On the flight from Mumbai to Srinagar, I think of the last time I was in Kashmir. I was 12, we were staying on a houseboat on Nagin Lake, and my brother had toppled off a shikara into the freezing water in search of a frog. It was an idyllic summer and I never thought almost four decades would lapse before I would return.
The 50-km highway from Srinagar to Gulmarg is a bit rough but watching the massive pine trees go by, we reached Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa in under two hours. The hotel was constructed two years ago in the Alpine log-cabin style, but uses local pine wood and Kashmiri architectural and decorative elements: carved jalis, old copper samovars, and papier-mâché screens.
The result is warm and welcoming, especially considering the wintry weather outside. The lure of the mountains is strong and I take the gondola to Kungdoor, to have lunch at a dhaba on top of a peak. The 360° panoramic views are so spectacular that it doesn’t matter that we sit on plastic chairs and that the food is greasy. Declining offers of speeding around on a snowmobile, I open my sketchbook to paint the scene before me.
The hotel is full and noisy on our return, but service is attentive: The staff goes out of their way to accommodate my demand for a vegetarian wazwan. A thali arrives with a mound of rice surrounded by delicately flavoured rajma, dum aloo, nadru yakhni (lotus root cooked in yoghurt curry), and haaq or lightly sautéed greens.
Back in my room, I read and snooze. At the evening turn-down service, the housekeeping staff places a card with a Haruki Murakami quote on my pillow: “The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.” I draw the curtains to see that the sky, the mountains, the trees, and the snow under my window, each bears a different tint of blue. Maybe Murakami had seen what I saw that evening.
Appeared in the May 2015 issue as “Paradise Regained”.
Accommodation We stayed at the Himalayan View Luxury Balcony Room. Before us, the snow glinted like diamonds on the pine trees and gleamed like beaten silver on the magnificent mountains (visible even from the sunken tub in the bathroom). The hotel has large picture windows everywhere, framing different vistas and snowscapes, perfect for travellers who like to enjoy the outdoors from the inside. The hotel’s L’Occitane Spa offers an excellent deep tissue massage (+91-1954-254-666; khyberhotels.com; doubles from ₹21,000).
Getting There Srinagar is the closest airport to Gulmarg, and lies 57 km/1.5 hours east. It is connected to major Indian cities via daily flights. Taxis are easily available from the airport to ferry you to Gulmarg (₹1,500 one-way).