Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Meadows of Gulmarg

How green was my valley! That summer.
Gulmarg. June, 2008.

Giving it out in big Wallpaper size.

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Some people may recall its former glory.

Funny thing is that in year 1906, Francis Younghusband, then resident of Kashmir, was already documenting how 'modern' tourist spot of Gulmarg came into being and how some people (though he was not one of them) Gulmarg was getting 'spoilt'. He preferred the festive electric environment. In his book Kashmir (1911)  he wrote:
WHAT will be one day known as the playground of India, and what is known to the Kashmiris as the "Meadow of Flowers," is situated twenty-six miles from Srinagar, half-way up the northward- facing slopes of the Pir Panjal. There is no other place like Gulmarg. Originally a mere meadow to which the Kashmiri shepherds used to bring their sheep, cattle, and ponies for summer grazing, it is now the resort of six or seven hundred European visitors every summer. The Maharaja has a palace there. There is a Residency, an hotel, with a theatre and ball-room, post office, telegraph office, club, and more than a hundred " huts " built and owned by Europeans. There are also golf links, two polo grounds, a cricket ground, four tennis courts, and two croquet grounds. There are level circular roads running all round it.There is a pipe water-supply, and maybe soon there will be electric light everywhere. And yet for eight months in the year the place is entirely deserted and under snow.

Like Kashmir generally, Gulmarg also is said by those who knew it in the old days to be now " spoilt." With the increasing numbers of visitors,with the numerous huts springing up year by year in every direction, with the dinners and dances, it is said to have lost its former charms, and it is believed that in a few years it will not be worth living in. My own view is precisely the opposite. I knew Gulmarg nineteen years ago, and it certainly then had many charms. The walks and scenery and the fresh bracing air were delightful. Where now are roads there were then only meandering paths. What is now the polo ground was then a swamp. The " fore " of the golfer was unknown. All was then Arcadian simplicity. Nothing more thrilling than a walk in the woods, or at most a luncheon party, was ever heard of.

And, doubtless, this simplicity of life has its advantages. But it had also its drawbacks. Man cannot live for ever on walks however charming and however fascinating his companion may be. His soul yearns for a ball of some kind whether it be a polo ball, a cricket ball, a tennis ball, a golf ball, or even a croquet ball. Until he has a ball of some description to play with he is never really happy.

So now that a sufficient number of visitors come to Gulmarg to supply subscriptions enough to make and keep up really good golf links, polo grounds, etc., I for my part think Gulmarg is greatly improved. I think, further, that it has not yet reached the zenith of its attractions. It is the Gulmarg of the future that will be the really attractive Gulmarg, when there is money enough to make the second links as good as the first, to lay out good rides down and around the marg, to make a lake at the end, to stock it with trout, and to have electric light and water in all the " huts," and when a good hotel and a good club, with quarters for casual bachelor visitors, have been built.

All this is straying far from the original Arcadian simplicity, but those who wish for simplicity can still have it in many another valley in Kashmir at Sonamarg, Pahlgam, or Tragbal, and numerous other places, and the advantage of Gulmarg is that the visitor can still if he choose be very fairly simple.

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I was told my maternal great grandfather used to work as a keeper in a tourist club at Gulmarg. My nani recalls her samawar tea parties held on these green meadows. She also recalls how angreez used to excitedly taking their photograph - kashmiris and their samovar. She also recalls how the fertile land here offered great crop of potatoes. She recalls the luxuries that the job offered - water, electricity, fine cloths and great perks. My great-nana, one Tarachand Raina, worked in Gulmarg right till 1947, right till the kabayli attack after which the club ceased to exist.

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