Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Gulmarg Nostalgia-XIV (Reminiscing the people-II)

Among my colleagues there were a large number of people both on the Central and the State Government side. We lived together like a family in Gulmarg for all those years. The speciality of Gulmarg due to being a small resort was that every one knew what is happening every where. Any new arrival would be immediately known all over the resort.
In fact, Gulmarg was a totally different world! There was a barrier at Tangmarg set up by the Army as a check point. One of my friends, a journalist from Europe after coming up from Srinagar, remarked that there is a new world beyond the barrier. She had stayed in Srinagar for a few days before coming up. According to her Srinagar was cold and bleak. Those days Srinagar used to be continuously under a thick layer of smog or haze. Compared to that, Gulmarg was sunny, warm, and full of life both in the day and during the night. For foreign visitors it was a big change! The first person who probably had the longest stay in Gulmarg initially as the Tourist Officer and subsequently as the Deputy Director is Abdul Ahad popularly known as Ahad Sahab. He is an ace Golfer and was known throughout the Golfing circuit of the country. He looked after the summer activities in Gulmarg especially various Golf tournaments which were held there. Once we started skiing, he continued to stay for the winter in Gulmarg and was a great patron of winter sports. The other officer who had kick started the winter sports in sixties is A.Rauf. He too had stayed in Gulmarg for over five years or so. However, during our stay Ahad Sahab held the fort.
Among the state ski instructors Abdul Rashid Bakshi known as Rashid Sahab was the senior most. Even though he was the eldest among the instructors, he never seemed to age. He was very quiet but often very jolly. He would attend to his duties meticulously. However, he was not the best skier but a very good teacher. In fact, he retired as the Director Tourism, Kashmir. He had earlier been a Captain in NCC and was also called Captain Rashid. He seemed to have special attraction for women and quite a few fell in love with him! Gulmarg had some special romantic feel. There were many love affairs which bloomed here and ultimately resulted in marriages. I have already related the marriage of the British couple from Hong Kong. The others include Aziz and Roma; Nazir Bhat and Anjum; Bajwa and Sherry, and so on. Most of these couples lived a happy married life.
There were also some romantic couples who had come to Gulmarg and lived there temporarily because of their profession. These included Raman and Kavita from Simla who managed Nedous Hotel for sometime and went back after few years. Widur and Bubbles who owned Woodlands Hotel and Freddie and Lorita. The last two couples ultimately broke up. Probably because they did not fall in love in Gulmarg itself. Among the state instructors, the best one was Farid from Kishtwar. He too was a very quiet and unassuming type. He was a very good teacher. Farid picked up slalom technique from the French professors and was probably the best one in this technique among all the instructors. Anoop Kannaw was the only Kashmiri Pandit instructor from the state side. He used to be healthy, well built, and tall. Always in a good mood and very friendly. He too was devoted to his work. Surjit Singh Bhalla was the only sardar ji in the whole lot. Tall and lean but strong. He was supposed to be the best rock climber among the entire lot. He too was very jolly and would make friends with everyone. He was a very good skier and would make many adventurous moves. He was a good ski jumper and one of the jumps cost him his skiing career. He hurt his neck in one of the jumps and had to be posted to Delhi tourist office for treatment. Aslam Laigroo was probably the youngest ski instructor from the state side. All the state instructors after spending few years in Gulmarg got absorbed in administrative jobs and forgot skiing. Only Farid stayed in touch for quite sometime. Ultimately, most of the ski instructors retired as major heads of administrative organisations. Quite a contrast to the jobs for which they had initially been selected. K K Sharma was the only ski instructor from the state side who stayed longest in the ski business! He was working with the Youth Services Department and was running training courses for the state boys and girls.
Most of the Central ski instructors came from different parts of India including hot Rajasthan! Among them Bhuvaishi Raj Sharma from Himachal was a good skier. There were also some Kashmiris like Ashraf Zargar, Khurshid Mir, Vijay Kaul, and Virendar Kaul among them. While Virendar was most of the time involved with the ski equipment hire shop, Vijay was an excellent skier. Very tough and strong and had excellent techniques. He and Ashraf Zargar were ski jumpers too. Vijay is the son of famous Biscoe School teacher Master Chandra Pandit. The other instructors were BS Bajwa (a great singer); LS Mehta from Garhwal; SD Singh Krishnawat from Rajasthan; Satish Ahuja; and Vinay Chandra from Naini Tal. There were also two senior instructors from Army, Shekhar Singh Negi, and Ramnath Sharma. It was really a motley crowd but all got along well. The instructor who was most sociable and had numerous contacts was Vinay Chandra. He lived behind Hotel Highland Park in a Tourism Hut which he had nicely decorated. Every VIP in Gulmarg was invariably invited to Vinay’s Hut for dinner. We had many social gatherings there. He used to dress immaculately and had impressive personality. Unfortunately, Vinay passed away some years back. It was a tragic loss! It is almost 24 years since I left that close family in Gulmarg but the memories seem so fresh and I recall these often nostalgically. I will close the Gulmarg Nostalgia series in the next episode after describing some more personalities.

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