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Gulmarg 2015/16 Trip Report - Page 2

post #31 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 17 – Wednesday 2nd March
  This was to prove to be a very mellow day. The light wasn’t that great for shooting on the mountain and there was no new snow anyway, so Berman wanted to shoot some interviews. We set up in front of Mr. Khan’s clothes store and 1 by one, the athletes and crew took turns in front of the camera, as Berman asked everyone their thoughts about the trip so far. I didn’t hang out for too long. Wiley Miller was the first to be done so when he got hungry, I took him in the taxi up to the Khyber Resort and Spa, to show him around and have some lunch. The spaghetti bolognaise is the best spaghetti's I’ve ever had (they use lamb mince and it tastes so good!).


  After a good lunch, we headed back to the market but the film crew was done and they ended up picking us up on the road. We tried to go back to the Khyber so the rest of the crew could have lunch, but they wouldn’t let Bashir, our friend and driver, into the restaurant, so we went to the Pine Palace Heritage instead where we could have some food and a beer. That was a comparatively easy day, but there was not much else we could have done. The plan was to spend the next day filming in Srinagar, so everyone had an early night as we knew this would be a long day.


Setting up for filming in the old market area of Gulmarg. This was going to be a day of filming interviews.



It's always useful to set up a lengthy film segment in front of a bakery selling delicious samosas.....



Two of my favorite people in Gulmarg, Mr. Khan on the left and Bashir Ahmad on my right.



Wiley Miller in front of Mr. Khan's shop, being interviewed by Josh Berman.



The locals definitely aren't shy when the cameras come out!



Nice close-up of Wiley, Mr. Khan and a Gulmarg local. That is Mr. Khan smiling by the way, he is a very serious man in front of the camera but he has a heart of gold and is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet in Gulmarg.

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #32 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 18 – Thursday 3rd March
  I definitely had been enjoying the cultural days that we were filming. I enjoyed seeing the reaction of the locals and the film crew alike and I was excited to see what we could come up with in Srinagar. Mushtaq and Irshad arrived early and it took the guys a little bit of extra time to get ready, before we hit the road. The guys were filming everything, with Go-Pros sticking out of the taxi windows at all angles.


  We stopped in Tangmarg, there was a road block stopping all taxis from proceeding. We stopped and Mushtaq and Jeelani got out and went into a small taxi-drivers’ union office and it was not immediately clear why they were stopped. It turns out that Mushtaq didn’t have a permit to be driving on that particular day of the month, so once he paid his bribe, we were on our way. Pretty typical of Kashmir or India, if there is a problem, you normally just have to reach into your pocket and it’s just a matter of paying your way out.


  We stopped again just outside of Tangmarg. Berman wanted to do some filming of Gulmarg from a distance, the view was looking pretty good. They got the drone out again and had that flying around getting long distance shots. It turns out Mushtaq was having a small problem with his truck, so as we had stopped right next to a mechanics, he used the time to get his drive shaft removed and hammered back into alignment. That whole process took about 20 minutes, I can’t imagine the time and expense if someone had to do that back in the US. Here it cost a few $’s, no big deal and was done at the side of the road. The guys filmed all the way down to Srinagar, we made it to Dal Lake in pretty good time. We went straight down to the shikara stands (water taxis) and the guys got some shots there. We even had the drone out again and we had a decent crowd watching us take shots of the shikaras and the houseboats.


  Wiley and Elliott had decided the night before that they were going to head back to Canada early as there was no new snow on horizon (storms were being forecast but they kept fizzling out, but even if there was a big storm to come through, any new snow would likely see the avi danger skyrocket, so we were between a rock and a hard place in that regard, either way the chance for epic turns in the alpine later in the trip was probably over), so we were going to leave them at the houseboats that night.


  Berman’s big idea and one that he was very excited about, was to go waterskiing, Kashmiri style. I had showed him the waterskiing on the lake on day 1 and he was keen to try it. So we took a shikara out to one of the pontoons where they do the waterskiing and started getting set up. It was super expensive, they wanted something like 2,000 INR for one quick run around the lake. We had Jeelani with us and we managed to haggle to price down. It got a little heated at one stage, but we stuck to our guns and paid for 7 runs. Jeff Schmuck and I were the only ones who didn’t go.

It looks terrifying, a rickety old speedboat pulling what looks like a large ironing board (it’s a big wooden tabletop that has a rope attached from its end to the speedboat and a rope for the skier to hang onto) but it’s actually pretty placid. The whole contraption stays afloat when the boat is on the move and if they go slow for you, you stay dry. If all the Indian tourists can do, then so could we! It was fun, but we had our drivers go pretty fast and the guys tried a few tricks, so everyone get pretty wet. It was a hot day but I didn’t fancy hanging out in Srinagar in wet clothes, so I watched instead.


  They ended up having a great time and got some great drone footage as the drone followed the skier around the lake. Then we headed back to shore and the guys wanted to do some more filming, so we went up to the scenic overlook of the old Pari Mahal gardens, before it got too dark. We had an amazing outlook of the whole of Srinagar and Dal Lake, the view was amazing as the sun was starting to go down and the light was changing. We got some nice shots and then headed back down to the lake.

This time they set up on a different dock, with a huge group of locals watching (probably close to a 100 or so). The crowd was pretty pumped, most had never seen a drone before and we pretty excited by it. There were a lot of people clamoring to see the display of the footage that the drone was relaying. Again, the drone flew around the shikaras and in front of the houseboats. There were a few policemen with Ak-47’s that were watching as well, they seemed just as stoked as the crowd.


  Now unfortunately the crew had not seen that they were filming in front of a police station. I didn’t think too much of it as the policemen that were there, seemed pretty ok with things, however that was about to change. I noticed a new group of police guys turn up. They didn’t seem too happy. There was clearly an officer in the group (he had gold sunglasses on and a protruding stomach, clearly he was the man in charge) and he was barking orders to his underlings and they were heading in our direction. Berman was flying his drone and it was not near the dock. I told Josh that we had company and they did not look too happy so he should bring the drone in but it was too late. I heard the officer in charge yelling at Josh, he was clearly not happy. He told him to bring the drone in immediately and to give him the memory card. Josh obeyed. He asked what he was doing and if he had a permit. Josh apologized and said no and that we were just filming the shikaras and the houseboats, nothing of significance. The officer then said that we were a security risk and that he had to confiscate the footage. He left and we were left in shock.


  Then another policeman came over and asked Josh to come to the station. I went as well, to make sure everything was ok. We followed them in and were brought into an office room. The officer had the video card and he went through a whole list of questions. He took down our names and where we were from. He took a copy of my driver’s license, but Josh did not have any ID on him. He just had his color photo copy of his passport info page and that was in the car. The officer wasn’t happy about that but allowed him to go outside and get it. He was unaccompanied as he went outside (which I didn’t know at the time), so that was the first clue that we weren’t in serious trouble. He gave Josh a hard time about not having his passport on him (not that I had my passport on me either, but he seemed happy with my driver’s license at least), but I tried lightening the mood by telling him we were not in ISIS or any other terrorist organization. That put a bit of a smile on his face and seemed to lighten the mood a little. We exchanged a few other pleasantries and by the end of it all, it was all smiles and handshakes. He even asked if we wanted the memory card back, which Josh was pretty happy to hear. So, it all ended up ok in the end, although it was a little disconcerting when we got taken in and they started taking our names and other info.


  Apparently when we went in, Mushtaq had called Manzoor Pakhtoon to tell him we’d been detained. He and his father had then called the police station to have us released. Manzoor is very well-connected as he is the president of the houseboat owner’s association and is personal friends with the director of tourism. His father Noor is very well-known too, so when the police station received the two phonecalls from them, vouching for us, it wasn’t long before we were let go. If they hadn’t of vouched for us, it could have gone very differently. I was also told that I would get my ID back as well so there was nothing on file. It’s good to have friends in high places in Kashmir!


  So, all ended well and at least we came out with an exciting story. We would be allowed to film at Dal Lake again if we wanted to, we’d just have to ask permission at the police station first. We celebrated our freedom with a Butter Chicken with the rest of the team at Stream restaurant. Then we said goodbye to Wiley and Elliott and made our way back to Gulmarg. It had been an exciting and long day in Srinagar!

post #33 of 43
Thread Starter 

Photos of the exciting day in Srinagar.....


Heading down to Srinagar, we stopped just outside of Tangmarg so the crew could get some long distance shots of the mountain with the drone.



Robin getting the angry swarm of bees set up.



Just in case you lost your way.....



Amazing how what would be a major (and expensive repair) back in the US, was just a 20 minute job here in Kashmir, fixed at the side of the road. I think the drive shaft was bent (or parts of the drive shaft), so it was quickly removed, hammered back into shape and then put back on!



Road side mechanics at their finest!



We made it down to Srinagar and we went straight to Dal Lake. This is the first time they put the drone up; here Robin Lee shows the locals the real-time display used to fly the drone and the footage that is being captured.



Just a small crowd for the first flight and no arrests yet,we are doing well!



Onwards to the lake and time for some Kashmiri waterskiing......



View of the old Durrani Fort in Srinagar.



Getting the speed boat prepped and ready for a waterski sesh.



Locals on the barge playing Carom, a board game similar to pool.



This is not an ironing board, no, it's actually the water ski that you stand on and go around the lake on...



Waterskiing can be a demanding sport, so it's good to have plenty of BBQ at hand! One of the many floating BBQ shikaras that roam the lake,should you get hungry.



So, this is how they waterski 101, on Dal Lake. So, the big ironing board is tethered to the speed boat. You stand on the ironing board and there are some rope handles that come up from the front of the ironing board that you grab hold of for balance. You wear some rubber gum boots to keep your feet dry as well, then when you are ready, the boat takes off and pulls you along....



Off goes Laurent around the lake. Just like all the jumps, he was the youngest and most keen to guinea pig everything, good man!



Thank fully our boat was a Boeing, so it was fast and reliable.....



If you want, you can go extra fast. It's a shorter ride then, but way more fun.....



When you are finished, the guys slow the boat and rush back and quickly pull you up onto the back of the boat, so you don't get wet.



Not that that would have mattered anyway, because when you ask to go faster, you get wet anyway!



Robin Lee, making it look easy. Must be all that surfing he does in Hong Kong.....



Dal Lake life!



After the waterskiing, we headed back to shore to check out more of Srinagar. Here the floating salesmen are in hot pursuit!



Checking out the view from the Pari Mahal, an old Mughal garden and now scenic overlook over Srinagar and The Boulevard.



The terraced gardens, definitely a great place to be on a nice spring day.



The Royal Springs Golf Course looking pretty green for this time of year....



The view of Dal Lake.






What the sign says.....



Painting a new Shikara (water taxi, not to be confused with shukria which means "Thank you" or Shakira, who is a sultry south american singer with amazing dance moves and well-written music).



The start of the "excitement", drone flying on the Boulevard, round 2..... The drone takes off to get some footage of the houseboats and the shikaras as the sun started to set. There is a police base on the lake at an old hotel pretty far back towards the vegetable markets, but the drone was nowhere near there.



At least the locals were enjoying the show!




A bit blurry this shot, but this was the moment that everything changed. The "big boss" was about to turn up (complete with golden aviator sunglasses of course!). Even though there were several armed (AK-47's) policemen already on the dock with us, smiling and enjoying the show, the chief of police was not happy......

The big crowd that had assembled was a bit of a giveaway.....



Most of the locals had not seen a drone before, they loved it and the crew got some amazing, aerial shots of the lake. The next time we would film on Dal Lake, the crew would make sure they would ask the local police station for permission to film before they started. The film crew was welcomed back the next time, we were familiar faces at the police station! What an exciting day. We didn't get back to Gulmarg till well after dark, I was glad to be back!

post #34 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 19 – Friday 4th March

  We were running out of time to get any more decent ski footage done. The weather forecast just wasn’t co-operating. They kept calling for snow but it just never showed up. We had a late start and then went to meet Luke as we were still trying to finalize our meeting with the Tourism Director. Then we went skiing down past the mid-station to check out some more potential job spots. The snow had been melting fast down low and all our spots were either too flat or didn’t have enough snow on them to work. So, it was a pretty short day with not much accomplished.


Day 20 – Saturday 5th March

  The day started slowly. The clouds were building so the light wasn’t good. Snow was in the forecast, but not much, so that didn’t really inspire the guys to want to film on the mountain. We checked out some ponds on the golf course that had appeared due to the melting snow, but when we got down to them, they were still covered in ice (we had been thinking about doing some snowmobile serviced pond skimming, that would have got the locals excited), so that shoot was not going to work. We were in danger of not coming up with a plan so I said right, this is the day we should finally go to Drung.


  Drung was always on the cards, it was just a matter of when. The skiing down to Drung wasn’t really an option, so we’d need to get Mushtaq and Irshad come up and give us a lift down there. There was talk of hiring some fishing rods and doing some fishing, but when we got down to Tangmarg, we found out that people had been hiring rods back at Yasin’s ski shop in Gulmarg, so fishing was out (Berman thought it might make for some ironic footage, if it made it onto the DVD extras).


  The main goal was to get to see the kids in Drung. We had stocked up on chocolate bars and Mushtaq guided us into the village. He found a local from the village who told us all the kids were up in the school, so he lead us there instead. I could hear the kids in the classrooms, sounded like class was in session to me, so I was a little reticent to ask them to come out and meet us. However, a couple of the teachers came out and started chatting to us and I told them about the film crew and that we wanted to meet and talk to the children. The teacher said that was fine and brought out one of the classes. They all lined up out the front of the school, it all felt very formal and not very natural, so we went around and gave out some of the chocolate bars and soon we had the kids running around and playing games with us (I’m sure the chocolate and sugar helped that).


  When the cameras came out, then the kids really came out of their shells. The other classes came out as well and pretty soon, we had the entire school outside with us, probably close to a 100 kids. The kids definitely loved getting filmed and constantly asked us to take photos of them. They definitely weren’t shy now. We took a big class photo and then Josh Bibby got one of the kids to set off his airbag. They loved that. The real highlight though came when we brought out the drone. Most of the kids and the teachers, had never seen a drone before. Initially when we launched it, the kids were a little scared of it and shrank back in fright when it took off. They quickly got used to it and they chased it everywhere when it was down low and screamed in delight when it was flown high and fast passed the school.


  We ended up spending several hours at the school. The crew got a ton of footage and everyone was really happy. The head teacher came up to me afterwards and said thank you and that that the kids would never forget this day. That put a smile on my face but I said to him that that was awesome and that we would never forget this day either. It was a sad time when we all had to say good bye. We posed for some last photographs and then waved the kids goodbye. It was a long walk out of the village and then the thunder starting rolling in and the heavens opened, drenching us to the bone. Thankfully Irshad and Mushtaq had moved the vehicles as close to the meeting point as possible. We jumped in and then headed to Tangmarg to the Downhill Restaurant, another tasty spot to get some butter chicken. Then it was back to Gulmarg with high-fives all round. It was a real shame that Riley and Elliott had missed this day, let’s hope the skiing in Revelstoke was as rewarding as this day! 



post #35 of 43
Thread Starter 

Some photos of our day in Drang. Apologies that there aren't many ski shots in this trip report this year, not much I can do about that unfortunately..... hope you like these as this was a very special day with the kids down in Drang.


It's me! Probably the real reason we nearly got arrested in Srinagar 2 days previously..... this Canadian gangster! Love all the stickers and slogans they have on the back of their vehicles in Kashmir. Reckon this is a pretty good re-creation?!



The Drung Government School. The kids were still in class as we were getting setup, but that was about to change.....



Thumbs up from the boys!



Thumbs up from the girls!



Group shot with one of the classes. About 20 minutes or so later, we'd have the entire school out there, probably close to 60 or 70 kids.



Bibby got one of the kids to pull his airbag, then it turned into a giant drum.



We were running low on chocolate, the kids were becoming restless, we were in danger of getting snowballed. We had to come up with a diversion..... quick, send up the drones!



We had fun interacting with all the kids, but there were definitely a few that had a little bit more energy than the others and wanted a bit more attention. This little guy was definitely a little trouble maker (in a good way of course). We got a lot of photos with him!



This little girl was just the cutest ever. She was so quiet but just loved to be in front of the camera. Every where I went, she would come up to me and ask to be filmed and she also ended up in a ton of photos.



Another little trouble maker! We definitely learned pretty quickly the playground hierarchy. It was clear that the older girls definitely ruled the roost, whenever any of the boys got out of line, man, they definitely got a whack from the girls!



Laurent getting swamped! He really loved the kids, picking them up and playing with them. It was great to see.



I'd asked the girls to smile as wide as they could and show me some teeth! They definitely got the teeth part!









Suns out guns out! The local boys flexing the muscles for the camera. It's such a fun challenge, trying to interact with kids that don't speak much English. It doesn't take a lot of mutual understanding to still have fun.









Group shot with the kids.



Some last minute shots with the girls. Definitely not camera shy!






One of my favorite shots from the whole trip!



Laurent put his jacket on our favorite little trouble maker. I think it will work just fine!



Heading out of the village, back to Tangmarg for lunch. These chickens knew we were on the hunt for Butter Chicken, so they were running scared.....



Mushtaq helping to schlep some of the gear back to the vehicles. Thanks Mushtaq, Irshad and Jeelani, for a great day in Drung.



Jeelani wanted to take us the scenic (long) way out of the village. Unfortunately the bridge had been washed  away so we had to get a little creative with the crossing. To make matter worse, the weather was really coming in and it stared to thunder. The lightening was pretty close and it started to rain heavily. Time to get out of there!



Berman crossing part of the river (this was the easy bit). You definitely don't want to be falling in with all that camera gear.....


Hope you enjoyed the adventure. I've had many, many memorable days in Drung, but even though we didn't get to ski down there, this was still the most memorable day in Drung I've ever had. Fun times!



post #36 of 43

Great Picture, thank you for sharing!

post #37 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 21 – Sunday 6th March
  This was to be our last chance of skiing on the mountain. After the rain storm down in Drung, we figured there would have been some snow up high. How much was going to be the question and how good the visibility was going to be, was the other question. It was relatively clear when we got to the gondola and as we neared the top, we saw the TGR boys setting up a shot in the Sheenmai Bowl (first bowl, skier’s right of the gondola). They took a pretty high risk entrance over a convex roll into their zone, but thankfully it held.


  Our goal was to head south, out towards the army camp ridgeline. Just as we got into our line, the clouds started to roll in. We picked our way down the ridge and found some trees, but the clouds were still not budging. We waited for more than an hour and a half, but it still didn’t improve. We decided to pull the pin and head back down early. The clouds increased that afternoon so it was a good call, they wouldn’t have gotten any usable footage anyway.


  That meant we had plenty of time to pack. I left my skis and skins to Dawood, my other local guide. Jeelani had received several pairs of new skis, so it looked like he was going to be all set. We’d made plans to go out that night and say goodbye to Gulmarg, but it never happened. I think everyone was pretty beat so we ended up staying in. I slept well that night and was up early, ready for our last breakfast and departure for Srinagar.


Day 22 – Monday 7th March
  We had grand plans to leave early for Srinagar and Mustaq and Irshad were there to meet us at 8am, as arranged. I had already settled my bill that night, but the crew had a problems with their bill, so we didn’t end up leaving till 10am. That meant we didn’t get down to Srinagar till after noon as we had a couple of stops along the way. Our meeting with the Director of Tourism wasn’t until 2pm, so we had a little bit of time to kill. Josh Berman, Jeff Schmuck (who was feeling absolutely rotten by this stage and had the dreaded double threat) and I were due to meet Manzoor Pakhtoon and the Director of Tourism at the Tourism Dept offices in the city. We got there early and Manzoor also arrived there early too.


  We looked around but the place was deserted. It turned out it was a public holiday…… things are never as easy as they seem, as I’ve stated before! Thankfully as Manzoor knows Mahmood Shah (Director of Tourism) very well, he was able to call him on his cell and find out where he was. It turns out he was at the airport after a visit to Calcutta and was happy to meet us anywhere we wanted in Srinagar. So naturally I suggested Stream, so we could get in one last little fix of the good old Butter Chicken…. Ha ha!


  We went straight there and ordered lunch. The Director turned up about 30 minutes later. We had a good meeting. He was particularly interested in all of the camera gear, especially the RED Epic, which he’d never seen before. He also wanted to buy the drone off the guys but it wasn’t for sale. Turns our Mr. Shah is a bit of a photographer…… Josh had prepared a quick highlight reel of the footage they’d taken so far. He was pretty blown away, particularly by the drone footage which he thought was unique and really showed how big the mountains in Gulmarg are. That was pretty cool. We had a good talk and then headed back to meet the others.


  I took them to a rug shop on the way to the houseboats and we tried to buy some beers, but the bottle shop was closed. We loaded onto the shikaras and headed to our houseboat. The sun was going down and the light was amazing. The guys sent up the drone and got some good footage (we’d been to the police station and they had given us the green light to film; they even recognized us at the police station and gave us a warmer welcome this time). We had dinner and a few beers on the boat, then it was an early night so we could be up early for a shikara ride to the floating vegetable markets the next day.


I think Josh Bibby is hungry!



He's either on fire or he's the bbq guy....
























post #38 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 23 – Tuesday 8th March

  We were up early at 6:30am to take the shikara ride to the floating vegetable market. Last year, there was no market as the vegetable crop had been wiped out after all the flooding the previous summer. I had been told that the market was operating again, but I would believe it with my own eyes. Sure enough, there was a market and it was pumping! I have never seen so many traders and tourists (taking snaps on this rickety old foot bridge), it was going off! This was great to see, it had been a little depressing last season to see an empty marketplace and nothing going on. We stayed around for about an hour or so, we all got a ton of snaps and enjoyed the experience. Then we had to start the 20 minute paddle back to the houseboat and breakfast.


  We had quite the spread waiting for us when we got back, with toast, various kinds of egg, cereal, jams and tea and coffee. The crew had to eat quickly as they were on the first lift at 9:30am to get to the airport. I wasn’t leaving till after 11am as my flight wasn’t going till after 3pm, so I had some time to kill. The plan was for me to meet the team again at the Red Fox Hotel near the airport, then we would spend the next 2 days in Agra and Delhi. I was looking forward to this. I was able to meet Manzoor Pakhtoon again just before I left and he helped me organize a van and tour guide for the Agra trip on Wednesday.


  I made it to the airport way too early and they wouldn’t let me inside till after 1pm, so I had an hour and a half wait outside. I was finally allowed in and got through security, the man at the Jet Airways check-in desk hooked me up by only charging me for 4kgs of excess baggage (I would have had around 15kgs), so that only cost me 1,500 INR, not too bad. I managed to grab a window seat, but it was on the right side of the plane (you want a window seat on the left side of the plane), so I didn’t get the views of the Himalayas unfortunately. Oh well, I’d seen them for nearly 3 weeks so I was ok with missing out.


  The flight was quick and uneventful and I made it to Delhi with all my bags making it on board as well. I grabbed a metered taxi (only 250 INR, cheaper than booking it through the hotel) and drove to the Red Fox. After a quick check-in (I recommend booking direct through the hotel, not through an online seller as there can be problems checking in via a 3rd party, as the film crew had experienced) I made it to my room and settled in for the night. I received an email from Josh saying that the crew didn’t want to go to Agra till around 11am (they wanted to see the Taj as the sun was setting), but we were booked to leave at 6am. I tried calling the number I had for the tour operator, but no one answered. Grrrr….. I’d have to get up early and try again in the morning. I could also feel a sickness coming as well. I took a bunch of Ibuprofen and crashed.








This guy is cleaning out the weed that threatens to choke Dal Lake. The weed is then used as a fertilizer.



This is an old hotel way back in the lake, that is now a military post.



Kashmiri drive through, or should I say float through, convenience store on Dal Lake.






The houseboats



Small mosque in the middle of the lake.






Mr. Wonderful Flowerman also uses his boats so that tourists can get a closeups of the vegetable market.



Good to see the market in full swing again, this place was deserted back in 2015.



This is the busiest I had ever seen the floating vegetable markets. This was great to see given that there had been no markets the previous winter after the terrible flooding in Kashmir in the summer of 2014.




































Kingfisher! My favorite bird and beer in Kashmir. This shot doesn't really capture the colors on these birds, but it's hard to get a good shot of them as they don't like to stay still for long....



With the Himalayas just creeping through in the back of the photo.....



Beautiful morning light on the houseboats!



Lovely start to the day on Dal Lake!





- Matt

post #39 of 43

Enjoy, the scenery looks absolutely gorgeous!

post #40 of 43
Thread Starter 

Only 2 more days of the blog to go. Thanks for getting this far.....


Day 24 – Wednesday 9th March

  I woke up with a fever and it was only 4am. I slept a bit more and then got up just before 6am. I tried the phone number again and still couldn’t get an answer plus reception wasn’t picking up either, so I had no choice but to go downstairs to see if the driver was waiting. Sure enough he was outside. After much apologizing, I managed to convince him to come back at 9am. He was understandably a little upset as he’d been there since 5:30am, but there was not much else I could have done about that.


  I saw the crew at 7am for breakfast and told them of the revised plan. I had some food and then took an anti-biotic. This was going to be a long day. At 9am I got the crew together and we went out to the van. It was a decent size, especially with all the camera gear we had (Innova, 9 passenger vehicle, 9,000 INR including all taxes, no tip though, for the entire day. A local guide who we picked up in Agra, was another 2,500 INR). That’s about $173 USD all up for 6 people for a full day, with about 8 hours of driving. That’s a pretty good deal. Laurent had left in the middle of the night to catch his flight back to Switzerland, so that just left Josh Berman, Jeff Schmuck, Josh Bibby, KC Deane, Robin Lee and myself.


  It was a long drive, about 4 hours to Agra, with 1 hour spent in rush hour traffic in Delhi. The scenery isn’t that exciting on the way, you are on a pretty quiet freeway for most of the drive, it’s just a long drive. The antibiotics were definitely fighting the bug I had, the hot temps (85°F) were kicking my butt. Schmuck was still feeling really sick and KC also had some issues. Quite the crew!


  Our first stop was going to be the Agra Fort, which is just stunning. I won’t say too much about it as I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, but it’s pretty amazing and definitely something you have to see in Agra. Our local guide was great, I felt sorry for him as he was keen to tell us of the history of each area of the fort we visited, but the crew was on a mission to take a lot of photos so quite often they were off doing that.


  Then we went to the Taj. It was amazing as ever. Unfortunately for us they were doing some cleaning of 3 of the main towers, so they had scaffolding around them. It still didn’t detract from the immense beauty that is the Taj. If you are in India and have the time to go to Agra, it’s something that you definitely have to do. Hire a local guide as well, so you get the full experience. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but even for a second time, the Taj is just mind blowing, same as the Agra Fort.


  We tried to make it across to the other side of the river to catch the Taj at sunset, but we got there too late. The mozzies came out and it was time to jump back in the van for the 4 hour drive back home. I was feeling pretty destroyed by the time I got back, but the antibiotics were working and I felt more confident about surviving the flight back home the next day. A decent sleep would help and that’s what I got.


  Here's the pictures.....

post #41 of 43
Thread Starter 

Agra Fort photos......


Main (Amar Singh gate) gate and our entrance into the Agra Fort. The Delhi gate is more impressive apparently, but that is not open to the public.



About to head into the inner sanctum.



Although the fort has definitely been weathered over time, there are still many, many examples of the splendor that once was, and still is, the Agra Fort.



The inner gardens and the Jahangir Palace. The Agra Fort is an active military base of the Indian Army and you can only see a relatively small percentage of the grounds. In reality, that's still a lot and you can still spend several hours looking around. That blurred object to the right of the tower on the right, is a parrot. Having moved from Australia to the US in 2009, I can say that that's one thing I really miss from back home, are the parrots. No parrots in Denver unfortunately! All good though.....



The Agra Fort Diwan or the Hall of Public Audience.









The craftsman-shop just blows me away. These are semi-precious gems and stones that have been individually crafted and then inlayed into the marble. The work is so intricate and thankfully a craft that is still practiced today throughout Agra. The work that was done here is mind-blowing.



Shah Jahan's palace. He was imprisoned here for 8 years by his son until his death in 1666 as a punishment for building the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was a tomb that Shah Jahan built for one of his wives, Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan's son, Aurangzeb, imprisoned his father in the Agra Fort because he felt that his father was wasting too much money in building the Taj Mahal. Rumor has it that Shah Jahan was also going to build another Taj (a black version of the Taj Mahal) on the other side of the Yamuna river, opposite the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan's prison's balcony, has a view of the Taj Mahal, rather ironically..... 









A screen, hand-carved out of marble.






Amazing inlay-ed marble.



Grooming time!



The view of the Taj Mahal from Shah Jahan's prison balcony!






I can't imagine how exquisite this place would have looked when it was new.






Small details are everywhere!















The carved sandstone is nearly as impressive as the marble.












Chipmunk feeding time!




An awesome day! Taj Mahal pictures coming in a day or two.....


- Matt

post #42 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 24 continued...

Taj Mahal visit
  Then we went to the Taj. It was amazing as ever. Unfortunately for us they were doing some cleaning of 3 of the main towers, so they had scaffolding around them. It still didn’t detract from the immense beauty that is the Taj. If you are in India and have the time to go to Agra, it’s something that you definitely have to do. Hire a local guide as well, so you get the full experience. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but even for a second time, the Taj is just mind blowing, same as the Agra Fort.


  We tried to make it across to the other side of the river to catch the Taj at sunset, but we got there too late. The mozzies came out and it was time to jump back in the van for the 4 hour drive back home. I was feeling pretty destroyed by the time I got back, but the antibiotics were working and I felt more confident about surviving the flight back home the next day. A decent sleep would help and that’s what I got!


































  Only one more day of the blog to go, that was our final day in India when we explored Old Delhi.....


- Matt

post #43 of 43
Thread Starter 

Day 25 – Thursday 10th March

  Our last day in India! I was feeling a little better when I got up. I was the last one down to breakfast that morning, I needed the extra sleep. The plan was to take a look around Delhi and this time, I didn’t have to organize anything, I was just there for the ride. We would jump on the metro and then head to Old Delhi for a look around.


  It was a little deceiving catching the metro from Aero City. The train is fast and very quiet, until you get to New Delhi station……. You get off there and change lines, then you see just how busy the metro really is. There are 1,000’s of people getting on and off the trains (which are very frequent!) and the noise and heat is oppressive. People definitely don’t wait for everyone to get off (despite the signage), so I got to practice my old rugby skills a few times, trying to get off the train as the surge barged in. Being big sometimes has its advantages……


  Our first stop was at the Akshardham complex, about 6  stops from Delhi and just a short walk from the station. It was really hot in the sun and the security process to get into the complex is pretty full on (x-ray machines, pat downs), but unfortunately, you are not allowed cameras or video cameras, so we couldn’t get any footage of the place, which was a shame, as the place is truly spectacular.


  It’s a modern place having been completed in 2005 and is a massive complex (100 acres), which showcases Indian art, wisdom, heritage and values as a tribute to Bhagwhan Swaminarayan (1781 – 1830), a torchbearer of Indian culture (this is all taken from the English guidebook I bought at the complex, 5 INR). The whole place only took about 5 years to build, which is amazing considering how many amazing, intricate sculptures there are.


  The highlight is the Mandir, a central temple (if temple is the right word), which is just amazing. Inside there is the 11 ft high, gold-plated Murti of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, with 4 other gold-plated murtis of other significant people. The whole building is filled with other statues and paintings, with ornate carved ceilings and pillars. The place is breathtaking. Outside the Mandir there are 148 carved, ornate sandstone elephants all the way around the base of the Mandir. The whole complex is like this, it’s truly stunning. I just wish I could have taken some photos…… of well, can’t have everything.


  Then it was back on the train to head to Old Delhi. I’d been there once in 2008, but the plan was to really immerse ourselves by taking a couple of rickshaws (bicycle taxis) to get to the old spice market, right in the heart of Old Delhi. We got off the train (we purchased the all-day train pass, a bargain at only 150 INR) at Chadni Chawk and immediately came to a market outside the station. We walked through that to an intersection where we were going to hail our rickshaws. That was quite the scene, the rickshaw drivers are extremely aggressive and in one minute, we had about 20 of them all trying to compete for our business. It was a bit over the top, but finally we had our 3 bikes and off we went (I would recommend fixing the price before you get in, in hindsight or expect some pretty decent haggling at the end of your trip).


  Riding in the back of the rickshaw, you felt every bump and felt very exposed riding through heavy traffic (plus the horns are really loud when they are right in your ears), but you definitely get the total experience of being in Old Delhi. All the sights, sounds and smells, are right there, in your face. You either embrace the storm or you don’t! Being sick and run down didn’t help me, but I was willing to keep an open mind and see as much as I could.


  We rode to the old spice market and that place is just incredible. It is such a hive of activity, with people and carts everywhere. You have to have your wits about you to not get run over. Inside this old bazaar, is a multi-level spice market, in this old square building, with a central forecourt. There are hundreds of shops where they trade the spices, each one has many different spices, all contained in these open sacks. The smell is quite amazing! After a while, all the chili and other spices in the air starts to get to you and it’s hard to breathe. Your eyes and nose will invariably start running and then you need to get some fresh air.


  We went up on the roof tops and had a great vantage of the market and the rest of Old Delhi. What a sight. The guys put the drone up and got some great aerial footage of the area. Then it was time to hop back into the rickshaws for our tour of the sari market area. We started off in a pretty narrow street and with every turn we took, the streets got narrower and narrower and we went deeper and deeper in. There was only room for pedestrians and bikes by the end. It was quite the sight. I got some video so I’ll add that so you get a rough idea on what that was like.


  We finished up at a mosque. We had to wait outside until the prayers were over, then just the crew went in. They weren’t allowed to take in their camera bags so I volunteered to keep watch of them. I never got to see the inside of the mosque, but by looking at pictures online, it looks pretty big. Then it was time to head back to the station and head back to the hotel to pick up our bags.


  It was quite late by the time we got back to the Red Fox. Then we organized a couple of taxis and in 10 minutes, were at the international airport. The rest of the guys had priority check-in, so I went to check in by myself. I did have some fortune with my extra bag, I was due to pay $100 but their card machine wouldn’t work and after about 20  minutes of trying, it still wouldn’t work, so they had to waive the fee. Then I got through security and immigration pretty quickly. Berman was having a slow time with all his camera gear, so I managed to catch up to him and then we were on a mission to find the others in one of the lounges. I had wanted to shower and change before I got on my flight (rinse all the Delhi off me!) and grab a bite to eat,  but we barely had anytime. It was a really quick shower and then a dash to get to the gate, for a second round of security. I was hotter now than before I arrived…..


  Anyway, I made it onto the flight, Berman ended up sitting next to me and I had a pretty easy, 14 hour flight (I managed to sleep 9 hours), so I arrived in Newark not feeling like a complete zombie! Then I had a quick 3 hour flight back to Denver and my lovely wife was there to meet me. It was another fun adventure to India and Kashmir, but I was happy to be back. Until next year! Hope you all enjoyed the adventure as much as I did……      




Start of the ride into Delhi. It's deceiving, on leaving Aero City then the train is nice and quiet, then when you get into the New Delhi and change trains, then it all gets pretty crazy!



Getting off at Chadni Chawk, straight away, there is a market and the hustle and bustle of Old Delhi begins!



Organizing a rickshaw can be an eye opening experience. Expect there to be a lot of aggressive drivers vying for your business, but once you are on board with one, then it's a pretty cool way of seeing the old part of the city. It doesn't get anymore authentic than this!






Most of the locals were pretty friendly.



Driving in Delhi traffic in a rickshaw is pretty nerve wracking experience. I definitely felt exposed, but we made it through just fine. Thankfully with the near constant gridlock, then the traffic doesn't move that quickly. My only regret is that the bikes don't have any suspension, so you feel every bump.



Just about to jump of the bikes to visit the spice markets. This road was hectic!






All the spices are delivered in small vans and then unloaded into the middle of the street. Then porters come and carry the spices to the stalls and shops in the markets. It is absolute pandemonium, but an amazing sight.



As you can see it's pretty tight, really just room for pedestrians, bikes and rickshaws but then sometimes cars will try and get through as well. That's when it gets really tight.



Open bags of spice. The aroma of all of the spices was just incredible! The smells were incredible. After a while though, all of the pepper and chili really started to get to you; your nose would be running and eyes starting to water. The guys that spend all day in their open shops, must build up a tolerance to it all, but for newbies like us, it was pretty overpowering.



Spice porters hauling their heavy carts full of spice sacks, to their respective shops. You definitely get out of their way.



Entering the spice market, you go through this dark narrow corridor into the market itself. It was like something out of Star Wars. You want to keep a tight rein on your bags here as supposedly there are pick-pockets around.



The market is on 2 main levels, then you have two stories of residential building above.






The crew wanted to get on top of the roof so they could get the view of Old Delhi, then send out the drone to get some urban footage. On one side of the market, there is this big square, all peaceful and calm. It's such a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the street and the spice market.



The view back into the old market.



Looking further up the street we came up to get the spice market.



Looking down the street.



And of course they have ox carts too.....



Robin and Josh get into position to get some more footage.



Leaving the spice market, we jumped back into our rickshaws and then rode through the sari market area, a collection of shops selling everything you need for your wedding, lot's of sari shops, to cloth houses, to button shops, accessory stores, basically anything you need to either buy or make, all your wedding needs, all down one narrow street.



Every time we took a turn, the street got narrower and narrower. It was pretty cool! At one stage, our driver (who was constantly yelling at people to move out the way), ran over a guys foot. I could hear the guy yelling at us and he sounded pretty angry. Our driver didn't stop and just kept going. Finally we got stuck in a bit of a traffic jam. The angry was still coming and was still yelling, thankfully the traffic moved on and we were able to get going again. Who knows what would have happened if angry guy would have caught up with our driver!



The Mosque in Old Delhi. I stayed outside to watch all the bags, so I never got to see inside. The photos that I saw did look pretty impressive, it's a big place apparently.




Well, that's it gang, that's the end of the trip. Thank you for following along, this has been a lot of work but something I really enjoy writing about, it's a great way of reminding me of the fun and adventure I just had. It was a great 3 weeks. It definitely wasn't the best season snow-wise in Gulmarg (of course as soon as we left Gulmarg this season, it didn't stop snowing and they ended up with a decent amount of snow, the cover is still 100% at the moment....), but as always, Gulmarg is much more than that. Because of the lack of snow, we really had to diversify the trip and it wasn't about the skiing, we really got to focus on the people and their culture. I can't wait to see the finished video and see how all of this translates onto the big screen. It's only going to be maybe a 10 minute segment, so it will be very interesting to see, what makes the cut and what doesn't.


  The highlights for me were the trip to the school in Drung, that was an amazing day. The jumps on the bunny hill and watching the locals go off the jumps as well, that was a fun day and then all the cool stuff we did in Delhi and Agra. They are all fond memories that I'll keep forever. I do hope that next season, we'll have a lot more snow and we get to enjoy the powder again, but whatever happens, it's always a fun time in Gulmarg. Thanks for sharing the ride!


- Matt

Edited by Mattadvproject - 5/2/16 at 8:57am
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