On this day I finally could say I was leaving for Gulmarg after all these previous broken promises. It was a bit tricky at first to get an auto rickshaw ride to the Batmalu bus station since it was so early but we still managed to arrive in time just as the Hotel Swiss manager advised. Since this was a sumo share jeep we had to wait for the entire vehicle to fill up which meant everyone cramming in together getting awfully friendly with one another. Once fully filled after many chants by the driver of ‘Tangmarg, Tangmarg, Tangmarg’ (our first stop on the way to Gulmarg), we shoved off in a relentless pursuit. Never can nerves be so tight and on edge than when situated in a vehicle driven by an Indian. You simply either need to look away and ignore the situation entirely or accept that you may be staring death straight in the eye. We swerved onto and off the road especially when the road was only built wide enough for one lane traffic while dodging the occasional cow that meandered onto the road. Once in Tangmarg, we found our next pickup to Gulmarg and luckily got a driver that drove more in line with what I consider driving as he took the curves more gently and the straightaways less recklessly. The radio was tuned to some true Hindi music as we lassoed the mountainous path upwards through a terrain that is more reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains or the European Alps rather than India tightly fit amongst a group of solely focused Indian men. In Gulmarg, we didn’t have to deal with too much touristic pressure now that we were in a place few non-Indians visited in the summer since this place makes its buck on skiing and snowboarding during the winters. I learned quite quickly hear people make a definitive distinction between Indians and Kashmiris. According to them, they are completely separate entities/peoples. We walked around the cool green grounds with the mountains standing nearby and the associated gondola rising high above. We needed to find accommodation but my map misinformed me into leading us in the complete opposite direction but luckily a kind gentleman upon hearing how lost we were gave us a lift in the direction we needed. Not the place I had in mind, we found a place to stay after some bartering with the Raj of Raja Hut since they weren’t getting much business these days at this time of year. After leaving some of our nonessentials within the room and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we took our large luggage to get some practice for the big trek since I at least intended to carrying my full load with no desire to offload any of the weight. Raja gave us directions for a worthwhile few hours tour of the area but as expected we got lost once we directed ourselves into the woods. Before doing so we met again two friendly Kashmiris from the sumo jeep and had a chat with them before getting the necessary photo op. Even further along another group of Kashmiris who I had never met and spoke little English wanted to get pictures with us. So different from Srinagar when everyone turns into a pack of piranhas ready to feed on the next set of unsuspecting tourists that passes by. We were firmly lost in the woods but I enjoyed the fresh pine air that surrounded us. Two local villagers pointed us back onto the right path where we eventually emerged from out of the wood as a slightly perplexing image for the Indian family that came upon us. They were extremely intrigued by us wanting to learn all that they could about before needing to get their pictures taken with us. The one man in the family who spoke English perfectly was our translator for this entire experience. We met his grandmother (as per his family’s guess was a ripe old 110) and grandfather who both sported the continuing odd red died hair I happened to keep seeing here in India. The grandmother was especially curious who as translated by the man wanted to how our families are allowing us to come all the way here and constantly blessing us with good fortune for safety. Eventually the family wanted to dance and wanted us to be apart of it. So they turned their car’s speakers on loud and boomed some Hindi and Kashmiri songs as we all jivved along to it with these Indians far more able to move the hips and dance freely. I couldn’t keep up but that didn’t stop me from feeling the rhythm of the music and shake and roll with each beat. We danced for sometime as I kept thinking how unbelievable of an occurrence this was. This was my favorite experience in India thus far and clearly I did not plan it. They were heading back into Gulmarg so we accepted their ride even I knew we needed to come back to see the views of the Kashmir Valley from this viewpoint we stood upon. I happened to sit next to the grandmother who kept touching and kissing my face seemingly and deliberately trying to cover every inch of my face in an attempt to bless me in her own way. For just now meeting me, she seemed to care an awful lot about me. We said goodbye and exchanged contact information before we retreaded our steps back to the original spot that the dance session had been performed. We walked along the rim of the mountain along this road peering through the evergreen trees down to the wide open Kashmir Valley that far far away rose up into its own mountainous range. After sitting patiently upon the edge of the road letting the views of the valley wash over us, we walked back to Raja Hut in need of some food and some further warmth as Gulmarg’s chill held no prisoners but I was a welcome pleasant prisoner to this chilly enclave after my days marooned on the sun’s radiant heat of Southeast Asia and my short sweaty stint in Delhi. Once in Raja Hut we were welcomed with a less than stellar spread of leftovers that filled the stomach but left my tastebuds asking for more. With little else to do in the evening after a long day and the need to rise promptly tomorrow morning for our next pre-trek routine, I fell softly into a slumber hidden under the mass of thick blankets that warmed me to a touch I could only remember from an icy winter’s night in my good old hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.