are, Army or Mujahideen, but they are randomly cruising around in an unmarked vehicle wearing guerilla gear and packing large caliber assault rifles. All I do know is that you do not want to piss these guys off :nonono: which I did not seem to do when I subtlety snapped this photo.
The Kashmiri Himalaya gets absolutely massive amounts of snow and the mountain roads are often subject to long delays as a result of vehicles becoming stuck. The following photos describe our day-to-day experience on the roads:
The characters in this photo, armed with an AK-47, assaulted our taxi cab driver just prior to the moment this photo was taken. Our cab was stuck in the road, they came rushing up, blasted him in the face a few times while yelling obscenities, and then took off. Here they are making their getaway. Exciting stuff.
Actually you cannot travel very far in these parts without running into someone with an assault rifle. There are a lot of AK-47’s in Kashmir.
But yeah, it seriously dumps here and we were pretty stoked to see the locals out unburying their houses because we knew that epic pow days in the Himalayas would be ours in the immediate future.
When we pulled out our splits several of the locals crowded around for a look, displaying intense curiosity.
Skinning into the ancient Himalayan forests was surreal.
And the reward was endless laps of waste deep blower Himalayan powder snow.
During the storms, which ultimately dumped up to ten feet of new snow at the higher elevations during our stay, we were forced to spend our time below treeline in the forests. The old-growth Himalayan forests are an endless playground of pillows, staircases, hits, drops, and some of the sickest log-rides Savage has ever witnessed. Here Tahoe Mike sets it off on a very proper jib.
Now check this angle via sequence. Watch how large he travels off the end of this thing.
Now here is angle number three. He stomped it and then instantly hit a pillow which sent him another 30 plus feet out.
Here Savage floats one off a prime five step staircase.
And the deep pow pillow hit paradise went on and on…
We found this sick zone with forest laps that led to a Mosque with a road that we could hire a taxi to pick us up on. Here is a view through the forest of the mosque we are heading towards.
And this is what the riding was like on the way…
When we got to the road we were greeted by locals returning to work from prayer. They generally seemed very stoked that we were out shredding the woods behind their shrine.
Worried that we may be seen as infidel intruders and face hostilities we were cautious about going to have a closer look of this beautiful place of worship in the high mountains. However, we were greeted with warmth and welcomed as visitors.
A great experience, and in due time we were rallying back up for more laps.
And as the days went on it just kept nuking snow and we kept slaying pow. Sometimes it was so thick you could barely see.
We came across this really fun jib: an old growth tree trunk crossing over a ravine.
Here’s a sequential view.
Fun as hell!
And the session went on and on….
Riding this primeval forest also included day-to-day encounters with snow monkeys.
And day-after-day the powder playground was endless.
Tahoe Mike connected with this super cool pillow air to a perfect tranny.
And Savage found this super fun pillowy log-ride
And so it went….
C-Man, the two planked member of our crew, nailed this doubler; bronco style.
Here’s ‘the bronco’ from a different angle.
The fun airs and jibs were limitless.
This is a view of one the forest runs we scored. The photo may impress upon you the uniqueness of these deep-rooted old-growth labyrinths; the tree runs in Kashmir are limitless and grand. The route outlined here is approximately 3,000 vertical feet.
Every time you session one of these laps you inevitably return to a road and you must then hire a taxi to take you back to the base area of the resort. Whenever you travel a road the military is prevalent. This is because the Line of Control is only a short distance from the mountains we are riding. Their presence is somewhat reassuring because in the event of a jihadi attack the military would likely be quick to respond, but nevertheless I often felt as if I was snowboarding in a warzone.
Yet despite that feeling of volatility, there is something else in the air which makes us feel at home and secure: the hospitality of the Kashmiri people and their passion for skiing. There is an intense local skiing culture and people have been skiing in these mountains for many many years. The Kashmiri love for snow, and skiing, and being in the mountains, alongside a desire for tourism, is what led to the Jammu-and-Kashmir government establishing the Gondola at Gulmarg. Many Kashmiri’s have become expert skiers and snowboarders as a result. Many are competent mountain guides. It is absolutely wonderful to see people from such a historically troubled and war-torn land immerse themselves in the joy of skiing. The spirit of powder snow is universal, and it immediately unified us with the people. In this photo some of the locals teach themselves to ski on a small hillside.
During the heavy storms the gondola to the alpine zone remained closed.
And occasionally the clouds would break, providing us views of the open terrain above.
Even when the skies go blue you are not guaranteed a gondola ride. The operation has strict avalanche control measures in place and openings are dependent upon military provision of explosives. Additionally, the control work is very slow going. After a storm the gondola may not open until 2pm, if at all. It is not unheard of for outsiders to travel here and never even obtain a single gondola ride to the summit ridge. We got lucky and were able to make several runs in the alpine zone during our stay.
This photo was taken from a gondola car looking south.
We were treated to a lively music festival at the gondola station.
The gondola tops out at 3950 meters, which is about 13,000 feet. Depending on how far you are willing to go, touring can get you much higher.
The common backcountry danger warning sign, except this is the first one I have ever seen in Arabic.
And due to the frequent use of the area by Russian shredders they also translate information into Cyrillic.
From the top of the lift you can hike to higher elevations and choose seemingly infinite options for a descent. The views of the surrounding Himalayas and the Vale of Kashmir below are exceptional. Here we take in a view of the mighty Nanga Parbat (8,126 meters or 26,660 feet, the world’s ninth highest summit).
Snowboarding under the shadows of Nanga, with its iconic 15,000 foot Rupal Face, is a majestic experience we will not soon forget.
Several other high peaks of the range were also visible during our ridgeline travels, although likely being 6,000 meters or so, we had no means to identify them.
The names were insignificant, but knowing that we were standing on a ridgeline in the Himalayas preparing to ride perfect powder certainly was not a lighthearted memento.
On one late evening descent from the Alpine a few of us had the privilege of encountering a snow leopard traveling across a snow field. While only viewed from afar, we were extremely lucky. This photo was taken only a moment after the snow leopard disappeared over the ridge above.
One night, while preparing to retire for the evening, a snow monkey appeared at our window, seemingly quite entertained by watching us! The irony is exceptional! We watch other humans through the glass-walled spectacle of television while monkey’s watch us through the glass barrier of our hotel window.
At one point the military ran out of explosives for snow control work. Thus, even while the sky was blue, the weather calm, and the snow fairly stabilized, the gondola remained closed for many days in a row and we were forced to skin to the ridge.
The Pir Pinjal range has many stands of beautiful birch trees.
This is looking south into the Pir Pinjal’s. The large rock buttressed peak in the background was said to be upwards of 6000 meters in elevation.
Here we look west over the Line of Control. The ridge on the skyline is Pakistan. Islamabad lies in the valley below these distant mountains.
We are headed out to ski this peak.
Here we are on the summit, approximately 14,000 feet in elevation.
The riding photos did not really turn out, but here is a view of our route. The snow was deep pow and stable. Notice the old avi crown across the lower mid-section. An excellent steep, exposed line, and our only big line of such a nature accomplished on this trip to the Himalayas. We got a weather window and made it happen stoked.
This photo is looking north in the direction of the Karakorum Range on the ride out.
Of course, as you descend from the alpine zone you always get the bonus epic forest segment as well.
The Himalayan golden eagle:
Back up for another lap with a plan to make a 7,000 foot descent ending at a distant village on the valley floor.
The small village we are heading to can be seen in the following two riding photos:
Sweet pow the whole way.
The following photos are sort of an overview of the amazing terrain encountered on a run to the valley floor such as this. Here is a wonderful old-growth birch snow field we were sessioning.
Following the alpine birch segment you then reach the powder filled mixed conifer birch forest zone. Here are some photos of the terrain I took while doing an epic solo lap; just imagine.
Here C-Man comes spitting out of one of the awesome tree chutes.
Whatever chute or tree run descended you will always end up in one of the massive gullies that feed the river drainages leading to the valley floor. These gullies always provided fun riding. They are also massive terrain traps so it is critical to pay close attention to safety conditions before committing to a descent.
Here Mike pops some air off a wall of past avi debris (a massive stauchwall) in the large gully.
After what seems like miles of powder turns we eventually reach a main river bottom and find a trail heading towards the village. It was a beautiful setting.
We seemed to have entered a natural preserve of some type as we encountered several bits of inspiring signage installed by the wildlife protection department. Maybe our governmental agencies here in the USA could learn something from the frankness of the message put forth here.
The trail continues onward towards the village.
Looking back you can see the top of the gondola on the ridge.
Upon reaching the valley floor we are greeted by villagers.
Some of the children receive snowboard lessons.
We are welcomed by Arjumin, who speaks perfect English. He tells us that he is very happy to have American visitors and invites us to stay for awhile.
We spent some time along the river with the villagers around the fire. Arjumin explains to us much about the Kashmiri struggle for liberation, the meaning of Jihad, and his interpretation of the Quran. The propagandists have infiltrated the minds of us all: we are afraid that they will hate us because we are from the USA and they worry that we will dislike them because they are Muslim. This discrepancy is quickly cleared up and we all express happiness to be sharing this experience, this river, this snowstorm, this campfire.
Our new friends arrange a taxi for us but we have to walk about a mile along this dirt road to the pickup location.
We would go on to make runs to this village several times during our stay, visiting our friends each time.
I am almost running out of photos here, but before I go I want to show you some photos of riding in the Himalayan birch forest. On storm days you can skin to some awesome birch trees (these trees can also be reached from the ridge on clear days when the gondola is open).
One day, when it was snowing heavily, for purposes of an enjoyable lunch break, I decided to build a birch fire at the top of the tree run. We took an extended rest before dropping in.
The birch skiing was epic.
Snowboarding in Kashmir was rad, no doubt. It was a Himalayan soul surfin’ powder paradise, never to be forgotten.
After successfully departing Kashmir we had a few extras days to spend in India. Some of the crew wanted to make a mission to the Taj Mahal.
The experience of driving through New Dehli and across the Indian countryside was also something I will not forget, but when compared to our experience in Kashmir, the memories will be much less positive. To put it succinctly: Modern India is a quintessential example of how and why “development” is destroying our planet and our species. I won’t write a diatribe on that here. I’ll let you ponder the obviousness for yourselves, but urge you to pay careful attention to how the repercussions of the ‘never-to-be developed’ victims of globalization and Western economic imperialism affect our lives at home over the next few years: we cannot escape the wrath of overshoot which we all have sewn.
Lastly, I would like to say that while Islamic extremism is a definite reality across our world today which should not be taken lightly, anyone who blames/profiles all Muslim people into that category is a foolish victim of political/religious propaganda. Of all the countries and places I have ever traveled to in this world I have never been treated with the warmth and consideration that the Kashmiri people offered us. I won’t diatribe on this either, because for most people the reality is obvious that fringe groups driven by dogmatic ideology, and not logic, exist across all political/religious spectrums. My main point is that I have now experienced for myself the life and culture of an Islamic people riddled with war, terrorism, and occupation by a foreign power. One should not cast judgment on a people simply because of their race, religion, or actions without directly experiencing something of their lives for oneself. The next time some redneck fuck makes ignorant comments to me they are going to get a mouthful….
Post subject: Re: Himalayas Trip Report: Kashmir-India: (many photos).
Posted: Tue Apr 05, 2011 10:58 pm
Joined: Fri May 13, 2005 8:05 am Posts: 1506 Location: 395
If you don't ride Gulmarg the terrorists win! Epic+++ AK 47's, epic tree runs, Nanga Parbat, intense cultural experiences, yet my favorite part is the monkey watching you watch TV. That's just too awesome!!!
Post subject: Re: Himalayas Trip Report: Kashmir-India: (many photos).
Posted: Wed Apr 06, 2011 3:04 am
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2007 4:42 am Posts: 314 Location: Girdwood, AK!!!
Looks like you got a good crew there Savage, all out for the pow. Hard to believe, but I think I may have F-d up by going to J-pan. (Not really). Hopefully I'll make up for it, not riding enough, in the Sierras next week. By the way... we just got a foot or so and I believe Valdez is healing well also. AWESOME TR!!! Let me know before you go on your next worldly trip... Peace!
_________________ If you had a moderate chance of being shot in a bar, would you go in? -Tom Kimbrough, former Utah forcaster
WOW! Now if I can just take a lifetime off and travel to all these rad places. Any hope that my in-laws have of me growing up will never happen with TRs like this. Keep them coming and don't tell my in-laws about SB.com! SICK!