Monday, March 21, 2011

The Gulmarg Nostalgia-XIII (Reminiscing the people-I)

On all counts Gulmarg is a wonderful resort. It has its own history right from the earliest times. During my ten winters there I had some wonderful moments. Apart from adventure of skiing and living in a dream world of snow, I had the opportunity of meeting different people. The resort worked so well because of the dedication of these people. Let me begin with the “Snow beaters”. These were about 20 locals engaged by us for preparing the ski slopes in absence of a slope beating machine. These days there are different types of slope grooming machines and Gulmarg too has two to three of these machines. Army School has also a very powerful slope grooming machine.
The manual snow beaters were first given equipment and taught basics of skiing. Most of these were very enthusiastic young men. They picked up skiing very fast. Some of these even became expert skiers. All of these came from the villages in the vicinity of Gulmarg. They would come walking from their homes every morning and after day’s hard labour would return to their villages in the evening. It meant walking every day on an average about 10 to 15 kilometres. In good weather it was not a problem as they were quite strong and tough. However, in bad weather especially during heavy snowfall it was an ordeal to walk up to Gulmarg. We did equip them with waterproof snow jackets, gloves, goggles, and snow boots. Still they had tough duties. They had to trudge up and down on various ski slopes from morning till evening packing snow for skiing. It is quite a tough job to walk up and down on a ski slope with couple of feet of soft snow. It is awfully tiring job. I wondered about the stamina and hardy nature of these Gulmarg area villagers! There were also some people from among the boys we had trained earlier. A few of these were selected for ski patrolling by the Cable Car Corporation. Among the tough snow beaters I remember Hassan Lone, Mohiuddin War, and Nab Lone as they were always punctual and very hard working. Sometimes we would also use the local care taker staff (Chowkidars) of the Gulmarg Tourist Office. They too had a tough life. They would chop wood for fire stoves and deliver it in each hut occupied by us. They would also remove snow from the roof tops and make tracks to the huts. After some years, most of these snow beaters who were working as daily wagers got permanent jobs in the Gulmarg Tourist Office and continue to serve Gulmarg in various capacities.
Gulmarg Tourist Office itself had some very interesting characters. One of these was old Radha Krishen. He was a clerk who had been working in the office since the time of the British. He knew every bit of Gulmarg and was virtually a Major Domo in the office. All the records, equipment, and other stores were under his charge. He was a very hard working person and would keep track of everything in the office. After his retirement, Abdullah Malik took charge of these chores. He was popularly called Obla Malik. He would move round with a couple of bunches of keys and knew exactly where everything was stacked. He was a real expert storekeeper. Both these people have retired now. Their sons were also working in the Tourist Office at Gulmarg. However, the sons of Radha Krishen migrated to Jammu during the upheaval of 1990 but they continue to work in Jammu Tourism Department. Obla Malik’s son and other relatives are still with Gulmarg Office. Two other persons who were very hard working and dedicated persons are Abdul Khaliq known as Khala, and Abdul Qayoom. They were initially working on casual basis with the Power Department and were in charge of the standby diesel generator. This generator had been set up just above Golf Club and near Nedou’s Hotel to supply power to ski lifts and other establishments during break downs. It was a very shabby and noisy structure in the middle of Gulmarg. It would make a lot of noise and would also give out thick smoke during operation. These two electricians would live inside the generator shed during winter. They had really tough life. Keeping the generator running in blizzard conditions with temperatures going 20 to 25 degrees below zero was a commendable job. After we set up three French ski lifts, we took them on Tourism Establishment as Ski Lift Operators. They operated these lifts in an excellent fashion without any breakdown. The lifts set up in 1979 are still working thanks to these operators. Subsequently we got the ugly generator shed removed and installed the generators in a decent way near the forest behind Hotel Highland Park. Qayoom has since retired and Khala is still working. The success of these operators was due to their immediate boss Ghulam Raza who used to be foreman and ultimately retired as the Executive Engineer (Electric) from the Tourism Department. He had full faith in his men and gave them complete freedom to work on any assignment as they felt appropriate.
He completed every assignment flawlessly and on time. Another character whom I remember vividly was the plumber Ghulam Rasool. He belonged to Nishat area in Srinagar but was posted in Gulmarg. Usually he would move out to Srinagar in winter but once we came up and put all our staff on skis, he volunteered to stay entire winter in Gulmarg. He learnt skiing very fast and we issued him a complete set of equipment. He would be skiing all round Gulmarg undertaking plumbing jobs. In winter due to freezing temperatures, the pipes would often burst and the bathrooms would freeze. It was a tough job to keep our bathrooms running with hot and cold water. He did an excellent job in spite of tough working conditions. He also enjoyed his skiing as I would often see him on the ski slopes taking beautiful turns. There were two other characters who were non-skiers. One was Hassan Khar (Hassan Blacksmith) and the other was Chowkidar Amm Butt. Hassan Khar was a professional blacksmith but had joined Tourism Department as a daily wager for snow beating operations. We took from him more work of a black-smith than a snow beater. He would repair our fire-wood stoves; get us pipes and so on. He was a very comic character and would be always smiling. He continues to work with the Gulmarg Tourist Office. Another interesting character was Amm Butt. He was chowkidar of a hut, six footer and very sturdy and strong. He could lift a person into air catching him by his shirt or jacket collar. For all heavy duty jobs we would take his help. Thus I had the opportunity of working with a variety of people during my stay. In the next episode I will describe some of the colleagues from the Central and State ski establishments.

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