For an international skier, curry powder isn’t found in the Indian kitchen but on Himalayan slopes. It’s slang for the fine quality of dry, crisp, soft, freshly fallen snow that brings top skiers and snowboarders to practise on Kashmir’s slopes. The region’s sporting culture is not well known among Indians but Manali-born filmmaker Rohan Thakur hopes to change that with his new 30-minute documentary, Curry Pow.
Curry Pow tracks skier Tashi Dorje and snowboarder Arun Shashni from Manali, as they take on the slopes of Gulmarg and their home turf. They swoop like eagles and tumble in slow-mo with a carefree abandon to a groovy soundtrack, composed by Thakur. “Skiing is a lifestyle,” one says at a point, and that is exactly what the film is driving to create in the country.
Growing up in Manali in the 1990s, Thakur was sent to ski class during the three-month winter break, in the same way that city kids in the plains get enrolled for swimming lessons in the summer. With one difference—Thakur’s mentor was his uncle, Jagdish Lall, who coached the national ski team for a decade, and ran a ski course in Manali. Gulmarg has better infrastructure like gondola lifts to the top, thanks to the championing of Kashmir’s chief minister and avid skier Omar Abdullah, Thakur said. The hill station also has snow patrol officers installed by the Canadian government, given the large number of its visiting citizens.
While it’s the curry powder in Gulmarg in Kashmir that sees most of the action, skiing (like apples!) was brought to India via Manali, Himachal Pradesh by the British colonials, Thakur said. The sport was expensive but locals managed by fashioning jugaad versions out of wood and plastic. Visitors to Manali can now learn skiing at the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, but only a handful take it up, and fewer return the next season.
While Gulmarg is good learning ground for beginners, Manali’s variety of mountainous slopes offer more scope for skiers to get creative. In Curry Pow, the crew showcase their skills in the backcountry: unpatrolled areas of wilderness, where skiers have to trek uphill as there are no gondola rides. It’s a pleasure known to few, Thakur said, “Buddies camp out in upper Manali, trekking for eight or nine hours each day to test a different mountain, and then party through the night.”
Shooting the film was particularly challenging, given that Thakur was the one-man crew, skiing and shooting simultaneously, temperatures were freezing, and bad weather meant nothing was visible. “If we knew how difficult it would be,” said executive producer Asad Abid, “We probably wouldn’t have done it.” Watch the film below.