I knew, when we decided to head to Gulmarg, in the Northern Indian state of Kashmir and Jammu, this past January for our next snowboard adventure, that I was in for a culture shock. The snowboarding side of the trip alone was often shocking enough to floor me. However, navigating the cultural side of the vacation proved to be a whole other head-spinning experience. From the driving and local traffic rules (of which there seemed to be very few) to the ever-changing process of buying a single ride ticket for the gondola or being immersed in a Muslim culture faced with the contractions of a foreign tourist economy, we were constantly left wide eyed and wondering.
Here, we learned the value of a car horn in stand-still traffic (it’s just a means to express your frustrations) and of chains on snow-covered roads. We also learned why Kashmiri drivers prefer not to use chains, unless having your passengers push the car up hill no longer works. We stayed in a tourist town where the local wildlife population — mostly monkeys and wild dogs — far outnumbered the local female population. Our only contact with local Kashmir women was the occasional mother of a worker, or perhaps in the neighboring towns we road to on our backcountry adventure. We discovered the city culture of Sringar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, and explored the city’s lake, where a whole community lives off the water, gardening, selling, shopping and going about their daily business.
We discovered that in spite of being about 9 miles from the Line of Control, one of the most dangerous borders in the world between India and Pakistan, we were constantly surrounded by some of the most open and friendly people I have ever met. Perhaps the most important lesson we learned on our trip, though, was to always expect the unexpected and that the sooner we let go of our Western expectations and plans and followed along on the Kashmiri pace of life, the more enjoyable and entertaining our experience would be.
Photo editor Dominique Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.